Eldon Hill’s time growing up in Loyal during the Great Depression was full of challenges, but his experiences then and the assistance he received from others in the small Clark County community have remained with him. 

In fact, Hill credits his early life — which included stints working at a lumber mill and salvaging scrap metal — with shaping him for a life that led to his becoming a longtime doctor who worked for much of his career in Eau Claire. Now Hill wants to give back.

Hill, 96, who now lives in Seattle, is donating $1 million via the Draper Hills Financial Literacy Fund to his alma mater, the Loyal school district, to establish a financial literacy program. On Friday, at a ceremony at the Eau Claire Golf & Country Club, he gave the first $25,000 of that total to the district, money that will pay the part-time salary of a teacher for this school year along with other costs. The Eau Claire Community Foundation will oversee the endowment.

“His wish is to use this as a way to pay back the Loyal community,” Hill’s oldest child, Seattle resident and Eau Claire Memorial High School alum Carter Hill, said of the donation to create a financial literacy program. “He has been forever grateful for what he learned growing up in Loyal, and this is his way to help pay that forward.”

The program will include Loyal students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Students will learn a variety of skills, from how to balance a checkbook to what types of insurance they should have to credit card debt. Funding for the program will grow next year to cover the costs of a full-time teacher and other program expenses. 

The program could expand beyond the classroom, Carter Hill said, and could include community events intended to educate adults about various financial literacy topics. 

“He feels there is a hole in education when it comes to financial topics and teaching people about them,” Carter Hill said of his father. “So many students and others don’t understand the basics of money, even simple things like how to balance a checkbook. The idea is that teaching students those skills while they are young can allow them to make wiser decisions without having to learn them the hard way.”

While the financial literacy effort is meant to benefit Loyal school students, it has the potential to help many others, Carter Hill said. He hopes residents in other school districts help fund similar initiatives. 

“This can be much bigger than the community of Loyal,” he said. 

Sue Bornick, executive director of the Eau Claire Community Foundation, seconded that notion.

“What is happening in Loyal could happen anywhere,” Bornick said. “We hope this generous donation will help spur others to undertake similar efforts in their communities.”

‘For our kids’

Eldon Hill didn’t make most of his fortune working as a doctor, his son said, noting the elder Hill has increased his monetary worth tenfold since he retired at age 65. “He really made most of his money by investing wisely,” Carter Hill said, “and by making sound financial decisions. Now he wants to pass those lessons on.”

Loyal school district officials praised the donation, saying it allows them to provide an educational opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford given state-imposed spending limits.

“In small communities like ours schools are cutting from their budgets all the time,” Loyal school board vice president Deb Roedel said. “This donation allows us to actually add to our programming, to do more for our kids.”

Loyal schools Superintendent Cale Jackson said the endowment has special meaning for a relatively small district like Loyal, which has an enrollment of about 560 students. 

“This is the kind of thing I sometimes see happening in other school districts,” Jackson said. “It is a big deal for us. The impact of it is still sinking in.”

Loyal schools business education teacher Wendy Lambrecht will teach the financial literacy program, part-time this year and full-time next year and after. She said the skills the program will offer will benefit even elementary school children. 

When she first heard about the program idea two years ago, Lambrecht immediately approached Jackson and told him “I want to do this.” The program fits well with her master’s degree training, she said. 

“These are such important life skills we all need,” Lambrecht said. 

Difference maker

Loyal students already benefit from previous generosity by Eldon Hill. Since 2014, two high school seniors attending four-year colleges receive $12,000 scholarships and one senior attending a two-year school receives a $5,000 scholarship, thanks to him. 

Carter Hill said his father started the scholarship program in the spirit of someone who helped him pay for his first two years of college at UW-Madison. Scholarships are not based only on academic achievement but on effort as well. 

“My dad wasn’t the valedictorian of his class, but he worked hard,” Carter Hill said. 

After beginning to fund the scholarships — which total $93,000 so far — Eldon Hill decided he wanted to do more to help his hometown, his son said. The financial literacy endowment seems like an appropriate, meaningful way to do so, Carter Hill said. 

“If we can get some young people to learn how to make smarter money decisions, we could be making a significant contribution,” he said. 

Contact: 715-830-5911, julian.emerson@ecpc.com