Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, Bob Nara passed away in 2015 but his legacy continues at Michigan Tech.
If Bob and Ruth Nara were to craft a mission statement, it would read, “Leave the world a better place.” Residents of Bootjack, in Lake Linden, Michigan, the Naras practice what they call catalyst philanthropy, or gifts that inspire other gifts. One of their well-known projects is the Nara Nature Park in Houghton, where visitors enjoy boardwalks around the Pilgrim River, trails up through the woods, and bridges over creeks.
“After a lifetime of paying taxes, we devised a concept that we, in effect, tax the government to fund our hobbies,” Bob says. “We donated a valuable piece of real estate to the City of Houghton for parks and recreation purposes.”
Then, they helped get grants to fund skiing and hiking trails as well as a chalet on the property. They provided a cash gift to the University to expand the Tech Trails to the park, creating a fifty-mile network of trails for year-round use.
The Naras support Michigan Tech in other ways. They made a gift-in-kind that helps to document the region’s past: Bob’s grandfather was a well-known local photographer, and the family has donated many of his images to the Michigan Tech Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. Bob and Ruth then funded scanning equipment so the archives can make its images available via the Web. They also are donating their proceeds from the sale of a book of J. W. Nara’s photos to the Tech archives.
In addition, they initiated semiannual luncheons at which Michigan Tech’s president updates local community leaders on the University’s progress and plans. If unable to line up a sponsor for the luncheon, they have paid the cost themselves.
To the Naras, paying it forward is a way of life.
“Leave a legacy that will keep on living and keep on giving,” Bob says. “How can you beat a hobby like that?”