Milford's millions: Anonymous gift has jaws dropping

2014-01-26T06:00:00Z 2014-02-03T13:57:04Z Milford's millions: Anonymous gift has jaws droppingBy ALGIS J. LAUKAITIS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

John Melena is the happiest and most sleep-deprived golf course superintendent in Nebraska.

Thornridge, the nine-hole course he manages on the edge of Milford, is closed for the winter, but Melena lies awake at night thinking about THE MONEY.

And he's not the only one sleepless in Seward County.

Earlier this month, residents learned an anonymous donor had left $6.85 million to nine groups and organizations in Milford, population 2,156.

Thornridge, one of the top nine-hole courses in the state, will receive a $1 million endowment for maintenance and improvements and $250,000 to establish a permanent retirement fund for the golf course superintendent.

Melena, 51, said the nest egg will be used for future superintendents, as well, and he's not planning to retire any time soon.

"I've been kidding them that I'm going to hang around for another 25 years," said Melena, who answers to a nine-member board and has been the family-oriented course's only superintendent since it opened in 1990.

He's already received plenty of suggestions from golfers on how to use the money, but said no decisions have been made. The board will look at such things as improving cart paths and equipment. And he noted that the course has no clubhouse and no plans to build one.

Like everyone else, Melena can only speculate on who gave the money, but he wants him or her to know it's appreciated.

"I can't thank them personally but I want them to know that we will be good stewards of the money," he said.

All of the money donated is to be used to create endowments.

The Milford Public Schools District will get the biggest chunk: $2.5 million for new programs. Its foundation will get $1 million to boost scholarships, and the teacher's fund will get $300,000.

The city of Milford is to receive $1.6 million, according to Union Bank and Trust, which is distributing the money. That's more than half of the city's annual budget of nearly $3 million.

"Well, my jaw dropped," said Mayor Dean Bruha.

He said he felt like the town had won the lottery and had to double check — just like he would if he had a winning ticket — to make sure it was true.

Of the $1.6 million, two gifts of $300,000 go to Webermeier Library and Milford Senior Center.

Linden Village, which offers independent living for seniors and those with disabilities, and the Milford Family Medical Center each will get $100,000.

"It gives us an opportunity to do some projects that we could only wish we could do," said Bruha, who is serving his third term as mayor.

The money for the city comes with a stipulation it be used to enhance the community, not for tax relief.

Bruha said city officials are looking at developing a recreational trail loop, repairing curbs, gutters and streets, increasing handicapped access and adding infrastructure for more housing.

"We would like to expand our residential area because we are bursting at the seams," he said. "We got tons of people who want to move here but there's no place to build a house."

Milford is locked in by the Big Blue River on the north and east and Coon Creek on the south.

The mayor said he has a pretty good idea who gave the generous gift but will honor their request for anonymity.

"Sure, a lot of people have their suspicions," Bruha said. "We have some folks in town that are well off financially, but you would never know it by how they conduct themselves and talking to them. These are folks that have been part of the community for eons."

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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