By Judy Wakefield
---- — Andover Village Improvement Society got an early Christmas present thanks to a more than $60,000 bequest from a lifelong resident who loved nature and the outdoors.
Ellen F. Fraser, who grew up on a farm on Cross Street, left $62,700 to the nonprofit land trust, which she identified as one of her favorite charities. It is the largest gift ever received by AVIS.
“This was totally unexpected,” said Mike Timko, president of the AVIS board of trustees. “But, we are thrilled with this.”
Fraser, who died in 2011 at the age of 96, lived on Boutwell Road off River Road in west Andover for many years with her late husband, Robert Fraser. He was a former president of the Community Savings Bank in Lawrence and longtime golfer at Indian Ridge Country Club in Andover.
Robert Fraser’s goddaughter, Mary Alice Rock of North Andover, who served as the executor of her will, described the couple as “absolutely very outdoorsy.”
“They loved to cross-country ski and skied all over the world,” Rock said. “They didn’t have children and they enjoyed traveling very much. They enjoyed hostels and Ellen continued staying at hostels even after her husband’s death. I used to take her to the airport ... I remember she was 88 when she stayed at her last hostel.”
The Frasers were also avid hikers and took advantage of AVIS’ more than 35 miles of trails on 1,100 acres in Andover that are held in trust for the public to use.
“Deer Jump Reservation is right outside their door ... and I know they liked to cross-country ski there,” Timko said.
One year, the couple planted numerous Christmas tree seedlings on their property and held a big party for their family when it came time to cut down the trees.
“That was so much fun,” Rock said. “We all cut our own Christmas trees.”
Ellen Fraser was a member of many organizations, including the Lawrence Garden Club, the Daffodil Society and the Horticultural Society. At age 90, one of her flower arrangements won a ribbon at the Topsfield Fair.
Her estate awarded gifts to 16 area organizations, with AVIS receiving the largest donation of those.
AVIS was notified in 2011 that it was remembered in Fraser’s will, but only recently learned the amount of the gift.
“We just think this was so nice and a wonderful thing to do,” Timko said.
Timko said AVIS trustees voted to put the gift in its land acquisition fund. The organization has been acquiring and conserving open space in Andover for the protection of natural resources and wildlife since 1894.
“We use money from that account to buy land and the account was getting low,” Timko said. “Buying additional land is what the Frasers would have wanted.”