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In Montana, Community Philanthropy and Health Care Get A Shot In the Arm

In most populated corners of the New West, land development is looked upon, depending on your side of the barbed wire fence, as an either/or proposition.

Either you protect it all or you carve it up. Either you’re a capitalist or a tree hugger. Either you love to build condos or you can think of nothing prettier than a pasture full of grazing bovines.

Of course, the world is much more complicated, much less clear cut, much more dynamic when it is viewed through the looking glass of creative minds yet there exists a raging polemicism that arranges itself along lines of hostile engagement: Newcomer vs. Oldtimer. Urban vs. Rural. Haves vs. Have Nots. Those who dwell in Log Home Castillos vs. those in the Trailer Park.

West of Bozeman, Montana, in a neighborhood that includes several large property owners who have done what’s best for nature by limiting their own footprint—a neighborhood that includes Ted Turner on the historic Flying D Ranch and Roger Lange at the Sun Ranch—another couple are trying to make their contribution, too, to community.

This week, Ted and Heidi Gildred, who own the 2,000-acre Sun West Ranch near Cameron, announced that they were pledging $500,000 toward substantial upgrading of the Madison Valley Hospital and Clinic. A former U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Mr. Gildred, who prospered earlier in his life as a real estate developer and builder in southern California, says the name of their effort is “Project Give Back.”

It continues a spirit of philanthropy that has been noted by the large conservation easements which Turner and Lange have placed on their lands to permanently protect wildlife habitat. And, on the community level, the gift to ensure better health care, is kindred to Turner’s support of the Turner Youth Initiative that has supported projects which result in tennage empowerment and involvement across the West.

The Gildred gift is assuming two forms: An initial $100,000 donation and then matched by subsequent $100,000 installments that come from the sale of limited lots in the Sun West Ranch development, a high-end community in which a significant portion of the property is safeguarded as open space and wildlife habitat. If this effort proves successful, the Gildreds said they will consider a second matching gift of $500,000 to help raise millions toward a goal of $8.5 million for a new medical facility to be located in Ennis.

“Sun West Ranch is the antithesis of a ‘typical development,'” says spokeswoman Bridget Cavanaugh of the pioneering “shared-ranch” ownership concept. “From its active community outreach to its public stand on conservation and preservation, Sun West Ranch preserves a western legacy and ranching way of life for generations to come.”

Recently, New West had an opportunity to pose five questions to the Gildreds:

New West: There seems to be a new spirit of social and environmental philanthropy growing in this country, distinguished recently by the gifts of people like Ted Turner, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. What do you think motivates them to do this?

Ted Gildred: Project Give back is, I think, about having more than you probably deserve and giving something back to the community. What is more important in life than life itself ? A good life, though, has everything to do with health and health care.

Not all of us are aware that the Ennis hospital would have to be closed in the near future because it no longer meets minimum standards for small rural medical facilities to receive various government funds. Our only choice is to build a new hospital in order to provide quality medical care to thousands of people over a large geographical area. Not only will the new hospital save lives of local residents, it will serve the many visitors passing through this very special part of Montana. We feel this project to build the new hospital is the most important cause we can support – a way of giving back to the community we have grown to love over the years.

New West: You speak passionately about how coming to Montana has opened your eyes to the importance of a healthy environment to quality of life. So, too, is health care important. What are your thoughts?

Gildred: Living with the land, and not just on the land, along with being part of a more tranquil, healthy environment is central to experiencing a very special, and almost forgotten, quality of life that Montana offers. However, all of this is nothing unless you have the good health to live it and enjoy it.

New West: Part of your contribution is tied to the sale of properties in your development, so that every time you benefit a portion will also benefit your community. Is that right?

Gildred: By donating a portion of the proceeds from our sales we can continue to fund the matching donations over an extended period of time. In this way, whether matching contributions come from part-time residents, or those who live in the valley full time, everyone will have the incentive to contribute as they can afford to, knowing that for every dollar they give, we will match it dollar for dollar. Every donation, small or large, will increasingly bring us closer to the common goal of having a new hospital that we will all be deservedly proud of.

New West: You had a very successful career in California in the construction and building industry. What lessons did you learn there that can be heeded and applied here?

Gildred: That we have to be aware and respectful of what we leave behind on this earth in the short time that we are here. This earth can be positively affected by our desire to make it a better place or go the other way if we don’t care to make a contribution for the next generations. I have a feeling that Mother Nature will make sure that this earth survives regardless – but we can sure do a lot to help her.

New West: Tell us why you love living in the Madison Valley and near Ennis, Montana?

Gildred: It’s a very special, warm, simple way of life. We had the good fortune to find this part of Montana and to live in the same place that, for thousands of years, our predecessors roamed and cherished. Living in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains with the river flowing through the grasslands of the valley attracted those of us lucky enough to have wandered this way – to find the buffalo, to homestead, or to find a better way of life. It is a place that we have grown to love and be part of. A place that has given so much to us and deserves to have us give something back in return.

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