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It’s not the call a small-town carousel operator expects: a $1 million donation, from the sister of one the ride’s original architects, was on its way.

But this week, A Carousel for Missoula’s executive director Theresa Cox made the announcement of the largest donation, by far, for the carousel, which is funded through ride fares, sponsorships and private donations.

“It was completely unexpected,” Cox said. “We don’t even think in terms of a million dollars.”

Patricia Donlin, of Port Angeles, Washington, made the historic gift as a memorial to her younger brother, Alex McDonald, who helped carve the carousel’s horses and gargoyles and supported the project during its inception in the early 1990s.

McDonald was also a firefighter for the City of Missoula and served as battalion chief. He was also in the National Guard.

“It was very dear to him, and so it’s very dear to me,” Donlin said Thursday in a phone interview. “Not every town has a carousel. I think it’s great that Missoula has it and that my brother was part of it.”

According to the carousel’s press release, Donlin worked for Boeing Computer Service, which started as a subsidiary of Boeing and invested in Microsoft early on, using the proceeds for philanthropy.

Donlin remembered her brother as "the nicest, calmest, most honest, considerate and unselfish person,” in the release.

After McDonald’s death in 2018, Donlin and other family members came to Missoula for his memorial. At that time, she donated $1,000 to the carousel. Donlin said she didn’t think twice about donating even more money, for “whatever they need it for.”

Cox emphasized that the huge donation would be considered an endowment: “We don’t intend to touch the principal. We will use the interest every year to cover projects.”

One thing the $1 million savings could have helped with was an emergency shutdown of the carousel this summer, during its peak operating season, due to a broken bearing. That bearing was manufactured and repaired pro bono by machinist Andy Troutwine, but Cox said that’s a situation where they will no longer have to hope for a good Samaritan to stay in the clear.

The carousel’s yearly operating budget is around $280,000, three-quarters of which is made up through ride fares and concessions and gift shop sales. The rest is made up through sponsorships and donations.

Cox estimated their average donation was around $100, but emphasized that each donation — no matter the size — is important to the Missoula Carousel.

During the ride’s summer shutdown, Cox said a preschool class came to the carousel anyway to donate their ride fare. That totaled around $9, but it meant more than many donations.

“We’re incredibly grateful for everything people give us,” Cox said. “Every gift we get from the community is important.”

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.