DeMaris Nesheim did some soul searching when she wanted to give back to the rural South Dakota town that helped shape her early life. “I thought for a long time about what I could do for Philip,” says Nesheim, who is credited with jumpstarting the Philip Area Community Foundation through South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF) two years ago.
Nesheim, who graduated from Philip High School in 1959 and now lives just outside Hill City, credits the community with helping her succeed in life.
It was with that sentiment that she first had the idea of partnering with the SDCF. Coffee with a good friend who had just started working as a program officer at SDCF, Beth Massa, gave Nesheim the idea of starting a Community Savings Account (CSA).
Nesheim called Massa shortly after their meeting, having had a dream that Philip did exactly that—started a CSA. But what she said next left Massa speechless. “She said, ‘I want to make it happen,’” Massa recalls.
That meant challenging the community to match her $100,000 contribution, dollar-for-dollar. It was the start of a fast-paced, generous, small-town community campaign. Nesheim first met with Philip Charities and local business leaders to make the pitch. Her challenge was issued in November and the funds were raised by the first of the year.
Ray Smith, president of First National Bank in Philip and chairperson of the Philip Area Community Foundation for the past year, says he was not surprised by the outpouring of support after Nesheim issued the challenge. “DeMaris gave us a very good presentation,” he remembers. “It was very emotional, and connected for us the past to the present.”
The community has rallied behind important projects in the past, including building a new hospital. Raising support through a CSA at SDCF was the perfect step for Philip. “If there’s a need or a good cause, the community really supports those types of projects,” Smith says. “With the money in an endowment, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.”
So, too, does Nesheim see Philip as a community that kept on giving throughout her life. She grew up on a ranch 25 miles outside the community and during high school spent her weekdays in town before returning to the ranch on weekends. Local jobs, including a stint at the telephone company office, made it possible for her to go to college. “The town was small enough to develop leadership skills,” she says. “You could get involved in anything you wanted.”
She issued the challenge because she knew it could be successful if people had a stake in it. “I wanted the ownership to be in Philip,” she said. “Now, Philip Area Community Foundation is always going to be there. They do a good job of investing the funds. People have really caught on to the spirit of giving.
Philip Area Community Foundation was named South Dakota’s Outstanding Philanthropic Community by the South Dakota chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals last year.
Massa said Nesheim’s words at a SDCF reception helped captured the essence of giving. Massa says she looked around when Nesheim spoke of her love of Philip, the room was filled with people who had tears in their eyes. “This community will now be looking to their children and grandchildren to carry this on,” Massa says. “It’s a vital resource.”
And it all started with the dream of one woman. “She is an astute donor and she’s an incredible person,” Massa adds.