Late last year some stories went around the web about a number of small rural villages in Spain going up for sale. Spain’s late-to-arrive industrialization drew large numbers of villagers from the countryside into large cities around the middle of the twentieth century, a trend that’s only sped up in light of the global recession.
But now one of those small poor villages has caught a break, thanks to the generosity of its favorite son. Cerezales del Condado in the Leon province has been left a significant amount of the estate of millionaire Antonio Fernandez, a native of the village who went on to make a fortune as a founder of the Corona beer company. Some reports falsely claimed that each resident would receive more than $2 million, but that didn’t pan out to be quite true. Still, the small village is getting its fair share, in addition to the millions Fernandez poured into his hometown before dying recently at the age of 98.
Between two large gifts in 2008 and 2011, Fernandez invested in Cerezales del Condado’s elementary school, roads, church, cemetery, and other public spaces. By next April, the Antonio Fernandez Foundation will be officially open for business in the midst of the tiny hamlet, where it will run art exhibits, public concerts, film screenings, and workshops for disabled youth.
And all thanks to Corona beer.
The story is a touching example of a committed donor keeping true to a place he cared deeply about. But it also raises some hard questions about how a multimillion dollar foundation might (or might not) fit into a rural setting. Sure, the villagers at Cerezales del Condado knew Fernandez and welcomed his gifts over the years, but now that he’s gone he’s going to be replaced by a sleek cadre of philanthropic professionals staffing what will almost certainly be one of the largest organizations in town. How will the presence of the Fernandez Foundation affect life in the small village it means to serve? Only time will tell, of course, but one doesn’t struggle to imagine it becoming a power base in its own right, even potentially clashing with the local government on issues of investments or civic programming.
It’s an interesting experiment, actually, and philanthropy watchers should try to keep up with the latest out of Cerezales del Condado in coming years.