Andy Kiselius put his trust in his friend, Nancy Gallagher, to do what she thought was right with his estate after he was gone. It’s a responsibility that has both kept her up at night, and brought her great joy. “I’ve tried hard to listen to my gut and to honor his unspoken wishes,” says Nancy. The exceedingly frugal bachelor died in 2007 and since then, acting as his trustee, Nancy has made two significant gifts to the Leelanau Conservancy. That’s where the joy part comes in.
The first gift came in 2008, when we were working to raise funds to purchase the DeYoung Natural Area. Nancy had read about the land and its history, and about a Carls Foundation matching grant that was due to expire at year end. She had spent time at DeYoung with her children on a school outing and fell in love with the property. So that the Conservancy could move forward with creating trails and restoring the historic farmstead barn, she stepped in with a donation from the estate that would finish the challenge match.
At that time, Nancy told us, “My heart tells me that Andy would love this. Helping preserve the DeYoung property, and what I think of as the Gateway to Leelanau County, seems a fitting way to not only honor the land, but also my friend.”
Five years later, almost to the day, Nancy was back in our office again, signing papers that would forever protect Andy’s beautiful 41 acres off of M-22 near Traverse City. The land is an oasis in an area of ridge top homes and subdivisions. It’s also close to protected farmland. “The wildlife habitat and forest will remain intact, and the views people see of his ridge line while out on West Bay will never change,” says Yarrow Wolfe, Conservation Easement Program Manager for the Leelanau Conservancy.
Nancy says that developers regularly knocked on Andy’s door, trying to buy his 41 acres and its views of Grand Traverse Bay, but “he never seemed too interested in their sales pitches.”
Nancy first met Andy in 2004. Bachelor brothers Vincent and Andy Kiselius were living together in a small house on the 41 acres in Greilickville. She was working as a hospice nurse, caring for Vincent, who was in the last stages of lung cancer.
During the six months that Nancy visited their home, she developed an extraordinary friendship with Andy. “We began to have these great conversations and he was such an interesting man,” says Nancy. “We were at opposite ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But we developed this genuine liking and mutual respect for one another. My father was quite conservative too, and Andy reminded me a lot of my dad.” Vincent passed away in March of 2005, but Nancy continued to come by and check on Andy. She lived nearby and was concerned about him living alone. She fretted over the steep, narrow steps that led to his basement. Often she brought one of her two children along. They all liked hearing “Andy stories.”
Their debates and conversations continued for another two years. She says Andy gently teased her, calling her a “tree hugger.” He spent most of his days outdoors doing various projects on his land, and clearly loved it even though she says he was not what she would call a classic environmentalist.
“Many of our discussions revolved around this county and the need not only to preserve, but to honor the land that fed us on every level, so I know that he did care about Leelanau County and its future. And if he didn’t love the land, I think he would have been living in the city.”
Having lived through the Great Depression, Andy was incredibly frugal. “He kept the thermostat at 60 or less so that I could see my breath, and I had to keep my big down coat on when I visited,” she says. He darned his own socks and even though she bought him pairs of warm wool “Smart Socks,” it was no surprise to find them in a dresser drawer, still in their wrapper, after he died.
Andy had made his living as a TV repairman, and, on the side, had bought and sold small houses in Traverse City. One day he drove her around and showed them to her. His only family was a sister with severe dementia who was living in a nursing home. He told Nancy that he did not have a will, and mused about what to do. She put him in touch with attorney, Bill Rastetter at Olson, Bzdok & Howard. Soon after, Andy asked her to become his trustee, and said he trusted her to do what she thought was right with his money after he was gone. Other than expressing a wish that some of his estate be directed to certain charitable causes, he told her it was up to her.
“As Andy got closer to the end of his life, he made a big shift,” says Nancy. “He talked much less about money, and more about what really mattered in life. I think he would be happy about the way his estate has been used to protect a part of Leelanau.”