Iowa teacher donates $4.7 million to community organizations after death

DE WITT, Iowa -- An Iowa teacher's generosity will pump more than $4.7 million into academic and service organizations in Iowa and Minnesota.

As Iowa corn rises on the century-old Clinton County farm, there are gifts from the girl who grew up here.

Donna Helble, 68, died in March without any immediate family. But the longtime educator's mission at Winona State University carries on.

"Donna was a very special and giving person," recalled her colleague, Debbie Block, director of development at Winona State University. "I think she taught us all how to be a better version of ourselves."

On Friday, bidders, friends and the curious filed into Central De Witt High School for a remarkable auction.

As a final wish, Helble decided to sell 381 acres of high-quality farmland to benefit more than a dozen organizations that were close to her heart.

"Her mom always said, 'Do the right thing,'" said her lifelong friend, Roger Hill, senior vice president at De Witt Bank and Trust. "That's what she always did."

Auctioneer Jared Chambers called the bids on four family farm tracts that last sold in 1911.

"We just miss her laugh and miss her phone calls," recalled Debbie Greenwood of Winona. "She was always there as a friend and mentor for people."

Four bidders bought everything in about 15 minutes. The most expensive land earned nearly $2 million. The least expensive still went for more than $850,000. Sales from all four tracts totaled $4,771,000.

Among many other things, the money will help to build an education wing at Simpson College, her alma mater.

"Her wonderful support over the years through her estate is making an amazing impact," said Christopher Goodale, assistant vice president for college advancement.

After the final gavel, it's clear she didn't forget her Iowa roots and commitment to helping others learn.

"I think she would just be amazed at the legacy she's going to leave through her family," Block said. "That's going to touch so many other families."

It represents life in a green farm field. Lasting lessons from the land with a kind teacher.