Celebrating the Philanthropic Legacy of Don and Marjorie Tarr

Don and Marjorie Tarr

Northfield Shares, our community foundation, is honored to steward the philanthropic legacy of Don and Marjorie Tarr. Northfield residents for nearly 50 years, the Tarrs were stalwart community members, deeply engaged in many organizations and causes, locally, nationally, and globally.

Generations of Northfield residents remember Don and Marge as friends, volunteers, gift givers, leaders, and educators – in the classroom and beyond. Their children, Steve and Liz Tarr and Kaori Takami Natsume, grew up watching their parents “constantly working for something good, something important to them.” As “teachers of life” they modeled the value of living in community with others.

Their gift through Northfield Shares will continue doing “something good” for the benefit of the whole community and their legacy will live on in perpetuity. They chose to make their estate gift through Northfield Shares because they trusted the community foundation to ensure their assets would help those in need, now and in the future. Northfield Shares has redistributed this incredible gift according to the Tarrs’ wishes. The recipients reflect their love of community near and far.

Northfield Shares

Among the many local projects they cared about, was the creation of Northfield Shares’ predecessor, the Northfield Area Foundation. Don understood the important role of a community foundation as a vehicle for making donors’ and nonprofits’ dreams come true. He was a founding member of the governing board. Current Northfield Shares board member Donna Rae Scheffert remembers, “Don Tarr was a champion for establishing a community clinic for low-income people (now called Healthfinders, founded in 2005). He participated in the community task force and as chair of the Northfield Area Foundation, provided the community match funds that brought significant state funding to the start-up clinic.”

Northfield Shares has committed its portion of the Tarr gift to support its annual community grantmaking. 

Click here to see a short video from conversation with the Tarr children about their parents. This video initially aired on January 23, 2021 during Northfield Shares an Evening of Entertainment.

First United Church of Christ, Northfield

Marge and Don Tarr were woven into the fabric of First UCC not only by their incredible generosity but in the numerous ways they participated in and preserved its local and global outreach and ministry. Their fellow church members remember Don as a coveted tenor in the choir and Marge as a “tender curator and archivist” of First UCC’s history.

Pictured Left to Right: Sam Steinberg, UCC Moderator, Deb Gottfried, Vice Moderator, Rev. Lauren Baske Davis, Minister for Congregational Life, Mary Lynn Oglesbee Board President Northfield Shares, Rev. Wendy Vander Hart, Interim Senior Minister, Sarah Nathan, Executive Director Northfield Shares

Church members Judy Bond, Margit Johnson, Jane McWilliams and Theo Wee remember that Marge and Don Tarr “donned” many hats in the community, including with:

  • the Northfield Area Foundation, Community Action Center, and Habitat for Humanity promoting affordable housing;
  • Church Women United, promoting Operation Hope’s outreach to Appalachia;
  • the Northfield Arts Guild in dozens of theater and musical productions;
  • the Asian Rural Institute in Japan; and,
  • Northfield elementary school children, as reading tutor and gardener of wild flowers.

Pastor Wendy Vander Heart shares that, “This significant gift in its unrestricted nature would be tempting to use for some large capital outlays, but to represent the faithful annual giving that Don and Marge dedicated to First UCC, we will place these funds in long term reserves to replicate the generosity they dedicated year after year. Sustaining gifts like theirs are impactful in the practice of our ministry in Northfield and beyond.”

St. Olaf College, Northfield

For 31 years Don Tarr was a professor of chemistry and Marge worked St. Olaf Chemistry registration for several years; they were exemplary citizens of St. Olaf College.  As a teacher, Don would demonstrate how air pressure could crush a metal can and illustrate a tennis ball’s symmetry by poking wires through it. He pioneered the use of computers in teaching and worked with colleague George Hardgrove to develop innovative experiments in polymer chemistry.

Don’s colleagues have reflected on his life with respect and appreciation. He was friendly and eager to help faculty as well as students; he reached out to provide extra assistance to students who had special needs. Younger colleagues particularly appreciated his help, typically brightened by his distinctive laugh. Within the Chemistry Department, and more broadly on campus, he worked vigorously on important committees, many of which he chaired; his calm demeanor and good judgment enabled him to serve effectively. 

Late in his career, Don invited colleague Gary Miessler to work with him on writing an inorganic chemistry textbook. This collaboration led to multiple editions, with a new one planned at the time of Don’s death. Gary echoes a senior editor’s description of Don as “an enjoyable man to know and work with,” who “helped change the way in which inorganic chemistry is taught in the US and around the world.”   

Pictured Left to Right: Sarah Nathan, Executive Director Northfield Shares, Carrie Robarge Carroll ’89 Program Director Northfield Shares, Gary Miessler, Professor Emeritus, Doug Beussman, Chair of Chemistry, David R. Anderson ’74 St. Olaf President, Enoch Blazis Vice President for Advancement

“Don and Marge gave generously of themselves to St. Olaf and Northfield,” says St. Olaf College President David R. Anderson. “Don taught here for 31 years, and Marge likewise invested her time heavily in sustaining and supporting others. Both created initiatives in our town and beyond that continue on today. I’m humbled and grateful they made this lasting gift to the college.”

Asian Rural Institute, Japan

Based in Japan and welcoming people from around the world, the mission of the Asian Rural Institute is to build an environmentally healthy, just and peaceful world, in which each person can live to his or her fullest potential. The Tarrs were among the original founders and steadfast supporters of the American Friends of Asian Rural Institute (AFARI). This decades long relationship began when Don and ARI founder Toshihiro Takami were roommates at Doane College. There was such a strong bond between their families that the Tarrs considered the Takami’s daughter, Kaori, as a daughter to them, as well. Travel to the US by the Takamis always included a stop in Northfield to visit with Don and Marge.

The Tarrs cared deeply about the mission and vision of ARI and supported the organization both financially and spiritually. AFARI Board member and St. Olaf Professor Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak fondly recalls meeting Don Tarr for the first time in 2003. He had invited her to coffee and eagerly shared his knowledge and enthusiasm for the Asian Rural Institute. Over the years, Kathy heard more stories about ARI from other St. Olaf people who had come to share Don’s enthusiasm for the transformational school started by his college roommate. At every opportunity, Marge Tarr shared her stories about decades of loving friendship with the Takami family and support for ARI. “My heart is full as I think of this beautiful friendship, and deep commitment to introducing people to the ARI mission of educating rural leaders from across the globe.,” said Kathy.

Doane University, Crete, Nebraska

Doane University is Don Tarr’s alma mater and where he met Toshihiro Takami. It was a formative place that charted his life path as an educator and life-long supporter of the Asian Rural Institute.  Doane President Jacque Carter said, “Don and Marjorie were an amazing team and are great examples of servant leaders. They shared their time, treasure and talent with their community, their college and friends from around the world.  Their work with Don’s college roommate, Toshihiro Takami, and the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) is an example of their generosity. Doane University is very grateful for the legacy gift we have received from the Tarrs.”

Don and Marjorie Tarr’s exuberant love of others will continue to grow as their generous estate gift fuels the work of mission-driven organizations for generations to come.

Making a commitment to strengthen your community, today and in the future, is one of the most meaningful decisions you can make. To learn about legacy giving through Northfield Shares, please contact Sarah Nathan, Executive Director.