Tucked between I-90 and expansive wheat fields 60 miles west of Spokane, the rural town of Ritzville, Washington, is a mere speck on most road maps. But the quaint farming community holds a big place in the hearts of Willard and Patricia Hennings.
Both born and raised in the town of about 1,800 people, Patricia and Willard have proudly called the area in and around Ritzville home for more than 80 years. The wheat farmers and cattle ranchers have fond memories of their childhoods and raising their own family there. They want to see Ritzville continue to be a good place to live for future generations.
“It’s a really nice town and a great place to live,” Patricia says. “We want to help keep it going strong for years to come.”
The Hennings established an endowment fund through Innovia Foundation to do just that. The Willard & Patricia Hennings Fund will provide ongoing support for the city’s efforts to improve the public appearance of the city’s buildings, streets, sidewalks, schools and parks and recreation areas, including public art.
The fund is expected to generate approximately $40,000 per year. The first distribution was granted to the city in early May 2015. Distributions have supported several projects for downtown Ritzville, including the cemetery, the main city entrance and the municipal golf course. In addition, funds have been used to purchase a Christmas tree and decorations for the community’s annual holiday display.
Willard says he hopes these types of improvements will not only make the community a better place to live but will also make the town more attractive to new businesses and support the success of the town’s existing businesses.
The Hennings’ family roots run deep in Ritzville. Willard’s father, Carsten Herman Hennings, traveled from Germany when he was 17 to join his sister, one of Ritzville’s earliest settlers. Patricia’s father, Richard Ott, was also a lifelong resident and served as city attorney, mayor and eventually chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court in the early 1960s.
The Hennings say they established the fund under the guidance of their legal advisor, Pete Witherspoon, as a way to give back directly to the community, while also leveraging the tax benefits of charitable giving.
“I have been very lucky in the stock market and with farming, and it just seemed like a good time to start giving some of that away and help a town that’s been so important to us,” Willard says.