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David Friis

The Butler County Area Foundation Fund recently completed a successful Looking Forward – Giving Back Campaign, raising $200,000 to qualify for a $100,000 matching contribution from the Sherwood Foundation.

The BCAFF volunteer leaders contacted many people – both current and former residents of the county - who responded with gifts large and small. Some became Builders Club members, pledging or donating $1,000 which could be given all at once or over time with automatic monthly withdrawals.

And some donors helped to erase all doubt about whether the campaign goal could be reached. Nearly $500,000 was raised.

“We knew that the community would get behind our campaign,” said Kent Clymer, chairman of the fund advisory committee. “The way things turned out, we received support that was beyond our wildest expectations.”

The 36-year old fund now has $1.2 million in unrestricted funds, and the income from those unrestricted funds represents a major resource for the county’s future. The impact will be evident in the years ahead. The fund’s grantmaking capacity will increase, doubling from the current average of $25,000 per year.

An early boost and a goal smasher

The 2017 Butler County Fair was the official kickoff for the campaign, and the fair also offered the chance to recognize a major boost: A $30,000 gift from the family of the late Elmer and Mary Beth Vanous.

Then, after crossing the $100,000 threshold early this year, the fund advisory committee learned of a major gift from the estate of the late David Friis, a 1957 graduate of David City High School.

Friis was generous to the tune of nearly $1 million, with $317,000 going to BCAFF. He also gave $292,000 to the David City Public Library Foundation and another $292,000 to Masons Fidelity Lodge 51 of David City. The Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art received $25,000.

“We were deeply humbled by David Friis’ gift,” Clymer said.

A flyer, engineer and a big giver

David Friis, who died at age 79 in 2017, had a few big passions, but he was unassuming about them, one of his best friends said.

Friis loved to fly his Beechcraft Bonanza, meeting with other Bonanza owners across the country for fly-ins. He also loved to travel worldwide, visiting 35 countries.

And to Butler County’s great fortune, he held gratitude for the place where he grew up, said his friend and trustee, Klaus Liedtke of Arizona.

Friis was the only child of Vivian and Agnes Friis. Vivian, a chiropractor, was known as “Dr. V" around town. Agnes was an elementary teacher in Seward and David City. Vivian was 61 when he died in 1957, and Agnes died at 72 in 1978.

David went on to attend Iowa State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He completed ROTC at ISU and was commissioned as officer in the U.S. Marines, serving three years.

By the mid 1960s he was working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. During the Apollo program, he managed engineering contracts, including one for IBM, for NASA. His NASA career spanned from 1966 to 1967, when he moved from Texas to Boulder, Color. to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration. He wrapped up his NOAA career in Alaska, where he brought his Bonanza along, and retired to his Boulder home in 1990.

His home was on a ridge above the mountain city.

“I always kidded him he could see all the way to David City,” Liedtke said.

Friis kept up with his hometown as a longtime subscriber to The Banner-Press. He was a member of Masons Fidelity Lodge 51, as his father had been.

“He never said anything ‘not nice’ about the town,” Liedtke said. “He obviously never bragged.”

Early on, Friis showed interest in what it takes to become a responsible citizen. He was a DCHS representative at Cornhusker Boys State in 1955. In the late 1970s, he completed a Congressional Fellowship, Liedtke said.

Asked about Friis’ attributes, Liedtke had a long list.

“His sense of humor was unique,” he said. “He was dedicated, a non-complainer. Independent, loyal, intelligent, aware, curious, a solid citizen. Even though he was an ISU grad, he was fond of Nebraska, and always drove red cars.”

If Friis disagreed with someone, he often simply replied: “Maybe so.”

Liedtke said that Friis didn’t talk about his gifts or the reasons behind them.

“I don’t believe he ever notified any of the beneficiaries other than Iowa State,” Liedtke said. “They were simply identified in his living trust.”

The Vanous boost

Lifelong residents of David City, Mary Beth Vanous died in 2002; Elmer Vanous died in 2005.

“Our parents passed quite a few years ago having lived their whole lives in David City, and the money we've donated came from them,” said their son Jim Vanous, who lives in Lincoln, when the gift was announced in 2017. “That's the reason we chose to use their name on our donation. It was their money and I think they'd be proud to know it's going back to their community.”

Jim and his brothers Tom, John and Mike graduated from Aquinas.

Mary Beth grew up in David City and was the daughter of Don D. and Fannie Davis, who owned the local Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealership for many years.

Elmer Vanous also grew up in David City, one of five children of Louis and Mollie Vanous.

The Vanous kids learned responsibility with their paper routes, and their parents led by example in service to community. Elmer got off work from his gas company job and went to the ball field to coach his sons’ teams. Coaching was almost a second job

“He had to make a lot of phone calls too, rescheduling rainouts, working out tournament details and the like. My brother Tom and I both coached our kids’ sports teams, probably due to the example we had growing up,” Jim Vanous said.

Mary Beth gave her time to service at the Congregational Church, where she printed bulletins and played the organ.

“I recall her swearing - mildly, but you knew she was serious - at the mimeograph machine when it wouldn't cooperate. She also belonged to the VFW Auxiliary and PEO. But her main ‘job’ was raising her four sons and we challenged her plenty,” Jim said.

Kent Clymer, the chairman of the advisory committee, said that the successful campaign marks the beginning of great things.

“One of our goals is to partner with others in our community who want to make Butler County an even better place to live,” Clymer said. "Our campaign helps us move on to bigger things."

Get involved

If you have questions about making a tax-deductible contribution to BCAFF, contact one of our Fund Advisory Committee members: Milt and Janet Bemis, Kent Clymer, Diane Duren, Carol Fuxa, Mike Moravec, Amy Slama, Ed Siffring and Lindsay Truksa. Kent Clymer is the committee chairman. BCAFF is an affiliated fund of the Nebraska Community Foundation.

For more information about joining the Builders Club, making a contribution to the Looking Forward-Giving Back Campaign, or how to apply for a grant, contact a fund advisory member. The BCAFF postal address is P.O. Box 91, David City, NE 68632.

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