May 15, 2020

Physician leaves gift to Oxford Community Foundation

The Oxford Community Foundation plans to use a $3.5 million bequest from the estate of physician Kenneth Buerk, the largest gift in its history, to preserve local woodlands, watersheds and family farms.

The gift will be used to establish the foundation’s Open Space Preservation Fund and will support the Three Valley Conservation Trust, said Betsy Hope, executive director of the foundation. According to Hope, the fund will also support nonprofits and other organizations with similar goals.

“Our whole service area is beautiful and natural, and that happens because people are intentional about preserving it,” Hope said. Buerk, 77, an ophthalmologist, died in January. He began planning for the bequest with his attorney and the foundation back in 2011. He was a private person who had wished the gift to remain anonymous until, after his death, Hope said.

Kenneth Buerk, a local ophthalmologist, left $3.5 million to the Oxford Community Foundation. Photo provided by the Oxford Community Foundation

“He really, during his lifetime, lived in a way that preserved his assets so that this gift could really be something substantial that could preserve the natural beauty of our area,” Hope said. “He loved to think about this gift making an impact after he’s gone.”

According to Hope, the goals of the Open Space Preservation Fund include:

  • Promoting responsible development while preventing the loss of prime farmland water resources, and sensitive ecosystems.
  • Building partnerships with landowners and local communities that respect property rights and agricultural conservation values.
  • Providing tools to help landowners retain control of their land and preserve the rich farm and rural heritage and economy of the Oxford, Ohio region.
  • Negotiating land conservation agreements.

The fund will not be used to purchase land, Hope said.

The fund is a permanent endowment of the foundation, meaning it is conservatively invested so it will grow over time and projects will be funded off of the earnings of the gift. Hope said the foundation has a policy that the endowment must sit for a year and a half to grow before it is able to be used. Any non-profits that are looking to take on a project centered on any of the fund’s goals can apply for a grant through the Oxford Community Foundation.

“We calculate earnings every year, so we know how much we can spend to keep the gift intact,” Hope said.

Hope said Buerk was an understated man who valued nature and had ideologies that placed value on things like nature rather than materialistic items.  

“He really cared about the community a lot,” Hope said. “This was his way of planning to take care of our area.”

Buerk received his medical education at Washington University Medical School, in St. Louis, Mo., graduating in 1968.

The Oxford Community Foundation is a private philanthropic organization supported through gifts that supports education, recreation, social welfare, civic projects, arts and culture, the environment and beautification. Since its inception in 1996, the foundation has provided more than $4 million in community grants and student scholarships, according to its website.

“We work with donors to make their charitable wishes come true,” Hope said.

The Oxford Community Foundation helps support the Oxford Observer by funding internships for students who work on the news site during the summer and winter breaks at Miami University.