June 2, 2015

Masonic Lodge pledges $1 million to new hospital

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

The Fort Union Masonic Lodge, a fraternal organization with approximately 40 members and almost 90 years of history in Watford City, has made it single largest donation to a local cause when it pledged $1 million to the McKenzie County Healthcare System, Inc. on May 26. The donation will be used for the construction of the healthcare system’s new replacement facility.
 “The healthcare system, and more importantly the citizens of McKenzie County, owe a great debt of gratitude to the Masons for their generous pledge in memory of Howard Bonner,” said Dan Kelly, CEO of the MCHS, Inc.
Howard Bonner was a Mason in Watford City who gave his entire estate to charity after he passed away decades ago. Half of his estate went to the Watford City Fort Union Masonic Lodge, and the other half went to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Minneapolis, Minn.
“Bonner’s legacy allows us to give to the community the way we have,” said Steve Stenehjem, a member of the Fort Union Masonic Lodge in Watford City. “The Masons are a fraternal organization that is a community-oriented fraternity. The MCHS hospital project just kind of fit into what we would do anyway. We’ve all lived here and we’ve known that the hospital had this project. So when they asked to speak with us, we kind of had an idea of what they wanted to talk about. And we all wanted to support a project that is greatly needed in this community.”
The Fort Union Masons in Watford City have always given out money each year to charitable organizations, causes, and scholarships - in support of the community. According to Stenehjem, they’ve averaged about $65,000 in giving each year. And with the legacy of Bonner’s estate, this amount of monetary giving has been possible.
“We’ve been pretty good about donating to and helping major projects in the past,” stated Stenehjem. “We’ve given to the Connie Wold Wellness Center, the hockey building, the water park, the Visitor’s Center, and many others. And although we’ve made this pledge of $1 million to the MCHS, we still intend to give out those school scholarships going forward.”
It has only been over the past five or six years, including the recent knowledge of existing oil on Bonner’s land that the Masons started receiving additional money from the Bonner estate.
“We have the legacy of his estate,” added Stenehjem. “And only recently did we start getting oil money into that estate. Bonner was a good Mason and a nice guy. He wanted to help people. We are able to continue his legacy and our legacy as a group - helping people. We’re doing everything we can for this healthcare project and our community with the resources we have. And we all know and agree that we need a good healthcare system here.”
The Masons pledged and committed to $1 million toward the new healthcare facility with a donation of $250,000 in cash immediately, with a pledge to fund the remaining $750,000 over the next 10 years.
“When the current project came in over budget, my first response was sheer panic,” stated Kelly. “As time went along, I became confident that the healthcare system would obtain the funding needed to make up the gap. It is the generous support from organizations such as the Masons that will make having a state-of-the-art medical center, a reality.”
MCHS officials anticipate beginning construction on the new $79.1 million healthcare facility and medical complex in June 2015. The time frame for completion is approximately two years.