By Reggie Ellis
exeter – An Exeter couple made an extremely generous donation last week they hope will inspire others to give back to their community for generations to come.
On Feb. 10, Ray Copeland gave an impassioned speech to the Exeter Kiwanis Club about the use of its tax exempt Foundation to create endowments for programs supporting children in the Exeter community. At the end of that speech, he announced that he and his wife Mary Alice were donating $200,000 to the Foundation, to be split between the Exeter Boys & Girls Club and the Exeter Union High School Music Department. In an interview last week, Ray and Mary Alice told the Sun-Gazette they hope their donation infuses the community with a giving spirit.
“Everyone should try to give back, either their time, their money or their talents,” said the 89-year-old community benefactor. “It doesn’t hurt that we have a good community that seems to want to build on that.”
More specifically, the money will be used for some immediate needs and also to create mini-endowments for each of the programs. The Copelands said the programs were chosen because they have special meaning to their family. Their daughter Susan benefitted greatly from her time spent with the Madrigal choir at EUHS in the early 1980s and they recognize music as an important part of child development. Both Ray and Mary Alwere part of a small group of community members who were instrumental in getting the Club off the ground in the early 1990s when it was known as the Exeter Community Center. In 1993, the club became the first Boys & Girls Club to locate in Tulare County. Mary Alice served on the board of directors for many years and spent many afternoons teaching children to read while Ray helped develop the archery program.
“We at Boys & Girls Clubs are very grateful for the generous gift from Ray and Mary Alice Copeland,” said Galen Quenzer, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sequoias. “We are thankful for the trust they have placed in the Exeter Boys & Girls Club to help Exeter’s kids become the best they can be. Their gifts to the Boys & Girls Club and to the high school are evidence that they care about Exeter’s children and youth.”
Quenzer said a portion of the money will be used immediately to kick off raising funds to replace the roof and flooring of the Exeter Club, 360 E. Pine St. in Exeter. The Copelands will match donations to the building renovations dollar for dollar
“The Copelands exemplify what we teach kids in our Clubs. That is, that we are at our best when we care about others in our community,” Quenzer said. “We hope the Copelands inspire others to invest in kids.”
About 75% of the annual support for the Exeter Club is raised locally through charitable and philanthropic giving, much more than from tax-funded public monies or non-profit grants. Ray said upkeep on the building is expensive especially when you consider the Club has probably invested more than $400,000 over the years to transform the former grocery store into a community center. Quenzer said there is a lot of wear and tear on the building as the Exeter Club is among the busiest in the county with an average of 130 kids each day.
“Exeter knew supporting kids was a wise investment; that our children and youth will thrive when we invest in programs and places that help them develop into caring, responsible, productive citizens,” he said.
EUHS Music Director Kirk Clague said he was still shocked at the donation. He described the $100,000 as a legacy gift that will replace aging instruments, create new courses to bring music education to more students and to possibly create an Exeter-based music festival or competition that would bring money into the program.
“This money will be used as an endowment that we will continue to grow through fund-raisers and other contributions,” Clague said.
There are some immediate needs for the music program such as replacing tubas that have been used by students since Clague took over the Music program in 1996. “Buying that tuba would normally mean spending my entire budget for the year, but with this money we can afford to replace some of these old instruments.” Clague said he has many ideas to use the money to expand the music program, such as adding guitar classes and a computer lab for digital synthesizer and keyboard courses.
‘“Everything we do in our department is expensive,” Clague said, “and even though I am well supported by the district, all of our collective resources are limited.”
For those interested in donating to the music program, Clague invited parents and community members to watch the EUHS symphonic band perform at the California Music Educators Association (CMEA) Festival March 4 in Porterville and the EUHS Choir at the CMEA Music Festival Mary 8 in Selma.
“Music is very important to the high school,” Ray said. “A lifetime exposure to music has a lot of positive implications on the rest of a child’s life.”
Ray retired in 2012 after his company, Biagro Western Sales, LLC was acquired by Verdesian Life Sciences, a leader in the plant nutrition market. Ray, who has been a longtime member of the Exeter Kiwanis Club, said the Kiwanis Foundation will take good care of the money and ensure that it is spent wisely.
“These monies will be given to the club over time for projects that they need for future generations,” Ray said. “I would love to see some people in the community, or the community as a whole, match part or all of these funds for these two programs.”
Mary Alice added, “These are two places where children can go to have fun and learn in a place where they feel secure. That is priceless.”