Story by Reagan Scott
WAVERLY (SNR) — When John Zuroske’s son Mark Alan attended Villa Marie Home and School in Waverly in the early 1980s, he enjoyed being part of the community of students in a welcoming, supportive environment. Now that Mark has passed on, his father is giving back to the school, which educates students with special needs.
When Zuroske and his wife Frances were unable to have any children, they adopted Mark in 1965. After going to public school through the second grade, Mark transferred to Villa Marie, which he attended until he was 18.
When seizures prevented him from being able to enter the workforce, Mark stayed on the family’s farm in Nance County to help his dad.
“He enjoyed working on the farm,” Zuroske said. “He loved to see plants grow, he loved fishing and he loved to go to church on Sundays.”
Zuroske recalled, laughing, that Mark was always ready to go to Mass before he was, and credited Villa Marie for this zeal that Mark had.
Zuroske described Mark as a generous person, who was always willing to share what he grew. The two would load up Zuroske’s pickup truck with fruits and vegetables to take to the school and the Marian Sisters, who help staff Villa Marie.
When Zuroske discovered that Villa Marie relies on charitable donations to operate, he felt compelled to help in some way.
“I had a soft spot for Villa Marie and the staff here took good care of Mark,” he said. “Then, I came back to visit here, and I liked what I saw.”
Working with the Catholic Foundation of Southern Nebraska, Zuroske was able to gift his farmland as part of a charitable gift annuity, which allowed him to establish the Mark Alan Zuroske Villa Marie Fund.
With the annuity, Zuroske was able to make an immediate gift to the fund and will receive income from the sale of the land at a high payout rate for the rest of his life. He also received a large charitable deduction for the gift.
“It was a great solution in this particular case,” Chris Raun, executive director of the Foundation, said. “John has a real big heart for Villa Marie.”
Zuroske acknowledged the benefits of the charitable gift annuity.
He said, “If somebody wants to do good after they’re gone, this gift will keep on working. It’s a guaranteed income and there was no capital gains tax from selling the land.”
With money from the fund, Villa Marie will be able to move forward with projects that will tie into a greater expansion project for the school.
Jenny Allamby, executive director of development and advancement for Villa Marie, said the school would like to move forward with a new playground and track for the students so that they no longer have to use the lined circle drive in front of the school to practice for track competitions, conduct P.E. classes and play at recess.
The future expansion plan is much bigger, however. Allamby would like to see more classrooms added to the school, increasing capacity from 24 to 50, in order to educate more students. The 22,000 sq. ft. expansion would also be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, which would allow Villa Marie to educate children with mobility limitations.
With the addition, the school could expand programming and offer vocational training for Villa Marie alumni and other young adults with special needs. This would allow former students to stay connected to Villa Marie while learning skills that could help them find a place in the workforce.
“This would allow our alumni to continue their education with their Villa Marie family and develop the individual skills they need for a meaningful and rewarding job, and a sustainable future,” Allamby said. “The Mark
Alan Zuroske Villa Marie Fund will help with several aspects of this grand vision.”
While the fund was established in memory of his son, Zuroske is looking forward to the impact it will have on the school for years to come.
He said, “It’s not about Mark, it’s about the whole program and the continuation of the program.”
The students come from different cities, dioceses and even faith backgrounds, but what they have in common is their eagerness to learn, and a sense of wonder about the world.
“I am so blessed from being with these children. They enrich my life,” Allamby said.
After being born on the farm, Zuroske may have known that it was his destiny to be a farmer, but he now knows that it was God’s plan that he would someday support Villa Marie, which does so much for its students.
He said, “I thank the good Lord for helping me to make the right decisions that led me here.”