Wisconsin man shares one last thank you to his town's residents

Ripon, Wisconsin — Normally, no one wants to receive an unsolicited letter from an attorney. But that's exactly what some residents of Ripon, Wisconsin, found in their mailbox. 

The letter was from an attorney representing the estate of Dennis Valstad. Dennis, who at one point owned the local dry cleaner, died a few months ago at the age of 69. To most people, Dennis seemed to be a man of modest means.

But he secretly amassed a small fortune. Although it wasn't just the size of his estate that brought us here, it was the directions he left behind for what to do with it.

"Provision number 5: The sum of $500,000 to be divided equally to the individuals that attend my funeral," said Don Jorgenson, executor of the estate, reading from the letter. 

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Dennis Valstad The Ripon Commonwealth-Press

That's all you had to do was show up? 

"Yeah, that's it," Don said.

Just attend the church service or simply set foot in the funeral home and sign the registry — and the money was yours.  Of course, no one knew this in advance, and Dennis had no wife or kids — so there was no reason for him to expect a large turnout.

To that point, Don also found Dennis' New Year's resolutions.

"Live a life that is pleasing to God," it said.  

That's things he wanted to accomplish this year? 

"Yea.  Find true friends — not be lonely," Don said. 

Those people who did love him enough to attend his funeral, this was a thank you. 

"Yea," Don said.  

He would have been pleasantly surprised.  

"Darn right he would," Don said. 

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Ripon, Wisconsin residents. The Ripon Commonwealth-Press

This is the registry. Dennis may not have had a lot of close friends — but he was endlessly kind and all these people appreciated that. Two-hundred-seventy of them attended his services. Now, each one will get about $1,800 — and this bonus.

"It's going to motivate people to be more giving, more loving, more understanding," Don said.

And that's the real gift here. That reminder — although a funeral is an important time show someone you care, there is one time better — sooner.


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  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.