Nurse leaves Aroostook foundation $261,918 in rare bequest

10 months ago

HOULTON, Maine — An Aroostook County nurse bequeathed more than a quarter of a million dollars to the Houlton Regional Healthcare Foundation in support of Houlton Regional Hospital where she worked for many years.

Marion Russell, who was 83 when she died in 2022, left the foundation $261,918, nearly six times the amount raised from the foundation’s largest annual fundraiser. 

“Her donation will have a major impact for a rural hospital,” said Lori Weston, director of the foundation. 

Russell’s large donation is a rare gift for the foundation, especially from a longtime employee who began her nursing career in the 1950s when registered nurses in Maine earned about $76.45 a week, or $3,952 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Longtime Houlton Regional Hospital nurse bequeathed $261, 918 to the Houlton Regional Health Services Foundation. (Russell Family)

During at least half of her 40-year career, registered nurses like Russell earned less than $10,000 a year. In 1973, the year Russell helped establish the first coronary care unit at Houlton Regional Hospital, nurses were earning about $5,200 a year, and by the time she retired in 1999, salaries were about $44,000.

An unusual gift of this magnitude is similar to the New Jersey special education teacher who left in her will $1 million for special education scholarships or the University of New Hampshire librarian who left his entire $4 million estate to the University.  

Russell’s late husband, Robert, was a Houlton barber for many years. 

It is not clear how Russell amassed this fortune. Her family declined to comment. 

The hospital is assessing the greatest need for Russell’s gift, Weston said, adding that a scholarship will also be established in her name. 

The size of Russell’s gift is nearly equal to the foundation’s combined total of donations received since 2017, according to the foundation’s IRS 990 statements. Additionally, the foundation’s annual fundraiser, the County Open, brings in about $45,000 a year, according to the 990s.

“Mrs. Russell dedicated her life to taking care of others. Her gift will allow her legacy to continue to do just that,” Weston said.