Take Till It Hurts

Elroy Stock writes racist letters and gives big money to little institutions. One recipient, Augsburg College, wanted to cash in without owning up.

Others who have spoken up against Stock have fared less well--especially those who live in his hometown. For years Hoffman resident Susan Arnquist regularly received Stock's mailings. It began in 1979, when she and her husband adopted a Korean-American infant. After the local paper printed her baptismal notice, Arnquist says Stock sent the family an anti-adoption diatribe. At the time Stock was not signing his letters, and the couple initially suspected a neighbor. In 1988, after Stock's letter-writing campaign became public, Arnquist complained to leaders of her church, Messiah Lutheran, to whom Stock had already pledged a million dollars. Arnquist's family had donated the land for the new building, and she believed the project would be tainted by Stock's involvement. When she urged her fellow parishioners to send Stock and his money packing, though, there was little sympathy: Disgusted, Arnquist left Messiah. In the years since, Arnquist has tried to keep the issue alive, mostly by writing letters to local newspapers and lobbying other institutions, including the Luther Crest Bible Camp (which received $500,000 from Stock), to stop accepting his money. In the end, Arnquist's efforts have served only to alienate her from her fellow townspeople and, she says, even her husband, from whom she was recently divorced: "The majority of people just blew me off. They took his money with open arms. And he's never been shunned from the community. Nobody asked him to be held accountable for his actions. And the fact is, they're still willing to take money from him."

Steve Olson, the current pastor at Messiah, declines to discuss the matter, saying he doesn't want to jeopardize his "ongoing conversation with Elroy." But Berdell Skogstad, the former church-council president, says "only a very, very few" church members favored shunning Stock or returning his money. "Elroy has a right to his opinions," Skogstad says. "The money that he donated was earned honestly, no cheating or anything, and he wanted to put it to a good use. He has done an awful lot of good for the community. To me, it's never been very much of a concern."

Now that he has become notorious--and since he began signing his name to his own mailings in 1988--Elroy Stock occasionally receives letters from strangers; some are critical, others are supportive. For instance, a 21-year-old college student from George Mason University, who identified himself as an aide to South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, wrote to request financial help. Stock declined. A Lutheran pastor from Owatonna wrote to protest his views. Stock ignored him.

Given his limited success with the judicial system, Stock is not especially optimistic about his chances in the Augsburg matter. He figures he spent at least a quarter-million dollars fighting his dismissal from West Publishing. He lost. He then sued an attorney who represented him in the case. He lost. And then there's the $5,000 it cost to make Jenkins Nelson go away. "I think I'm gonna be dead broke after the Augsburg College lawsuit. I'm really getting down," he says. Still, he doesn't mind the thought of spending the remainder of his fortune in a legal battle. With no children, his potential heirs would only include a brother, a sister, and a few nephews. And he is not inclined to give them the money. "I don't care for anyone inheriting my money. In fact, I would kind of hate it," he explains. Then his eyes light up behind his horn-rimmed glasses, and he wags a bony finger in the air: "You know, giving money makes people evil. There are so many evil people every place I gave. The church. The Bible camp. The college. It's terrible."

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