Just north of Cochrane, there is a piece of land nestled in the rolling hills, basking in Alberta’s big sky and offering a coveted view at every turn. The land holds history: decades of hard work, honesty and integrity are entrenched in every foot of its fertile soil.
“When my father-in-law, George Wilson, came to Cochrane in 1905 from North Dakota, he settled on two quarters and broke the land,” says Valerie Wilson, who keeps the land and the three Wilson men who devoted their lives to working it close to her heart.
“George passed his work ethic, dignity and commitment to community to his sons, my husband Murray and his brother Carl. They were gentle men who lived with the land.”
Over the years, the Wilson family estate grew. Valerie and Murray spent 17 years together, working hard, ranching and raising one of Alberta’s finest herds before Murray sadly passed away in 2006.
“He worked 55 years without a day off,” Valerie says of Murray, who was one of the most respected cattlemen in the province.
Although all three Wilson men are gone now, their legacy lives on through Valerie and her vision for the property. The land that has such a deep connection to the family’s past will create a bright future for the University of Lethbridge. Valerie has donated a piece of this heritage property to the U of L, which will benefit the institution, its researchers and students for generations to come.
“The gift to the U of L is a reflection of my husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law, and their lives and work in agriculture,” Valerie sentimentally explains. “The U of L of was one of my picks because so many of our rural children go there, many of them studying agriculture.”
An accomplished businesswoman and skillful investor, Valerie has high expectations for the 160 acres designated for the U of L.
“It’s a beautiful spot,” she says. “My hope is that it will become part of the hamlet of Westbrook in the future, making it sub-dividable, which will truly increase the value of the land and bring a great bounty to the U of L.”
Valerie’s donation to the University, however, is more than the land. She is sharing her time and her real-estate knowledge with the institution.
From a technical standpoint, Valerie and the U of L came to a unique agreement around this gift where the U of L would receive the property immediately, but Valerie would lease the property for a term and would be able to advise the University on the best time to sell. Until then, Valerie continues to care for the land and graze cattle on it.
“It’s such a valuable arrangement,” she says. “As a rancher or farmer, you get the best of both worlds. You can continue to enjoy the use of the land as well as see the potential benefits of your gift while you are alive.”
And after a lifetime of work, being able to see the outcome of her donation is important to Valerie, whose life has been shaped by hard work and discipline.
“I’ve always believed that people who are good and do good, live well,” says Valerie, who began working when she was eight years old. “I worked throughout my life and loved every day of it.”
Although working hard is core to who Valerie is, so are the people who surround her. A poet, gardener and someone who “feeds the world,” she has nurtured lifelong friendships, maintained a strong connection to her community and radiates a spitfire personality and kind, welcoming spirit.
And for those who know Valerie, this generous gift is reflective of her character, morals and love of people.
“I have had a sense of charity my entire life,” she says, “I want my donations to help others and I hope to inspire others to make a similar gift.”
This story appears in the Spring 2014 edition of SAM magazine. For a look at the full version in a flipbook format, follow this link.