Each year my family and I vacation in Potter County, Pennsylvania. The route we take drives right through the heart of Berks County, up Route 183 to Route 78. We’ve developed a new tradition over the last couple of years when we pass by Old Route 22. My wife, three daughters and I all give a big wave and say, “Thank you, Mr. Deska!”
If the name Deska rings a bell it might be because you heard it as the name of our cat adoption satellite in Pheonixville, Chester County. But Art Deska, through his generosity and planning, has done more to help animals in Berks County and South Eastern Pennsylvania than any other single person in a very long time. As generous as he was in life, making generous annual contributions to Humane Society of Berks County, his generosity proved to be staggering in death.
A man of modest means and simple living, he turned a lifetime of hard work and careful savings into an estate in the millions. Even after sharing an enormous amount with his nieces and nephews, his church, and other area charities, when he chose to leave the remainder of his estate to the Humane Society of Berks County, it was enough to literally change our world, the way we do our work, and the worlds of the tens of thousands more animals and people we can help each year.
His estate gift allowed us to create a foundation to help HSBC and other shelters, to reach for national accreditation for our veterinary hospital and expand our veterinary services to Lancaster County, to expand our lifesaving programs across Pennsylvania and bring our experience and expertise across the nation through our management services organization. It allowed us to cast our gaze above the horizon and not aspire to merely a humane Berks County but to a Humane Pennsylvania, hence the name of our newly expanded organization.
But, to paraphrase Walt Disney, we have not and will not forget that it all started with a rabbit in Berks County. In the 1960’s the Humane Society recognized Mr. Deska’s wife, Ida, for rescuing a litter of bunnies, and a relationship between HSBC and the Deska’s grew. When his wife passed away before him, and then his brother, Mr. Deska chose to make an impact in the future he could not- as most of us can’t- in the present by giving the bulk of his estate to a charity he trusted. We take that trust very seriously, and it’s also why we are keeping the local names and local missions of our partner agencies.
It’s a reality that most of us will be richest on the day we die, when insurance and investments are no longer bound by the needs of the living. “The millionaire next door” is a cliché with a basis as Mr. Deska demonstrated. The profound change he made in our mission to save animals was the inspiration for the slogan of the Humane Pennsylvania Foundation: Change the World. Change Your Will.
While we typically don‘t want to think about death, there is something life affirming about estate planning. We get to do some final nice things for the people we love and want to look out for. When we include a charity as part of that planning, we can also ensure that we are making a difference in the lives of other- human, animals, environment, whatever is important to you- for years to come. I hope you will take some time to think about what your legacy will be and choose to support some charitable missions in your estate planning, as Mr. Deska did.
If you choose to support Humane Pennsylvania or one of our partner agencies, thank you. If you choose to support some other charity, thank you, as well. When I tell my daughters about how much good Art Deska has done and continues to do for animals it takes on the tone and feeling of a folk tale, like he was larger than life, as it should. The tale of Art Deska offers the lesson that we should each do as much good in the end of our life as we did during it and inspire others to share their gratitude as we do when we say, “Thank you, Mr. Deska.”