March 18, 2013

A former St. Lawrence Catholic School fifth-grade teacher who passed away nearly a year ago has donated $557,000 to the Carroll Public Library Foundation through her estate.

Donna Bergeson, a native of Carroll who spent a half century in western Iowa classrooms, built the donation one teacher paycheck by one teacher paycheck over her professional lifetime, said her sister Marilyn Setzler.

"This is from a very common person," Setzler said. "This is not from a wealthy, flashy person."

Setzler added, "This donation to the Carroll Public Library is, to me, an astounding amount considering the majority of it came from her teacher's salary."

The library is the sole beneficiary of Bergeson's estate - with the exception of family heirlooms. Bergeson died at age 75 on May 15, 2012.

Setzler, a member of the Carroll Library Foundation, presented the check on behalf of her late sister to the organization during a ceremony last week.

Born July 23, 1936, in Carroll, a daughter of Leonard and Martha (Huegerich) Schirck, Donna Bergeson gravitated toward reading as a young girl.

"It's been important all of her life," Setzler said. "We went to the Carnegie Library when we were kids."

Bergeson had her left hand amputated as a child as a result of a fall, broken arm and mismanagement of a cast, Setzler said.

"They just didn't change it to take care of the growth of the arm," Setzler.

That limited Bergeson's activities. Reading became her escape.

"You know how it is with a kid who's not perfect," Setzler said.

But there is an upside. "When she went to the library, I tagged along," said Setzler of her older sister.

Setzler would go on to a career as an elementary school library in the Minneapolis suburbs before retiring in Carroll in 2002 and becoming, among other things, an active advocate of the library.

A 1954 graduate of Carroll High School, Bergeson was the first in her immediate family to attended college, graduating from Morningside College in Sioux City with both bachelor's and master's degrees in elementary education. She taught in Pisgah for two years and St. Lawrence from 1958 to 1963, before moving on to Sioux City for the lion's share of her career as an elementary teacher at three schools there. Bergeson retired in Carroll in 2001 and served a volunteer leader in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program's Speak Up program for fifth-graders in the Carroll area.

Mike Riddle, 63, vice president of Graphic Edge in Carroll and treasurer of the Carroll Library Foundation, had Bergeson as a teacher when he was a St. Lawrence fifth-grader.

"I remember she was always my favorite teacher," Riddle said.

Riddle said he's talked to other former classmates who feel the same way.

"I wouldn't have been the only one who thought she was special," Riddle said.

The $557,000 gift speaks for itself on that account, he said.

"I am so very proud of my sister and what she accomplished," Setzler said. "Throughout her whole life she was always very generous with family members, helping them however she could. She helped me through college and even helped pave quite a long driveway."

The sisters lost their mother when Marilyn was 13.

"She was the big sister but became a mother to me," Setzler said. "As I grew older we became best friends."

On July 16, 1973, Donna married Mearl H. (Bud) Bergeson in Winner, S.D.

Besides her sister Marilyn Setzler of Carroll, Donna is survived by her brother Denis (Shirley) Schirck of Carroll; as well as her stepchildren: Jennifer, Mearl and Melissa; her sister-in-law Francis Bergeson Jensen; as well as many nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by her parents; husband Bud in 1999; brother Earl and his wife Laura Schirck; and her brother-in-law, Ron Setzler.

Setzler can recall a number of conversations with her sister about the Carroll Public Library.

"When she came back to Carroll, she was appalled at the facility the citizens of Carroll had for a library," Setzler said. "How this could be acceptable was beyond her comprehension. She was thrilled when plans were made for a new library and disappointed like the rest of us when it was soundly defeated."

Carroll voters in August 2011 overwhelmingly turned down a financing referendum for a planned $7.4 million library, effectively sending back to elected officials and library volunteers a decision on whether to build a new public lending facility, add onto the current one or do nothing at all.

The referendum that would have allowed the city to issue up to $6 million in general-obligation bonds to fund a new library at the former Heider manufacturing site - south of the Union Pacific Railroad lines and west of Main Street - failed with 22 percent, or 643 voters in support, and 78 percent or 2,282 people, casting ballots against the public measure. The referendum required a super-majority of 60 percent for passage.

The library foundation had raised about $1.2 million for the project from private donations and grants - not counting Bergeson's contribution.

Mayor Adam Schweers has been working with an ad hoc committee of advisers on a potential plan for an addition to the current library. There is no timetable on when a plan may emerge although the Carroll City Council continues to list improved library services as its No. 1 capital priority.

Before she died, Bergeson removed any stipulations on how the Carroll Library Foundation could use her donation. The not-for-profit entity has complete authority with the funds.

That said, through conversations with Bergeson and Setzler, foundation members are aware that Bergeson wanted her bequest to go toward a stand-alone, new library, a top-notch facility that "makes a statement" about the importance of reading, education and young people in Carroll.

"This is the money she earned teaching, totally teaching," Setzler said.

(Editor's Note: Staff writer Douglas Burns is a member of the Carroll Library Foundation.)