Havre Daily News
The maker of Big Bud tractors and his wife have donated $1.2 million to Montana State University-Northern in the form of an endowment, which promises to benefit university students over and over again.
Wilbur and Ila Hensler's gift is the largest the university has ever received. It will be used to purchase equipment for six labs at the school's new Applied Technology Center, MSU-N Foundation executive director Tom Reynolds said. The building is scheduled to open in the fall, and its auditorium will be named in their honor.
"This isn't about Ila and myself," said Wilbur Hensler, a graduate of Northern when it was known as Northern Montana College. "This is about what this gift can do for the college for the future. This is an ongoing thing. (This is) for the good of the school and the community. They have that building up there, but they didn't have a lot of tools and equipment to put in it."
A portion of the interest generated by the gift will be used as matching funds for more than $276,000 approved by the state Legislature and Board of Regents to purchase equipment for the new facility, Reynolds said Tuesday.
MSU-N also received $235,000 from the state for equipment purchases over two years. Those funds do not have a match requirement, Reynolds said.
The endowment will be called the Hensler Fund and will generate interest that will be used to purchase new technology and equipment on into the future, Reynolds said.
"That's the key, them making this gift through an endowment," he said. "It will have a long-lasting impact on what we're doing at MSU-N. It should be available for students' benefit forever. They were looking to make a gift that could have an impact on providing opportunities for young people in Montana. With the use of technology today and the application of technology, that's where the future is."
Hensler said he hopes his gift will convince others in Montana to give in the future. Creating such an endowment now, rather than including a gift for Northern in his will, allows him to actually see students benefit from it, he said.
"I hope this will encourage other folks to follow in this line by being able to see what Northern can do with these (donations)," Hensler said. "I think that's a great thing that's really misunderstood. They can get a lot of good out of this. You get the pleasure and the honor of seeing what can happen by doing something like this while you're still around."
On May 6, Hensler was honored with a Founders Excellence Award, presented by Northern to people who have received outstanding recognition within their own professional fields or contributed to the growth and development of the campus.
Hensler grew up in Comertown. After serving with the Army in the South Pacific, he came to Havre in 1946 to attend Northern Montana College.
Wilbur married Ila in 1955. The couple established Northern Manufacturing in Havre, where they produced Big Bud tractors, the biggest production tractors built in the world at the time. The tractors were made in Havre.
In 1970, the pair expanded their ventures to include cattle and ranching in Blaine and Phillips counties. In 1974, they moved to the Bitterroot area and started to purchase land for the purpose of setting up subdivisions.
In 1982, the couple bought holdings in Hawaii. The land was used for grazing and the harvesting of Koa wood, which they used to make furniture. The Henslers had a plant and warehouse in Singapore, but they marketed the furniture out of Hawaii until they sold the business in 1994 to a Japanese firm. In 1995, the Henslers purchased a major farm in Colorado and property in Arizona.