‘Humble' Tennessee woman's $6 million estate to go to zoo, hospital, humane society

Posted at 5:01 AM, Aug 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-12 15:48:16-04

A Knoxville woman who lived simply and advised her only child to “spend your time and money wisely” left a $6.16 million estate to eight charities, seven from East Tennessee.

The money will be distributed today at a news conference remembering the late Nadine Brantley Dempster. The Knoxville native died in 2012 at age 93, leaving a trust that gives $770,000 to each of the eight groups. The unrestricted gifts surprised many recipients. “It’s a godsend,” said Amy Buttry, fiscal director of the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley.

Five beneficiaries — the Humane Society, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Emerald Avenue United Methodist Church, InterFaith Health Clinic and the Knoxville Zoo — are Knoxville-based. The Holston United Methodist Home for Children is in Greeneville. Bachman Academy, which serves children with learning disabilities, is in McDonald, Tenn., in Bradley County. The out-of-state recipient is New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Dempster didn’t specify why she selected the eight. “She wrote down what she wanted, and we carried out her instructions,” said Meridian Trust President Tom Coulter.

Meridian had handled Dempster’s money since August 2007 and settled her estate.

Two recipients relate to Dempster’s faith. She was a lifelong member of the Emerald Avenue church; Holston Home is Methodist-affiliated. Her love of animals can be found in her well-read Holy Bible. On a front page she listed the deaths of the family’s 9-year-old “beloved beagle” Dempster and 13-year-old cat Oliver.

“Nadine lived a very humble and simple life, “ said Coulter. “I do think it’s beyond question that’s why she had this money that she could leave to charity.”

Care for others

Nadine Brantley grew up on Oldham Avenue, a street over from her church. Her father, Daniel Milton Brantley, worked in a textile mill. As a high school graduate she became a stenographer at Ashe Hosiery Mill and then at Dempster Brothers in Knoxville. There she met Robert Dempster. He was assistant plant superintendent in the family business known for the invention of the Dempster Dumpster.

They married at the Emerald Avenue church in 1951 and bought a Fountain City lot in 1954, where they built a three-bedroom rancher. She lived there until moving into assisted living in her later years.

Robert Dempster died in 1969, one year before the family firm was sold to the Carrier Corp.

The Dempsters’ only child, Jane, died in 2009 at 51. It was to Jane that her mother sent an undated card one Easter and inside, in her neat script, advised her to “spend your time and money wisely.”

“She was very pleasant, very gentle,” said Steve Diggs, Emerald Avenue Youth Foundation executive director. “She lived a very modest life. Because of the company her family was associated with you recognized she might have some money but really didn’t know from her lifestyle.

“She was one of those ladies who quietly went through life caring about others. “

For at least 20 years the very organized Mrs. Dempster listed charitable donations on alphabetized index cards in two small plastic boxes, the kind often used for recipes. Through the years she gave to dozens of local, regional and national causes, often noting if a gift was tax deductible. Any one gift was often $10 to $50 and rarely more than $100.

Each of the eight groups listed in her last bequest had previously received donations.

In addition, her church and a few other recipients had received larger contributions. But nothing near Dempster’s last bequests.

Welcome gifts

Representatives of the groups now benefiting from Nadine Dempster’s last largesse use words like “miracle,” “amazing” and “game changer.”

“This is huge,” said Buttry. “The past several years … donations have been down as we struggle every day to get by. … We want to invest this to make sure it will be around for years to some. This will help sustain the society so we are not always begging everyone day to day.”

The Humane Society knew of the family generosity. It received $115,000 in 2009 from Jane Dempster’s estate and Nadine Dempster. Buttry said that money helped buy the society’s current Kingston Pike location.

At the zoo the surprise gift will boost the park’s endowment and pay for improvements to an aging infrastructure that includes pathways, sewer lines and drainage systems. Some funds will pay to replace an aging telephone system that often quits working. “This is changing our future and helping us be what we need to become,”said Zoo Director of Development Sharon Moore.

While Dempster gave her church extra money in her later years, the $770,000 bequest surprised Diggs, who chairs the church finance committee. “It just humbles you; that kind of call is so unexpected,” he said.

Decisions aren’t final but Diggs said discussions center on investing some of the gift and using other money to make repairs or improvements to the church building and to support its variety of community outreach programs.

“This is not money that is just going to help one congregation or make it better just for the people who worship here,” said Diggs. “This is money that is going to help the congregation and the community it serves.”