Legacy is more than having a famous last name, or family tree. At the mention of the Dayton name, thoughts drift to large stores full of sparkling wares. But few realize the impact that generations of the Dayton family have had on nature and the spirit of giving in Minnesota.
To the Dayton family, legacy means giving, and this ideal has defined the family for 100 years. What began as a tithing commitment to the church has grown into passionate philanthropy across multiple generations.
George Draper Dayton strove to instill the spirit of philanthropy in his children, and believed with careful planning and generous giving great things would be accomplished, both today and for generations to come. He once wrote to his family: "I can truly say to you, my children, that nothing brings as much pleasure to your father and mother as the doing something for others. Our hope is that our children will catch the spirit of it and find great pleasure in their passing on to others ...."
This spirit caught on with his children, and has been handed down to successive generations ever since. From founding the One Percent Club (individuals committing one percent of net worth to charity), to challenging corporations to become Five Percent Club members (giving five percent of pre-tax profits to charity), and giving their personal wealth away, the Dayton family has driven much of the philanthropic spirit in Minnesota. The range of their giving runs from the arts to social services and luckily for The Nature Conservancy, the environment and conservation.
The family’s robust conservation legacy started with Wallace (Wally) C. Dayton who became an inspirational champion for nature in Minnesota and beyond.
Wally carried forward the spirit of giving not only as a member, but as a leader, serving The Nature Conservancy at the state and national levels. He was instrumental in the completion of many important conservation projects, both by motivating others’ support and by applying tremendous leadership and business acumen to the effort.
He shared his love of nature with Mary Lee, his wife, and their four daughters, who have carried on Wally’s conservation legacy since his passing in 2002. The couple made it a priority to get their young daughters out to experience nature first hand. The girls paddled Christmas Lake with their dad after dinner in the summer (letting Mary Lee do the dishes in peace). They learned to be stewards of nature while building wood duck houses and excitedly awaiting the arrival of the spring ducklings. And the family enjoyed hikes together in a number of wild and rustic areas. Nature was more than a part of their lives; it was a way of life.
The girls also learned that when something is important to you, like nature, you take care of it; both directly and by supporting organizations that can have the most positive impact on it.
Wally’s passion for the outdoors also spread throughout his extended family. There is still a strong love of nature among other branches of the family, including that of his nephews, Ned and Jud, who have both served in volunteer leadership roles at The Nature Conservancy.
Having incorporated the importance of “giving back” into the family culture, generations of the Dayton family have found a true richness in nature. George Draper Dayton led his life guided by strong philanthropic values, which have remained strong within the family for the past 100 years through descendants like Wally. Now, generations after the family patriarch first passed the lesson of giving to his children, those philanthropic ideals remain strong, and many of the regions wonderful biological jewels remain because of this largess.August 29, 2012
Kurt is a volunteer writer for The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota.