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University of Minnesota receives $12.3 million from the estate of South Dakota farmer Millicent Atkins

June 6, 2013

The University of Minnesota will receive more than $12 million from the estate of Millicent Atkins, a successful farmer and businesswoman who owned prime farm land near Aberdeen, S.D. The University is one of three beneficiaries of a trust created in her estate.  Its one-third share is currently valued at approximately $12.3 million, and will be distributed in 2022, when the trust terminates.  In the meantime, each beneficiary will receive one-third of the trust’s annual income.

The University of Minnesota’s gift has been designated for the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) by Atkins, but is otherwise unrestricted.  "Ms. Atkins has placed a great deal of trust in our college to use her gift as we think best," said Allen Levine, dean of the college.  "We are concerned about the financial burden of getting an education and the impact it has on students and their families, so increasing support for undergraduate and graduate students is a priority for the college.  Millicent Atkins’ generosity will have a significant impact in helping students."

"It’s a unique and remarkable gift that comes with no restrictions, allowing the dean to be responsive to immediate needs and strategic opportunities," said University President Eric Kaler.  "The University of Minnesota is honored to play a part in Ms. Atkins’ legacy, and we plan to make the most of her outstanding generosity and honor the spirit in which it was given."

Atkins, born in 1919, lived most of her life near Columbia, a small town east of Aberdeen.  She grew up on a farm settled by her grandparents and, after attending the University of Minnesota for one year and obtaining a teaching degree at Northern State University in South Dakota, followed in the footsteps of her father, Fred Atkins, as a land owner and farm manager. She eventually owned more than 4,100 acres of prime farmland in Brown County, S.D., and farmed the land through a crop share arrangement with about a dozen tenant farmers.  

A woman in a man’s world, Atkins was known for being very smart about the value of the land she purchased.  She worked closely with her tenants and kept up with farming practices through reading and talking to others in the business.

Levine said the gift, which is the largest single gift ever designated for CFANS, came as a surprise. Atkins attended the School of Agriculture, which was then a high school associated with the University, in 1937-1938, but she did not graduate and did not keep in touch with the school.  Her mother, Blossom (Gibson) Atkins, graduated from the School of Agriculture in 1905.  "It is truly heartening to know that she held our college in such great esteem through all these years," Levine said.

Atkins, an only child, never married and had no children or close relatives. The University learned of the gift after her death in July 2012 at age 93.

"My only regret is that I never met Millicent Atkins," said Levine.  "I would have loved introducing her to the students who will benefit from her generosity. I think she and her parents would be awed at the modern science of agriculture and natural resources, and the impact the school has made on world food production and research."

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences’ roots are in the two-year School of Agriculture that Atkins attended.  Today, the college provides education, research and outreach on a wide variety of topics related to the University’s land-grant mission.  Based on the St. Paul campus, the college includes 14 academic departments and 10 research and outreach centers across Minnesota.

The other beneficiaries of the Atkins’ estate are Northern State University in Aberdeen, and the Congregational Church in Columbia.

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