A Vision of Building and Growing:… | South Dakota Community Foundation

A Vision of Building and Growing: Harold and Mary Torness Family Fund

May 13, 2024 // Donors, Estate Planning
Harold and Mary Torness

You can see Sisseton’s Nicollet Tower from far away. From the top of the 80-feet tall structure, you can see even farther. The tower was the dream of Sisseton banker Harold Torness after he saw one on the Mississippi River, according to his son Bill Torness. He wanted to draw people to his home area to help it grow.

The same vision of making a difference drove Harold and his wife Mary to establish the Harold and Mary Torness Family Fund, a donor advised fund with SDCF. Established in 1998 with gifts of about $1 million, the fund has supported a range of nonprofits and charitable activities in the Sisseton area and beyond. Over a quarter century, the fund’s grants have totaled nearly $950,000, which is about the level of the assets remaining in the fund. “It’s a testament to the power of endowment that you can give away as much money as you started with, still have that much money or more in the fund, and continue to produce an annual stream of revenue,” said Stephanie Judson, SDCF President & CEO.

Bill credits local attorney William Holland with convincing Harold to set up a fund. For the decisive factor, Bill added, “one trip by [founding SDCF executive director] Bernie Christensen convinced him it wasn’t hard to see the community foundation was the place to have the funds.” As president of the Roberts County Bank for many years, Harold knew that “as a banker he was expected to look out for the community,” Bill said. That sense of responsibility translated to the Torness Fund, which has supported many Sisseton institutions, including its hospital. In the early 1960s, when the two local hospitals merged, Harold was the fundraising chair for the Coteau Des Prairies Hospital. Grants have also supported the local swimming pool, nursing home, arts and other organizations.

The Lutheran Church has also benefited, starting with the Torness’ church, Grace Lutheran Church in Sisseton, and NeSoDak Bible Camp. That support includes Augustana University, where Harold sat on the board and the Torness children attended. The Fund established an art scholarship there in memory of Harold and Mary’s deceased daughter who had been an art major. After Harold passed away in 1999 and Mary in 2014, fund advisory responsibilities passed to their children: Bill, a retired executive of the Roberts County National Bank, and his sister Jane Torness Rasmussen, administrator of the Sisseton Arts Council. A former member of SDCF Board of Directors, Bill appreciates working with the Foundation. “You can get on a call and talk to anyone, and they have the answer. It’s a smooth organization.”

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