An Anonymous Bridge Donor Raises the Standard for Giving

Mon February 03, 2014 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

Giles Lamberston.
Giles Lamberston.

Something special happened in northeast Nebraska to start off the new year: Someone gave lots of money to rebuild an historic bridge, but that isn’t what is interesting. This is: The donor demanded anonymity.

The 100-year-old bridge in question crossed the Elkhorn River before flooding dropped it three years ago and gouged out the embankment at one end. Traffic across the steel-truss structure on the edge of the community of Neligh came to a halt and funding to replace the structure seemed unlikely for years.

Enter a donor who, through his or her Chicago-land lawyer, offered the community $650,000 to replace the bridge. The only stipulation was an ironclad agreement that the donation remain anonymous.

You gotta wonder—and I’m sure everyone in the region has—why someone would be so unselfishly generous. For there always is an element of selfishness when signature donations are public. Recognition is a great balm in the later years of a person’s life. A name on a building—or bridge—is a coveted legacy for many people of goodwill and good fortune.

While there is no intent to criticize such gifts and public rewards, the fact is that giving without publicity is almost next to godliness. In fact, Christian tenets—and probably other religious traditions—stress that the reward received hereafter for good works is diminished in equivalency to the applause received now. In short, modesty is good.

But maybe there are other reasons. The person might be in a witness protection program. Or secretly giving away money that belongs to the family. Or is so notorious that Neligh citizens would consider not accepting the money.

I am going to assume the best, and attribute the request for anonymity to good character. The person saw it needed done, wanted to help, and decided to do so if there were no hoopla surrounding him.

We need more such people. There are a lot of shaky bridges out there.