Gift of a Lifetime

Winnett graduate donates $5 million for new community center
By: 
CHARLIE DENISON
Senior Reporter
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
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Larry Carrell stands by a sketch of the future Petroleum County Community Center. Thanks to his generous $5 million donation the community center will become a reality.

Photo courtesy of Brenda Brady

Ask and you shall receive.

During the Winnett All-School Reunion in July, class of 1958 graduate Larry Carrell was asked if he’d be interested in contributing to the efforts to build the Petroleum County Community Center. Carrell – a Winnett native who had done well for himself in the oil industry – expressed interest right away.

 “I met with a couple committee members and thought it was a worthwhile project for a donation,” Carrell said.

“He said he was going to give us some money to help make this happen,” recalled PCCC Committee co-chair Sue McKenna. “He was very mild-mannered about it.”

Carrell was a man of his word. In September, he shared a letter of commitment to the PCCC committee members to assist them with their proposed facility. 

Just how much he was willing to assist, however, was far beyond anything the committee imagined.

“We were hoping maybe someone could donate $100,000,” said co-chair Luann Knutson said. “We didn’t have anything like this on our radar.” 

Carrell donated an astonishing $5 million.

People were unable to contain their enthusiasm when McKenna and Knutson made this announcement during a community meeting last Wednesday.

“It was so fun to take everyone’s breath away and see the eyes pop,” said Knutson.

“There was a lot of screaming and yelling,” added McKenna. “There were a lot of tears. It was dizzying, almost numbing. It was hard to believe at first. People couldn’t wrap their head around that amount.”

This phenomenal donation makes the PCCC Committee’s dream come true.

“This gift he’s given us will not just build a beautiful building but will enable us to create an endowment and sustain this for generations to come,” McKenna said.

That is exactly Carrell’s intent.

“I pretty well had a ballpark idea of the cost of the facility, and I think it doesn’t make any sense to build something like that if you can’t make it sustainable,” he said. “It’s equally critical to have a means of supporting it into the future. This should provide the basis and a substantial endowment to sustain the facility. I’m hopeful with other donations and grants they should be in a position where this won’t ever be a burden on the taxpayers.”

Carrell’s donation has two parts: part one of the donation is to pledge $4.5 million with no conditions and the second part of it will match dollar for dollar up to an aggregate of $500,000.

McKenna said she’s still on cloud nine, and it’s been a month. She’s just so amazed by Carrell’s generosity.

“He knew what we were up against out here in Winnett,” she said. “He knew the struggle it would be for us to try to sustain it.”

Carrell, who currently lives just outside of Lewistown, said he couldn’t think of a better place to put the money.

“This stems from being raised in Winnett and having strong feelings about the community,” he said. “In Winnett you help your neighbors. I’ve never gotten beyond that. It’s the right thing to do.”

Although Carrell’s family left Winnett in 1971 and he has lived elsewhere, Winnett still feels like home. It brings him joy to have the good fortune to help pay the community forward. He also has faith in the people in charge.

“They are good people and I have the confidence they will manage the community center well,” he said. “It will all be for the benefit of the community.”

Carrell shared this and more with Winnett residents on Wednesday, telling them they are all worth it. Screaming, dancing and celebrating ensued.

“It was unbelievable,” said McKenna. “One person told me this is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in Winnett.”

“That could be true,” added Knutson. “I believe this is the largest donation the county has ever received.”

Knutson was especially blown away by this monumental contribution. She’s the one who spearheaded the effort to build a community center in town. 

“A few years back I put a post on Facebook inviting anyone interested in seeing a community center in Winnett to my house,” she said. “I was hoping 3-5 people would show up. Fifteen showed up, and we’ve been at it ever since. We’ve received so much support from the people of Winnett as well as the surrounding communities…and now we’ve won the lottery. We are very lucky and extremely grateful. We couldn’t thank Larry enough.”

Carrell told the committee he would like to see the 10,000-12,000 foot square foot community center to be ready by the next All School Reunion five years from now.

“That’s my hope,” he said. “It’s a realistic timeline.”

Knutson said she is optimistic the committee can meet this goal and she’s already looking forward to it.

“Larry wants to walk through the front doors,” she said. “He will be the center of attention.”

Carrell could take or leave the attention. What excites him is seeing the building become a reality and knowing it’s in good hands for generations to come.

“There is a big need for this facility,” he said. “I have faith they will manage it well.”

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