When Donna Mae Rickard saw the lasting impression Washington State University Extension agents were making on youth at the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation, she knew she wanted to invest in the work.
“I could see how the agents were instilling these wonderful values—planning ahead, working hard, thinking about the next step—into the young people in 4-H,” Rickard says. “They were always urging the kids to do more, be more, try for more.”
To date, the 99-year-old has invested enough to establish and support the WSU-Colville Tribal Family Project Fund. Proceeds paired with tribal matching funds underwrite an Extension position focused on topics like family life, nutrition, and financial management. Rickard sees it as a way to give back to her community.
“So much of our lives, we take,” she says. “You reach a point where you need to give. I think it is exciting to be able to help. You may not be able to see the results of your gift in your lifetime, but you are building something that will last a long time.”
Dan Fagerlie, WSU Ferry County and the Colville Reservation extension director, agrees.
“I have seen the positive impacts the Tribal Extension FCS program has had on youth and families,” Fagerlie says. “The food preservation workshops and the yearly Tribal Nutrition Calendar are always a hit. Kids learn to stay healthy with ‘black light hand washing’ activities. Without Donna Mae and the CCT match, none of this would be occurring.”
Born in Chico, California, Rickard belongs to the Mechoopda Tribe of Northern California. She completed high school there before taking secretarial studies and meeting her husband-to-be, Fred Rickard, at the Chemawa Boarding School near Salem, Oregon. The couple married in 1935 and moved to Nespelem in 1949. Their daughter, Jean Berney (’58, Ag. & Home Ec.), participated in 4-H throughout her school years and as a student at then Washington State College in Pullman.
In addition to years of church and community volunteering, Rickard worked more than 30 years as a secretary to the superintendent of the Colville Indian Reservation and for department heads there. She has always cared about young people and education.
“I knew education would be very important,” she says, “because I had seen so many kids who didn’t have the opportunity, and they weren’t able to do too well for themselves.”
Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and WSU Extension director, says Rickard’s example will touch families for generations.
“The impact one person can have is amazing,” he says. “Donna Mae’s legacy truly will be a healthier, happier community.”