CENTRAL LAKE — Cleo Purdy never forgot where she came from.
The Central Lake native left the family farm in the 1950s, served in the Army, then went on to make millions in the California real estate market. Through it all, though, Purdy always kept Central Lake and its children close to her heart.
“She was always bragging about Central Lake,” said Purdy’s niece, Nancy Gibbard-Sulz. “She wanted to help the children. To uplift the children. She wanted them all to be lifted up and to know you could make something of yourself.”
Purdy passed away in January but, in death, gave back to her rural northern Michigan hometown in a big way. Purdy donated $12 million to the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation. The foundation will now use the money to fund early childhood education endeavors in Central Lake, along with other educational programs and projects that help Central Lake families remove themselves from poverty.
“It was home,” said Phil Ellis, executive director of the Community Foundation. “She was born and raised (in Central Lake,) and that was home for her. She saw education as a way out of poverty. She felt very strongly that to service the educational developmental needs of early childhood was (a way) for kids and their families to find a pathway out of poverty.”
The money will all be spent in the Central Lake area with the intent of helping kids get the best education possible. Central lake Schools Superintendent Ben Williams said the district is extremely grateful for Purdy’s generosity.
“It’s an amazingly magnanimous gift — a real game changer for our school district and our community,” Williams said.
Purdy already funded an addition to the Central Lake Schools property that houses classrooms for early childhood education. Non-profits and other tax-exempt organizations, including the school district, can apply for funding for educational programs through the Community Foundation. The exact particulars on how the money will be spent will be discerned over time, but it’s clear Purdy wanted a significant portion of the money to be spent on early childhood education.