ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Tom West: Don't let wealth be wasted on the rich

George Bernard Shaw once said, "Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children." In this modern age, a corollary follows in the same vein: It is unfortunate that wealth is wasted on the rich.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children." In this modern age, a corollary follows in the same vein: It is unfortunate that wealth is wasted on the rich.
Flipping through the cable channels Saturday during the Minnesota monsoon, I happened on a show that was a cross between "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and "Home Time." A woman of obvious means was showing off her bathroom, which was twice the size of the average Duluth living room. She said the bathroom was important because "I need a space for me."
Meanwhile, down in the Moneyapolis suburb of Plymouth, a stir has been created because Tom Tiller, the president of Polaris Industries, the snowmobile manufacturer, wants to build a home for his family -- a 23,050-square-foot shack.
The home will have five bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a six-car garage, a 2,500-square-foot gym and a 5,200-square-foot entertainment center.
The neighbors, looking for an excuse to stop the project, have said the septic system is not up to snuff, but Tiller has replied that the system will exceed capacity requirements by 40 percent.
It seems as if everything in this home will exceed capacity requirements.
The neighbors are also concerned that the lighting of the home will block the night sky.
That story reminded me of a business conference I was at last summer at a resort near Detroit Lakes. One of the leisure activities was a boat trip on the lake, the highlight of which was passing by a home said to cost $20 million, and belonging to a former owner of Sun Country Airlines. The guest house was larger than 90 percent of the homes in Duluth, and the boathouse had three stalls, er, berths.
While it is true that envy is a sin, that's not where the criticism of these homes lies. This is America; it's their money; they can spend it as they wish. We would all like the opportunity to have enogh money to make those kinds of decisions.
But that's where many of us would differ from the wealthy. If I wanted to leave a legacy to the world, it certainly wouldn't be through the size of my bathroom. I think people like B.J. Enger, who gave Duluth Enger Park, or the Marshall sisters, Caroline and Julia, who gave us the land for Bayfront Park, or Lois Paulucci, who gave us $3 million to develop the Bayfront, are leaving legacies worth remembering.
In Minnetonka, private interests raised $6 million to build a new hockey arena for the public school. That's not so different from the private fund-raising that went into building the Mars Lakeview Arena in Duluth.
If Duluthians really wanted to set themselves apart from other communities, both the wealthy and the not so wealthy would join forces to increase greatly the amount endowed for college scholarships for graduates of Duluth's four high schools. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if Duluth had an endowment of $100 million, the interest and dividends from which could be used only for scholarships.
Duluth already does a lot for its graduates. Holly Sampson, president of the Duluth-Superior Area Foundation, says that her organization gives $1.3 million to college students from Duluth annually. The top 11 percent of our students receive help of one kind or another.
The Hunt Scholarship is the largest at $5,500 annually for up to four years, but most of those grants are of the $1,000 variety. They are welcome gestures honoring many of our outstanding young people, but they don't necessarily tip the balance to make sure that our children can afford college. In most cases, the colleges include the amount of grants and scholarships available to a student when determining their own financial aid package for that student. Thus, a student receives a grant from back home, and the college takes away a work-study job.
Imagine what would happen if an endowment were created that would make it possible to pay tuition, room and board for most or all of the 1,300 students who graduate from our high schools each year.
Maybe the endowment starts out small, and can only pay tuition, room and board for only one year for only the top 25 percent of each graduating class. But if the goal to create a universal endowment for all graduating seniors is reached, it could transform this city.
Think of what it would mean as a recruiting tool for economic development. Think of how big a boost it would be to recruit workers to Duluth, if an employer could say, "If your child graduates from a Duluth high school, (50, 75 or 100 percent) of his or her college tuition, room and board will be paid for (one, two, three or four) years."
The Duluth schools could soon stop worrying about which buildings they need to close because of declining enrollment.
All we need are a few Duluthians who can see beyond a bigger bathroom to creating a lasting legacy. They could make Duluth stand out in its appreciation for higher education. If you are thinking about building a $20 million Taj Ma Duluth, cut the specs to, say, $1 million or $2 million, and use the difference to create a legacy that will positively affect this community for generations to come.
Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer news. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com .

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.