An Unending Story
The average life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome is 55 years. Eris Ann Olson was nearly 66 when she passed away in 2006.
Her brother Galen Olson attributes Eris’ long life to two things: the love of her family and the lifetime of care she received at Gundersen Lutheran. “Eris got an extra 10 years for sure,” Galen says. “I wanted to show my appreciation in some small way for the health care she received.”
A longtime donor to Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation’s annual fund, Galen decided to make a major gift in his sister’s memory by establishing the Eris Ann Olson Endowment Fund in 2009.
Advocating for Those With Special Needs
Eris was the youngest child of four, and the only girl. Galen was seven years older, and nearest to her in age. He describes his sister as “extremely happy.” Friendly and outgoing, Eris had a great love of music. She enjoyed parties, and her family enjoyed celebrating her birthday with parties in her honor. “Eris was accepted by the rest of the family, totally,” he says.
Insurance companies in the 1960s were a different story, particularly before Medicare. Galen recalls how the family once bought a health insurance policy for Eris, which the company immediately cancelled upon discovering she had Down syndrome. It’s just one memory from his decades of experience advocating for a sister with special needs. He knew Eris was one of the lucky ones, “but I thought there must be people out there who don’t have someone to advocate for them,” Galen explains. “If there was a way I could give them some support, these children and adults with special needs could access the health care system.” He began to dream of a special fund to help families like his.
Putting a Plan in Place
Galen met with Chad Leitch from the estate planning firm of Thompson & Associates to discuss his ideas and concerns. Galen retired in 1998. “I didn’t have great jobs, and I thought I didn’t have enough money to do a lot,” Galen explains. “Chad allayed my fears and gave me a lot of support in what I wanted to accomplish.” That included setting aside money for his nieces and nephews, as well as an additional endowment gift to his church.
A designated bequest from his estate will also provide future funding for the Eris Ann Olson Endowment Fund at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation. Income from the Fund will be used to defray the costs of research, education and programs as they relate to children and adults with special needs, particularly those with Down syndrome. Special consideration will be given to the needs of the Adult Disability Clinic, where Eris received her care for so many years.
Galen Olson is a classic example of how estate planning can benefit everyone, regardless of income or assets. “There’s a satisfaction for me in knowing my money won’t be gone in a year,” Galen says. “A portion will be used every year, while some is left to grow more and more. I see this being an unending story."