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Appellate Court reverses $100,000 Wilson Brewer Park donation

Contribution had been designated for renovations at Depot museum

A $100,000 gift made last year to the Wilson Brewer Park Foundation has been reversed by order of the Iowa Court of Appeals after a successful legal challenge on behalf of Mabelle Raska, a successful businesswoman and longtime Webster City resident.

The Sept. 25 opinion precedes a meeting where the Wilson Brewer Historic Park Committee is expected to discuss the final design plans for the park.

The District Court granted Raska’s nephew, Floyd Poole, permission to donate $100,000 from her conservatorship’s funds in March 2017. As of March 2018, Raska’s total assets were valued at nearly $3.3 million. The long-time Webster City resident and business person now lives in a nursing and rehabilitation center and is considered unable to make decisions regarding her finances.

Guardian ad litem Joseline Greenley, of Webster City, challenged the decision, arguing the gift was given “without good cause” to an organization that was neither in Raska’s will nor in the history of donations over her lifetime before she became incapacitated. She also argued the gift was not structured to maximize income-tax benefits.

Court documents state that Poole believed Raska would want to make the gift, but that she never had the chance to do so.

“When they brought the depot down there, they said I hope they don’t just let it go to pieces, that they do something with it,” Poole said of the Raskas, who lived across the street from the park for years.

That quote, from a Daily Freeman-Journal story on the donation in July 2018, mirrors quotes cited in the appellate court opinion almost identically.

Greenley requested a more thorough discussion of factual determinations and to structure the gift to maximize income-tax benefit, but the motion was denied before this successful appeal.

The Raskas never donated to the Wilson Brewer Park Foundation, which was established in 2004 but did not gain tax-exemption status until 2016.

In addition to no history of donations to the WBPF, “there is no evidence of Mabelle or her husband having ever made a charitable donation even approaching the amount of the donation in this case,” the court’s opinion said.

Though relevant sections of Iowa code do not limit conservatorship gifts to recipients of past gifts made by a ward, the court noted that “without such history, the gift must provide a tax benefit to the conservatorship and cannot impair the best interests of the ward.”

Furthermore, “testimonial evidence of a mere relationship to the park and a hope it be well-kept does not provide support for a $100,000 gift,” it said.

Large donations were not typical of Mabelle Raska or her husband, according to testimony.

Raska’s church was the most frequent recipient of her donations before she became incapacitated with regard to her financial decisions. The court notes that her nephew did not continue those donations. The only other donations made by Poole from her fortune were $50 to United Service Organizations and $10 to Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Despite the setback, Gary Groves, chairman of the committee, says the park will be fine.

“It’s a big hit,” he said of the court’s reversal, but one the park can cope with given that it has not touched the funds donated by Raska.

In a phone call Monday, Groves said that the Raska donation was designated for renovation within the train depot itself, separate from an Illinois Central caboose that was ordered from Texas to sit on tracks outside the station.

The depot’s renovation budget is about $300,000 to $400,000, he said.

The caboose, purchased for about $32,000 with the total cost after installation estimated at $45,000 to $50,000, will not be affected.

The caboose, which the chairman says is completely paid for, was funded by approximately four to six sources, he said.

“We were always going to do something like that,” Groves said, it was just a matter of how many contributions it would take to fund the caboose purchase.

The caboose’s delivery and installation, initially slated for July, was postponed due to hurricanes in the Houston area, where the train was located. Grover said the committee is hopeful to have the caboose delivered by the end of October.

Once the caboose is on site, a call for volunteers will be put out to help restore the car by stripping and painting it.

The Wilson Brewer Historic Park Committee is expected to meet to discuss the final design plans for the park on Oct. 29 at 9 a.m. in Webster City City Hall.

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