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Leach Foundation donates $600,000 for Great Plains Theater in Heritage Center Expansion

Posted 1/07/14 (Tue)

BISMARCK – The Tom and Frances Leach Foundation has given a gift of $600,000 to the expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck. 

It was announced December 18 at the North Dakota Heritage Center. 

This gift will sponsor The Great Plains Theater, which will be located near the new front entrance of the Heritage Center. Seating approximately 70 people, the theater will be used for historical programs and presentations and be available for use by the public for special events.

Research is being done with the Thomas and Frances Leach personal and business papers, which are preserved in the State Archives of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.  From this research, a documentary will be produced to highlight the role of Thomas and Frances Leach in the development of North Dakota’s oil industry, as well as the generous philanthropy of the Thomas and Frances Leach Foundation that gives back to communities in the region.

“Tom and Frances Leach have done so much for our state, and their legacy of giving continues today in this donation to the expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who spoke at the announcement ceremony. “This new, impressive facility will stand as a symbol of pride for our state and will chronicle and preserve our rich and storied history for future generations. Thank you to the Tom and Frances Leach Foundation for this generous gift and for their continued investment in North Dakota.”

“Tom and Frances Leach played a significant role in North Dakota history,” said Karl Lembke, development officer for the SHSND Foundation. “Known as the ‘father of the North Dakota petroleum industry’ Tom Leach’s contributions to the oil industry changed the landscape of our state.  Tom and Frances were very generous, and their giving continues today through their Bismarck-based foundation.”

“The Board of Directors of the Tom and Frances Leach Foundation is very proud to make this grant to the Heritage Center. This beautiful new building is a testament to the importance North Dakotans place on preserving their history,” said Brian Bjella, president of the Leach Foundation. “The oil industry is a part of that history, as is Tom Leach who put together the prospect with Amerada Petroleum that became the Clarence Iverson discovery well. We congratulate the Heritage Center on this tremendous accomplishment.”

The 2009 Legislative Assembly authorized $51.7 million for the expansion of the exhibits and collections spaces of the North Dakota Heritage Center.  Of this, $39.7 million in state funds was appropriated.  An additional $12 million is being raised from private sector donors, says Foundation Executive Director Virginia Nelsen.   

According to Development Director Marlo Sveen, the Foundation has raised more than $11.6 million in private donations to date.  The grand opening of the Heritage Center is scheduled for Nov. 2, 2014, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the state.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation is a private, non-profit organization supported by membership and donations. It was formed in 1965 by the state legislature to generate private financial support for the State Historical Society’s projects and programs that are not funded by the legislature. 

The Foundation is governed by a board, which includes Jon McMillan, president, Fordville; Wally Beyer, vice president, Bismarck; Barb Lang, treasurer, Jamestown; Darrell Dorgan, secretary, Bismarck; Pat Grantier and Dalles Schneider, Bismarck; Dennis Johnson, Watford City; Armen Hanson, Devils Lake; Robert Horne, Tom Riley, Paul Olson and Don Haugen, Fargo; and State Historical Society Board Liaison Peggy Puetz, Bismarck.