Billings area farmer leaves $38 million to 2 Billings hospitals

2014-07-30T10:25:00Z 2014-08-01T16:08:09Z Billings area farmer leaves $38 million to 2 Billings hospitalsBy SUSAN OLP solp@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Paul Metzger was a humble man and a savvy investor.

The retired Billings area farmer, who died May 6, two months shy of his 98th birthday, also had a strong sense of community philanthropy.

That became evident during a news conference Wednesday morning, when it was revealed that Metzger left his entire $38 million estate divided equally between Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare.

It is the largest single gift either of the two hospitals have ever received.

Both will put the money into endowments. Metzger didn't restrict the gift, letting the hospitals decide how they will use the money.

The announcement was made at the downtown D.A. Davidson offices, where Metzger often spent his days following the stock market.

“It was Paul’s hope that this will serve as both a blessing to the community and a challenge to others to be benevolent and return a portion of what this wonderful place we call home has been to us,” said Todd Preston of D.A. Davidson, Metzger’s financial advisor.

Preston sat at a conference table with Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation; Dave Irion, president of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation; and Gary Everson, Metzger’s longtime attorney. An enlarged photograph of Metzger was propped up on an easel, with his brown fedora hanging below the picture.

Metzger, Preston said, had a sly sense of humor and a keen business sense.

“He was humble, thoughtful, didn’t want anybody to make a fuss over him, but very decisive, too,” Preston said. “When he got to the point that he lost his license to drive, he was meeting with a Realtor that afternoon and was going to assisted living.”

Metzger was born in Laurel in 1916. His parents, Louis and Nora Metzger, homesteaded on land south of the Yellowstone River off Duck Creek, between Billings and Laurel.

Metzger’s formal education ended after eighth grade, when he went to work on the farm. According to a brief biography, the family farm had no electricity, and Paul and his sister, Grace, shared the task of hauling water to the house.

The family’s 1947 wheat crop was the largest single purchase and sale of wheat ever made in Laurel by the Hageman Elevator at the time of its sale.

Metzger bought an adjoining farm in the early 1950s, and though he wasn’t averse to experimenting with crops, he grew mostly wheat. He bought and expanded the family operation, selling it in the mid-1970s when he retired.

Everson described Metzger as a wonderful man who was small in stature but always nattily dressed in a suit and a hat when he’d come to D.A. Davidson. 

When he retired, he lived a simple life in a sparsely furnished condo and never stopped using a rotary phone.

“He was very quiet and low-key, but he loved this community and he really thought a lot of the hospitals,” Everson said.

Both Irion and Duncan knew Metzger. Duncan pointed out that Metzger’s sister, Grace, made an anonymous $2.4 million donation in 2002 to Billings Clinic for a cardiovascular services endowment.

At that time, it was the largest one-time gift ever received from an individual.

“So, obviously, giving back and supporting the community was a key part of how this family was raised and how they believed they could make a difference,” Duncan said.

He pointed out that most of the great health care organizations around the U.S. have gotten where they are thanks to philanthropy.

“We know that these dollars will, for generations to come, transform how health care is delivered and how state-of-the-art technology, facilities and people that are in the business of delivering health care can do their jobs better,” Duncan said.

Irion called Metzger “a great example of the greatest generation, a man who started with little, worked hard, saved and believed in the importance of impacting the community in which he grew up.”

St. Vincent is committed to supporting medical work in our community for many years to come, Irion said. “Paul wanted this to have an impact over a broad range of the community and we will manage this in an endowment like fashion so these resources are going to be available for many, many years to come.”

Duncan and Irion said that how annual earnings from the endowments will be spent has not yet been determined.

“He didn’t want to tie our hands to something because he knew medicine is changing all the time and we needed to be nimble with the dollars,” Duncan said.

Though Metzger didn't want recognition from the two hospitals, both Duncan and Irion said Billings Clinic and St. Vincent will find a way to honor him.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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