Millions left to charities after Queenstown man’s cancer death

A Queenstowner who died of cancer last week is leaving millions of dollars to environmental, animal welfare and children’s charities.

Former American Yevrah Ornstein, who was 70, has stipulated the sale of his Lakeside Estates solar home — thought to be worth about $6 million — and other investments go to four international charities along with New Zealand’s KidsCan and Save the Children NZ.

Donations from invested funds will be made annually in perpetuity.

Ornstein set up a foundation for the US-based charities — environmental-based Nature Resources Defence Council and Rocky Mountain Institute, Animal Welfare Institute and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — and a charitable trust for the two Kiwi charities, whose purpose is “to serve and protect children in NZ”.

Neighbour Peter Thodey says when Ornstein knew he was dying, “we were talking one day about what he wanted to do with his estate and I said, ‘why not set up a trust?’ “

In notes made before he went into hospital, he wrote: “Alongside my passion [for] environmental issues resided my always-present reverence for education — be it educating people about the climate crisis along with protecting that we were endowed with by virtue of being stewards of the natural environment.

“The charities I have chosen are doing an excellent job protecting and serving children as well as nature.”

He notes his life was transformed by working as a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Ecuador in the 1970s.

After buying, fixing up and selling houses for a living, he moved from New York to California where he became active in the growing men’s movement.

He published a quarterly paper called The Men’s Journal and wrote two books on male psychology and development.

After falling in love with NZ during frequent visits, he moved to Queenstown 20 years ago, becoming manager and co-owner of upmarket Matakauri Lodge for several years.

In 2014, he opened a Mexico restaurant franchise, Zambrero, in The Landing complex — the chain had a charity initiative in which each meal sold saw another being donated to people in impoverished countries.

However, his venture didn’t last long.

Ornstein lived successively in homes designed by Christchurch eco-architect the late Roger Buck and built by local master crafts man Tony Baker — the first at Alpine Retreat and the latest at Lakeside Estates, which was the last house Buck ever designed.

Ornstein likened the second house to “a work of art”.

“I think we all have a part to play in the environment — this is my way of contributing,” he told Mountain Scene.

Friend Kris Lukaszewicz says he was “quite a generous man — I know he’s been supporting a number of charities throughout his life”.

“He was into alternative, renewable energy 20 years ago, he was well ahead of his time.”

Over the years he owned, in succession, five golden retrievers.

His last, Breeze, visited him in hospital twice a day, and has now been adopted by a local couple.

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