A story of two sisters

It came out of the blue. And from a corner of our community that one might not expect. A check for $100,000, written to the Columbus Community Foundation in memory of the late Donna (Holliday) Shupak. The generous donation was directed to help the needy and less fortunate in the Columbus area.

When Marissa Hauge, president of the Columbus Community Foundation, answered the phone in early November she couldn’t quite believe her ears. Linda Holliday Labrie, Donna’s sister, was calling to let Hauge know she wanted to donate $100,000 from Donna’s estate to the Foundation.  “I kept saying to myself, did she say $1,000, $10,000 or maybe I misheard her,” Hauge said. “Then we got the check and it was for $100,000. I had heard right.”

The Foundation’s board has worked hard for years to broaden support for its endowment – the “forever fund” that will help Columbus non-profits into perpetuity – and here in one check the account had more than doubled. When the Foundation started in 2008, Hauge said, the board dreamt of legacy gifts such as Donna’s.  “After 10 years, one of our dreams was realized,” she said.  Obviously, the big-hearted bequeath piqued the curiosity of CCF board members. And Labrie was happy to fill in the details.

Donna (former wife of Stillwater County Commissioner Dennis Shupak) was born in Townsend on Oct. 28, 1944, to Everett and Halgert Holliday. Growing up on a ranch near Checkerboard, she came to love animals and her time in the saddle. It only seemed natural, then, that her love of livestock transitioned into her work running a fencing business with Dennis.

While most of the pole fences they built still stand today, Donna passed away on June 10, 2016, at her home on Longhorn Drive in Columbus. But when she died, she left no will.  “I’m the closest living relative,” Labrie said. “I was to close the estate but she left no directions.”

Labrie, too, grew up in the Checkerboard area. And even though she’s spent most of her adult years in California, she keeps in touch with her Montana roots. She still subscribes to the Stillwater County News and thus was familiar with the Columbus Community Foundation as well as Project Hope.  Besides those connections, Labrie has personal reasons for directing Donna’s money to help the less fortunate. Oddly, she came to learn that her (late) Uncle Byron Holliday had supported the homeless when he lived in the Columbus area. But an even stronger connection tugged at Labrie’s heartstrings.

“When my daughter was 18 years old and enrolled at MSU (Montana State University) she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder,” Labrie said. “Her journey involved homelessness.”  The personal struggle prompted Labrie to take action. She got involved with her local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and ended up leading that chapter for years. She knows firsthand how hard life is for those who suffer from mental illness and she knows how hard it is to raise funds for mental health support.   

“We’ve always had to fight for what we got,” she said.  And in that way, she used Donna’s savings in hopes of making life easier for the less fortunate in Donna’s adopted hometown.  “I really want to thank the Columbus Community Foundation for being there to provide grants to people who have basic needs,” Labrie said.

The story ends with good news on two fronts. Labrie’s daughter is doing very well today.  “Treatment works,” Labrie noted. And, as for the Foundation, board members are thrilled that Labrie directed Donna’s legacy to help the causes that they support. And they are thankful she was willing to share her story in hopes of inspiring others.

“We work so hard to be great community partners and help grow other organizations’ capacities, we sometimes forget about our needs,” Hauge said. “This gift will allow us to grow our organization and to be able to give more back to well-deserving people and organizations of Columbus.”