Life has had many rewards for Ed Drager (’56 BS Bus, ’60 Law), and he credits the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a great deal of his good fortune.
With the proceeds from selling two condominiums in Vail, Colorado, he created charitable remainder unitrusts through the UW Foundation. The unitrusts help his current financial situation and eventually will benefit UW-Madison.
“For a lot of people in my generation, I think we were fortunate to be born when we were and to have lived where we have,” said Drager, who makes his home in Tucson, Arizona. “If you look at history, it’s one of the greatest times to have been alive, if you lived in the United States.
“I think I got a pretty good education at Wisconsin,” he said. “That laid the foundation for me.”
After earning his law degree, Drager moved to Chicago and joined a small practice that handled labor relations. He was called back to serve in the Army in the early 1960s, and once he returned, he found to his dismay that the direction of the firm had changed.
He went to work for the Container Corporation of America, which made “paper boxes with great style.” After that corporation merged with Montgomery Ward, he “thought it might be time to move.”
Drager practiced law in Denver before moving on to Vail, “where I practiced for seven or eight years.” He worked for the resort community’s largest commercial real estate interest, which held hotels, condominiums and other properties.
“Then I retired, more or less,” he said. Drager had invested in real estate in Vail, where he lived for more than 30 years. “I served on every board in town, or so it seemed. I could ski whenever I wanted to, go hiking, head out fishing. Everything seemed to work.”
“It’s pretty clear to me that I’ve lived a great life, and the University helped make it possible, so I felt I had to give something back to the University.”
Over time, Drager said, he got bored with the leisurely life. Drager bought a franchise of what was then Mail Boxes Etc., which would become The UPS Store. “The corporation didn’t want to sell me a franchise,” he said. “They said the city was not big enough.” After about 2-and-a-half years, it was their 14th largest income producer in the country.
“So I sold that and started doing market research for Vail resorts,” he said. “Essentially I rode the ski lift and asked visitors about their experiences in Vail. That was great.”
Two condominiums Drager owned in Vail were on the verge of becoming a burden through capital gains taxes. “I had taken all of the depreciation out of them, and I hate to pay taxes if I don’t have to,” he said.
After consulting with the UW Foundation and his advisers, “we put them into a charitable remainder unitrust and sold them,” he said. “We were able to make the sale right when I created the unitrust, so the UW Foundation had no management concerns or fees.
“I was able to make the sale with no tax liability, the UW Foundation doesn’t have to pay any tax on the proceeds, and I get income from the unitrusts for the rest of my life,” he said.
Drager had reasons besides the tax benefits for creating his unitrusts.
“It’s pretty clear to me that I’ve lived a great life, and the University helped make it possible, so I felt I had to give something back to the University,” he said. “I met a lot of fascinating and interesting people. I had fantastic professors, like Edwin Witte, who helped Franklin Roosevelt develop Social Security, and others who helped lead the country out of the Depression. I figured I owed the University something for that.”
Drager, who is president of the Saddlebrooke Rotary Club, has family land in northern Wisconsin, near Eagle River, that has been used at various times by the forestry and wildlife ecology programs at UW-Madison. He makes it back to the cabin there every year for a couple of months.
“The University will get the money from my unitrusts when I leave this Earth,” he said with a laugh, “which I hope won’t be for quite some time.”