Man leaves fortune to family, with one big condition

9:08 PM, Sep 26, 2013   |    comments
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LUCK, Wis. - The Ravenholt family reunion is precisely what the host had in mind. 

He spent months pondering the details, knowing when the day finally came to partake in the Ravenholt reunion, he'd be somewhere else. 

Namely, in the family plot at the West Denmark Cemetery, just outside of Luck.

Albert was the oldest of nine Ravenholt children who endured the Great Depression and a sheriff's eviction from their farm near Luck.

Albert's 25 nieces and nephews all know the story of Albert finding his way to New York in his late teens, winding up as a cook on a Swedish ship and eventually jumping ship in Shanghai.

He worked for the Red Cross for a time, became a war correspondent and an agricultural innovator, both in Asia and in the United States. Albert also turned out to be a shrewd property investor, amassing a fortune of several million dollars.

That's where things get interesting. Before he died in 2010, at the age of 90, Albert made out a will - with a clause. Which brings us back to the Ravenholt family reunion. To receive their share of Albert's wealth, his nieces and nephews are required to attend.

"When we first heard about it, we thought he was crazy," laughs Monty Krog, who traveled to the reunion from Seattle with his wife, Lynn, Albert's niece.

Specifically, Albert's trust stipulates that every two years, in August or September, his nieces and nephews must meet for a reunion in Polk County. Fail to show, and that niece or nephew is cut off for the next two years.

"It was incentive to make people come," says Meg Ravenholt-Hankin, another of Albert's nieces. "It was his idea and he told the lawyers how he wanted it to work."

Albert knew he wasn't the only one in his family with wanderlust. Not one of his nieces and nephews settled in Luck. They spread out across the country, raising their families in Idaho, Nevada, Virginia, Tennessee and half a dozen other states.

Albert watched as they moved, not only farther away from their Polk County roots, but from each other. Some cousins hadn't been in touch with the rest in 30 years.  Albert's wife had died before him.  They had no children.  So Albert decided to use part of his fortune to lure his extended family back together.

"He thought, this family doesn't know each other and this is the way to do it," said Astrid Ravenholt, Albert's youngest sister.

No one gets rich off the checks they receive from Albert's trust. The latest distribution was just over $1100. But fail to show up for one reunion and nieces and nephews also forfeit the next three checks. They're not eligible for payments again until they attend another reunion.

All but two of the nieces and nephews made it to Luck this summer. One of the missing was starting a new job and forfeited her checks. The other has an ongoing illness, which is allowed under the terms of the trust, with 60 days notice of his absence. The checks are still his.

"It's not a fortune; it's not going to send me off to the Riviera on vacation, but it pays my way to come here" said Beth Zipser, one of Albert's nieces. She also uses the money to pay for theatre tickets. She thinks her uncle would approve. "He was a very smart guy, very, very, long sighted."

Albert's generosity extended beyond his nieces and nephews. Luck's new library and museum are among the Polk County projects Albert's wealth has helped support.

"My uncle was a special man. All families should be so lucky," said Ann Bokelman, a niece who drove to Luck with her family, from Iowa.

The family shared stories and traditional Danish cuisine at West Denmark Lutheran Church. They paid a visit to Albert at the cemetery. They held hands and processed to the front of the church for a group photo. Smiles were wide. The mood was warm.

As Luck - and Albert - would have it. 

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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