Ask Mary and Harold Tilstra why they support CFANS students and they’ll give you these three words: connections, opportunities, and possibilities.
The recently retired couple, both U of M graduates who met as freshmen, are passionate about helping students find unexpected ways to discover new ideas and meet people they might otherwise not have known as they pursue their college degrees and careers beyond. That’s why they started the Dr. Harold and Mary Tilstra Fund for Food and Animal Sciences in December 2021.
“Sometimes a college student just needs a little extra help,” said Mary, who graduated from CFANS with a BS in food science and nutrition in 1973, recalling her own years on campus. She and Harold, who earned his DVM degree from the U of M’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1975, noted the needs of graduate students who had been invited to various poster sessions. “They couldn’t afford travel or meals; their struggles were all cost-related issues,” said Mary. “Our initial impetus was to have a pool of dollars that could help.”
The Tilstras give to CFANS through an IRA qualified charitable distribution, in which donors can give up to $100,000 directly from their IRA without paying federal income tax on the distribution. A key advantage is that distributions made under this law can be used to satisfy the annual required minimum distribution (RMD). Instead of taking a charitable income tax deduction for the gift, the distribution may be excluded from the donor’s income. “This is a smart, effective way to help accomplish our retirement investment goals while at the same time investing in the leaders of tomorrow,” said Mary.
The Tilstra’s CFANS fund is flexible, allowing the College to determine where the greatest needs are each year to enhance student learning opportunities and experiences at the intersection of production animal medicine, animal science, and food science and nutrition. “With Mary’s expertise in food science and my background in animal food and health, we wanted to focus our giving on where the connection happens,” said Harold, noting that it was important to the couple that the fund was not restricted. “How do we know what the need will be 30 years from now?” he said.
Mary and Harold both feel blessed by the opportunities the U of M opened for them. After graduation, Mary joined the Betty Crocker Test Kitchen, developing recipes in their consumer division. She went on to work in her local Extension office, and then a chain of grocery stores, educating citizens about food choices and teaching cooking classes.
In 1978, the couple moved back to the farm near Luverne, Minnesota, where Harold grew up. He continued his veterinary practice until 1991, when he began to focus his efforts on the use of biofuels coproducts in animal feeds. He worked at Purina Feeds, part of Land O’Lakes, for 20 years, while also serving as a delegate to the U.S. Grain Council, promoting exports of corn, barley, and sorghum as feed. The Tilstras also are the proud parents of three sons, all Gophers who graduated from the U of M with engineering degrees.
“The start we got at the U of M played a huge part in exposing us to the wider possibilities that we didn’t even know were out there,” said Harold. “Mary and I have enjoyed many rewarding, and totally unexpected, experiences throughout our careers. We’re really grateful for that and want to help open up opportunities for others as well.”