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Gift aids Cannon Falls schools

For Cannon Falls school supporters, Paul Bringgold really did live up to his name.

During a January School Board meeting, the banker presented the district with a $1.16 million donation.

"It was like a gift out of heaven," Cannon Falls Supt. Todd Sesker said.

The funds will go toward upgrades and expansion at the park and ballfields behind the high school, a sound system for the new performing arts center and a Steinway piano.

Bringgold's donation comes on the heels of a $21.2 million referendum approved by voters in November. The two-part referendum authorized major construction projects and renewed student funding.

"It's like icing on the cake," Sesker said of the donation.

Bringgold, the former owner of First National Bank of Cannon Falls -- now Merchants Bank, where he remains an executive -- said the contribution represents his passion for schools. Stronger schools make communities more attractive for prospective businesses and boost the quality of life, he said.

"It's kind of been dear to my heart," the 80-year-old said of public schools. "It's definitely the foundation of a town and a state."

Over the years, he has belonged to the school foundations for Cannon Falls, Randolph, Minn., and Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical's Red Wing campus.

Sesker said he's been hearing that the windfall is one of the largest private donations to a public school in recent memory.

"For a public school to get something like this is pretty rare," he said.

Bringgold approached a stunned Sesker with the donation offer around the holidays, telling him to draft a list of projects. After the shock wore off, Sesker and district officials gave Bringgold the list, which he pared down to three.

The repairs and upgrades to the schoolside park couldn't have come at a better time, Sesker added.

By most accounts, the park's practice football field and track are in pretty rough shape.

"It needs a big facelift," Sesker said. "Right now it's not really appealing."

Bringgold's donation is expected to pump about

$1 million into improvements there.

The new Steinway replaces a piano that's about 50 years old, Sesker said.

As for the sound system, Bringgold -- who said he planned on being a regular at the new performing arts center -- asked Sesker what the audio quality would be like. The superintendent informed him the district had planned to take a thrifty approach on the sound system.

Bringgold's ears -- which he admitted don't work like they used to -- perked up.

"I said, 'Why don't we see about getting a good one?'" he recalled.

He pinpointed the performing arts center project as a tribute to his children, who Bringgold said have been deeply rooted in music throughout their lives.

Sesker is sure the donation will touch countless more children's lives.

"It's only going to make this a better place for kids to go to school," he predicted.