Estate of Fairbanks businessman soon to give $1.2 million annually to charities

FAIRBANKS -- A court decision settling the estate of the late Bill Stroecker will help a $25 million foundation become fully operational in Alaska, eventually providing more than $1.2 million a year to 50 or more groups, 36 of them in Fairbanks.

The Bill Stroecker Foundation, under IRS rules that require distributions of 5 percent of the value of the endowment each year, aims to distribute funds to dozens of groups Stroecker named in his will, ranging from the Fairbanks Curling Club and the NRA to the Salvation Army and the Fairbanks Community Food Bank.

In advance of the final settlement, the foundation gave out $500,000 in 2012 and $500,000 in 2013, money provided by the estate, to benefit groups named in Stroecker's will.

The late banker and businessman said the foundation was not to support any group that he would have regarded as "left wing" or "greenie." He identified some national conservative groups that he wanted to back as well as a wide assortment of Fairbanks charities.

The foundation members will have the final say on all funding decisions, however. Stroecker said the groups he named were examples of what he had in mind for backing, but he did not specify any dollar amounts.

Stroecker dealt with all of the groups he named when he worked in the First National Bank of Fairbanks and in the decades following its sale to Alaska Pacific Bank and then to KeyBank.

The estate, with a value estimated at more than $25 million, included bank accounts, oil and gas holdings, 18 cabins, property in Fairbanks, artworks, annuities, business partnerships, coins, books, historical documents, automobiles, antiques and other valuables.


A dispute among the seven members of the Bill Stroecker Foundation board -- six of them chosen by Stroecker -- led to a court proceeding last summer in which three members asked for an independent review of about $750,000 in various legal, business and administrative fees and expenses charged to the processing of the estate.

Superior Court Judge Michael MacDonald ruled last week that the fees are reasonable. He praised the work of Fairbanks attorney Richard Hompesch and approved his fees of $413,203 and expenses of $39,514. He also approved expenses and fees of the Alaska Trust Co., represented by Matt Blattmachr.

Hompesch acted as an attorney for the estate and a co-personal representative. He is also one of the seven board members of the foundation and was named president of that group last week. Alaska Trust Co. is to serve as secretary/treasurer of the foundation.

Stroecker, born in 1920 in Fairbanks, was a prominent community and business leader for decades. He died at 90 in 2010 and left most of his estate to the foundation.

MacDonald said Hompesch capped his fees, which led to a "reduction of over $125,307" in what the estate would have otherwise had to spend.

"As Hompesch points out, this reduction brings the hourly rate for both personal representative services and attorney services far below the market rate," the judge ruled Wednesday. "It is significantly below the rate that one would pay for the high-quality, experienced probate legal services that the estate received from Hompesch and his firm."

MacDonald said he "specifically rejected" criticism against Hompesch that "the estate was paying a very handsome fee for marginal effort and work." He said the Alaska Trust Co., also a co-personal representative, charged appropriate fees.

Hompesch and Blattmachr, joined by Don Dennis and Ted Cox, made up the four-member majority that clashed with a three-member minority -- Richard Heieren, Jerry Walker and Cory Borgeson.

In his ruling on the fees, the judge said that Hompesch and the Alaska Trust Co. helped bring about a $1.89 million gain in the value of the estate, as a stock portfolio increased in value and dozens of Stroecker's remote cabins were sold for a total that topped the appraised value by $385,000.

The evidence detailed in the court paperwork filed as part of the proceeding showed that it was at the prodding of Borgeson, a Fairbanks attorney and one of the three members who wanted an external review of expenses, that led to the diversification of the investment portfolio that led to the gain.

After the matter reached the court, the foundation members discussed their differences and reached a settlement in July. They agreed to work together to benefit the foundation.

MacDonald said Hompesch did masterful work on Stroecker's wills and trusts and put in a lot of hours at no charge.

"The will, trust and estate plan give life to Bill Stroecker's wishes," the judge said. "This is a complex and specific plan. Few attorneys or law firms in Alaska could handle an estate and charitable foundation of this complexity and do such a competent job."

In his will, Stroecker gave the following list of the "qualified charitable organizations that I have in mind":

1. Judicial Watch Inc., Washington, D.C.
2. Salvation Army and its components, Fairbanks
3. The Salvation Army Fairbanks Corps Program Fund
4. The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival
5. The Fairbanks Concert Association
6. Southeastern Legal Foundation
7. Mountain States Legal Foundation
8. Fairbanks Light Opera Theatre
9. Fairbanks Drama Association
10. The Sally Port Fund (New Mexico Military institute)
11. Eagle Historical Society of Alaska
12. Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, Washington D.C.
13. Washington Legal Foundation
14. Fairbanks Rescue Mission
15. North Star Dance Foundation
17. Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, Calif.
18. Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Mich.
19. Fairbanks Symphony Association
20. Alaska Fish and Wildlife Federation and Outdoor Council
21. Hamilton Acres Baptist School
22. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church
23. Greater Fairbanks Community Food Bank
24. Alaska Amateur Baseball Inc. (Alaska Goldpanners)
25. Accuracy in Media, Washington, D.C.
26. Fairbanks Curling Club
27. Santa’s Clearing House
28. United Way of the Tanana Valley
29. Friends of the University of Alaska Museum
30. Breadline Inc.
31. Alaska Crippled Children and Adults
32. Boy Scouts of America
33. Campfire Alaska Council
34. Farthest North Girl Scout Council
35. Festival Fairbanks
36. Festival Fairbanks for Weeks Field Community Park
37. Festival Fairbanks for Yukon Quest
38. Friends of Creamer’s Field
39. Fairbanks Youth Center
40. Fairbanks Arts Association
41. Literacy Council of Alaska
42. Immaculate Conception Church soup kitchen
43. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church endowment fund
44. Interior & Arctic Alaska Aeronautical Fund
45. Ice Alaska
46. North Star Council on Aging
47. KJNP radio
48. Jo Scott’s Summer Arts Festival
49. Spinal Cord Society
50. The NRA Foundation

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.