A $1 million contribution from a local philanthropist will enable Redwood Falls to join the likes of Alexandria, Fergus Falls, and White Bear Lake, whose school districts have embraced the value of technical education for its students alongside close collaborations with its local manufacturers.
Orrin Estebo, a Redwood Falls attorney, recently committed $1 million to establish the Orrin S. Estebo Career Development Center at the local high school.
Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Falls’ school superintendent, said the donation—part of a $2 million overall plan—will help enable the district to remodel the west wing of its current high school to develop a manufacturing tech center for high school students as well as local manufacturers for after-hours training.
Local manufacturers, he said, have voiced concern about their ability to maintain their workforce in the face of Baby Boomer retirements over the next five years. “Can we work together somehow so that kids who are graduating from here can be aware they don’t have to move away to get a good job?” They can walk across the street and do that, but they have to know about it.
He said the school’s wood shop looks like the shops that I grew up in. What we’re wanting to do is partner with some businesses in town and create a career development center that would be for kids by day and for adults after the school day ends.
“Orrin has been promoting this idea for years,” Ellingworth said. “He said the world doesn’t necessarily need more four-year college graduates. We need more people who can earn a good living and make a difference right in their local communities with their hands.”
Estebo, who grew up on a farm, has “an appreciation for people who are able to do some kind of mechanical things themselves.” There are good local jobs for those who are willing to get training, he said, but “it’s a hard sell because it sounds a lot nicer to have somebody go to St. Olaf and get a degree in philosophy than it does to go to Dunwoody Institute.”
Estebo is a longtime patron to the Redwood Falls school district. He made his first major contribution in the early ‘90s using the proceeds of a life insurance policy he had received following the death of his wife Nancy. As a teacher in Redwood Falls, Nancy had a school-sponsored life insurance policy for $100,000.
I wasn’t expecting this,” Estebo said and promptly directed the money to fund technology, a coordinator and a computer lab for the district, according to Ellingworth, which, he adds, “was pretty revolutionary back then.”
A few years later, Estebo contributed $250,000 to start a Dollars for Scholars chapter for Redwood Falls, a program that awards scholarships to students who are going to be graduating from the local school. He has since given another $1 million to that project.
“He and Nancy didn’t have any kids of their own. He’s done very well in life. He would say he’s lucky, we would say there’s a lot of brightness that goes along with that.”
Ellingworth pitched the idea of a $2 million project to Estebo at lunch, after which Estebo announced that he wanted to kick it off with a million of his own.
“We’ve always had a collaborative spirit around here that said two good entities working together can produce more than two good entities working in isolation,” Ellingworth said. “Orrin has kicked this up with this gift.”
Ellingworth said that he and Estebo will try to find other business players to contribute to the project.
“By the end of this project we’re going to be on the cutting edge of doing things in partnership with the business community, who by the way, already contribute through the tax base. We want to take it to the next level.”