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Empire Editorial: Would you give away $40M?

Posted: November 8, 2013 - 1:04am

What would you do with $40 million? Spend it? Save it? Buy a small tropical island to call your own?

The answer to that question will vary depending on who you ask. For Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. owner Bill Corbus, the answer came easy: Give it away.

That’s what Mr. Corbus said his intentions would be after he sells his company to Avista Utilities, based in Spokane, Wash., after the two companies merge. The deal is expected to close July 1, 2014. Mr. Corbus is donating 90 percent of his shares, roughly $40 million, to the Juneau Community Foundation.

An individual donation of such magnitude is one that very few cities will ever experience. The infusion of Mr. Corbus’ donation to the foundation, which provides support to numerous local nonprofits, is one that will benefit our city for generations if managed properly.

Corbus will likely be known as one of Juneau’s greatest individual benefactors and philanthropists for his multi-million-dollar gift. What’s equally impressive is how easy it was for him to let the money go. He told the Empire this week he’d had the intention to donate the money to our community “for a long, long time.”

“The proceeds from the sale of the company were generated by the community and I thought it should stay in the community,” he said.

Many readers posted comments to the Empire’s web site praising Mr. Corbus and his $40 million gift to the city he loves, yet there were a few, as there always are, who couldn’t help but rain on everyone’s parade. Some reacted as though they were entitled to Mr. Corbus’ money all along, as if he reached into their wallets and took it from them. These individuals seem to forget that Mr. Corbus is a business owner, and any and all profits from his shares belong to him and him alone. Had Mr. Corbus decided to give away 10 percent of his shares instead of 90 percent, it still would have been an incredibly generous donation worthy of praise. Many of these people also forget that power costs in Juneau are far below that of our Southeast Alaska neighbors. Folks in communities dependent on diesel would trade energy costs with us in a heartbeat.

We’re all fortunate Mr. Corbus decided to call Juneau home for the last 43 years. Prior to Monday’s news he was already known for his philanthropic efforts in the capital city, but his most recent announcement further elevates the legacy he will one day leave behind.

“Thank you” hardly seems fitting in comparison to his gift, but it needs to be said nonetheless.

Thank you, Mr. Corbus, for what you have done for our community in years past and for what your donation will continue to provide in the future. We’re fortunate you decided to call Juneau home all those years ago and will forever be better off because of it.

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