Focus On Alumni & Friends
THE LEGACY OF THE PAULSENS: "MAYBE WE NEED TO GIVE MORE TO MAKE SURE IT GETS DONE."
A check for $91,010.31 that Obert Undem, director of major gifts for Rocky Mountain College, derived from eight oxen breaking 60 acres of prairie and 96 steers hauled from St. Paul, Minn.
"Rocky is forever enriched by the decisions made 42 years ago by two brothers and one's wife," noted Undem. "Members of this hard working family, suffering and enduring much hardship and sacrifice, preserved their hard won resources for charitable use."
In 1914, Elias Paulsen, after enduring a 12-day ocean voyage and a six-day train trip that ended where the rails ended, arrived to stake a homestead claim near Scobey, Mont. Within a year, his younger brother, Marius, joined him. They lived in a 12' X 14' shack. It was another epic western story of survival and then success, of feast and famine. The land they bought was added to section by section. Their wealth was improved by occasional oil strikes, but mostly they worked hard, overcoming the dry land farming challenges that farmers along the highland have faced for more than a century.
Not until late in life did Elias marry. Julia Renner was from North Dakota where, before earning a nursing degree, she was known as a standout high school basketball player. In 1933, when times were tough, she arrived in Scobey to help a doctor there "for a couple weeks." A couple weeks turned into 40 years, delivering babies while she never had any of her own. She was 48 when she married Elias, who said he "was so well to do, I got the best girl in town."
In 1967, the couple, with Marius, did a remarkable thing. Together they executed a will, drawn by Scobey attorney Kenneth W. Hoversland, which was never altered. They agreed to provide 11 charities with proceeds from their estate. They believed it was not important which church you belonged to as much as the fact that your church was a neighbor to another, so they agreed to leave some of their estate to the Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Evangelicals, and Episcopalians. They believed in medical care, so they left money to the Memorial Hospital and Home (which later became Daniels County Healthcare). They felt strongly that young people should be cared for, so they left money to Shodair Children's Hospital and the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch. They also helped with the Scobey Ball Park.
They believed in education as a means to a better life and knew that education provides a passport from lives of poverty. They had helped individuals attend college. Now they agreed to help Concordia College, the College of Great Falls, and Rocky Mountain College.
They did their good work with little fanfare but great enthusiasm.
Once, when the brothers worried that the hospital would not get completed, Elias said to Marius, "Maybe we need to give more to make sure it gets done."
And they did.
Elias died in 1980 at the age of 86; Marius died in 1988 at the age 94; and, the survivor of them all, Julia, died November 19, 2008, at the age of 97.
No one expected to receive as much as they did, although each recipient had been told they were named in the estate. In addition, each of the beneficiaries has a continuing pro rata interest in a trust, which holds mineral rights to the Paulsen lands.
"Wouldn't it be fantastic if the Williston Basin and its Bakken Formation ? where immense oil deposits are being plumbed -- is found to underlie this blessed acreage to generate additional strength to these eleven charities," said Undem. Across their prairie graves still blows the wind of their lives, bringing good news to the future.
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Thanks to the Daniels County Leader and especially to Vera Lynn Transgrud, who researched their archives and shared information on the Paulsen family; to Kenneth W. Hoversland, attorney for the family, who also shared information; and to Obert Undem, who urged this story --, motivated, in part, by his personal knowledge of the hardships growing up in that part of Montana -- and contributed to it.