Perham area schools receive generous mysterious gift


Perham area schools have a clear reason to celebrate this Christmas season as they were the recipient of a large gift from the Deloris Barnack Kenner Fund. Why Perham area schools were chosen for the honor is less clear.

Kenner, who died in 2015, established the Deloris Barnack Kenner Fund with West Central Initiative (WCI), Fergus Falls, to benefit teaching excellence in Perham-Dent public and parochial schools. Any remaining funds in the estate will be used for other WCI programs in Perham, Dent, Ottertail, Vergas, Frazee, Detroit Lakes and Richville.

"Through these funds, selected teachers will be awarded for excellence and will be able to participate in enrichment programs," explained Tom McSparron, donor services officer at West Central Initiative in a press release.

Perham schools receiving funds are: Perham-Dent Public School District ($700,000), St. Paul's Lutheran School ($175,000) and St. Henry's School ($125,000) for a total endowment of $1 million. A portion of the earnings from that $1 million endowment will be used to make the awards. Awards will be made to reward selected teachers in each of the schools who have obtained the highest level of teaching excellence among the faculty members. According to the distribution plans for this fund, no funds shall be distributed for the first two years that the fund is in existence.

What the teacher awards will look like are still being crafted by a Perham group. This group, according to McSparron, with set the criteria for the award and make the teacher selections.

School reactions

"When I got the call from West Central Initiative, I was surprised. That surprise immediately turned to thankfulness and gratitude," said Mitch Anderson, superintendent for the Perham-Dent Public Schools in a news release. "Although we don't know exactly what inspired Mrs. Kenner to give this bountiful gift, it was certainly one from her heart that will touch the lives of teachers and children for so many years to come."

Jason Smith, principal of St. Henry's Area School, Perham, also expressed his gratitude. "On behalf of the school board, the teachers and staff, and the children who are entrusted to us for their education, we are honored and humbled by Mrs. Kenner's generous gift. We will carefully use these funds for the betterment of education in our community."

Two of WCI's component funds also received a portion of Mrs. Kenner's endowed funds: the 549 Family Foundation to support the Perham-Dent Schools' athletic system; and the Perham Area Community Foundation for the Deloris Barnack Kenner Scholarships for students furthering their education in college or a vocational, technical college.

Kenner was born in Millersville, Minn., and grew up near Inspiration Peak, 45 miles from Perham. She was a nurse for 50 years and later in life married Dr. William Kenner. She most recently lived in Detroit Lakes. Kenner had no children.

While she lived not far from Perham for a time in her life, it's still a bit mysterious that she chose to give so much to education in the area.

McSparron wasn't aware of any other family members that could point to Kenner's connection to Perham.

According to Sheri Booms Holm, communications director for West Central Initiative, one bit of information known is that Kenner's parents are buried in St. Henry's Catholic Cemetery.

The Deloris Barnack Kenner Fund is a component fund of WCI. Component funds are administered by foundations like WCI to help provide communities, individuals, families, businesses and organizations with a charitable giving vehicle to act on deeply held values and community commitments. Learn more about charitable giving through WCI online at

West Central Initiative is a regional community foundation serving the nine west central Minnesota counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin. WCI invests resources in local communities for regional success, using the tools of economic development and community development, and by promoting philanthropy.