Back in the summer of 2000, one of our founding board members, Eloise (Bylund) Browne (1967), thought there had to be a better way to raise scholarship moneys for Lancaster's graduating seniors. Her initial thoughts turned to establishing a loosely organized Alumni Association. In preparation, she took her idea to the Lancaster School Board and received their blessing in the event anything came of it.
Eloise's next thought turned to finding willing accomplices in her quest. She approached a friend and fellow Lancaster School alumni with her pitch. Her idea was to solicit alumni in order to try raise enough money for a $500 scholarship to be given away at graduation. She presented the idea to Fred Wilebski (1971) and asked if he would draft a letter to pursue this goal.
Without hesitation, he said "how about we go one better?" "How about incorporating as a nonprofit organization and raise money through memberships so that we can eliminate yearly fund raisers?". He floated the idea of creating an organization with procedures and a board of directors that would carry on this mission in perpetuity. While both were trying to hide their excitement about the prospects, they agreed to meet later that week over coffee and to start putting their thoughts to paper.
As promised, the two met for coffee a few days later (September 26) to share their ideas. What should the organization look like? How about all the legal hurdles? How can we make sure the organization represents the community? Who are the key players we need to get involved? Do you think the Alumni and friends of Lancaster School will respond favorably? Two pots of coffee later and they each had a task list in hand and contacts to make, questions to ask, and other assorted "homework" to accomplish. Over the course of the next month or so, the phone lines were burning up as answers were received and key players brought on board for the first planning meeting.
A Pearl Harbor Day Meeting
On December 7, a group of key community leaders attended an early evening meeting at Lancaster School. The other seven individuals who were invited to attend were Brad Homstad (1973), Bob Laude (1965), Bruce Nielsen (1967), Crystal (Nicholson) Peterson (1979), Dianne (Glad) Rice (1966), Floyd Sanner (1943), and "Peggy" (Hunter) Sanner (1946). It was at this meeting that this group reviewed and discussed the tentative mission of the group, operating procedures, by-laws, committees, potential funding sources, and the big question of whether or not to incorporate. All in attendance thought it was a great idea, but were not sure how it would be received by the community. Perhaps the concept would fall flat and all of our hopes and planning would be in vain.
After lengthy discussions about prospects and the cost to give it a shot, this group wrote checks that evening totaling over a thousand dollars to cover start up fees such as incorporation papers and to produce a mass mailing to friends of Lancaster School and Alumni. The group felt that if the response from those solicited was deemed poor, the organization would fold and those who responded with a contribution would get their money back. The board members on the other hand would be out the thousand dollars they kicked in to give it a try.
Pushing ahead, our attorney and founding board member Bruce Nielsen stated that we needed an incorporator to respond to any government inquiries and basically take responsibility if something were to go wrong prior to getting our nonprofit status. A "fall guy" so to speak. Fred volunteered to be this contact. As the incorporator, he appointed the first board and assigned offices and committee heads. Dianne Rice was designated as the COLEG's first president, Crystal Nicholson as the Vice President, Peggy Sanner as Secretary, and Fred as Treasurer. Bob Laude was appointed the chair of a three-person Investment Committee and Eloise Browne the chair of the nine-person Selection Committee.
The group agreed to proceed with the initial plea for funding and to meet in a month or so to determine if the COLEG would continue to operate or fold and return any contributions.
The Letters Go Out
Just after the first of the year (2001), our initial plea to alumni and friends of the community went out. The board eagerly waited for the first signs of a response. It didn't take long. Our very first check for membership was received on January 14 from Ruth (Norland) Wilebski (1933). Three days later it was followed by membership checks from Clayton Angel (1938), Lowell Swenson (1939), Helen (Brosvik) Lindgren (1937), Lawrence Fick (1937), Nora (Weberg) Nicholson (1921), Richard Nicholson (1954), Maureen (Wilebski) Nicholson (1956), & Joyce (Erickson) Glad (1960). Two days after that it was Lilly (Skapple) Smolak (1961), Ralph Lindstrom (1957), Delbert Peterson (1945), and Cora (Swenson) Shenkey (1935). And on and on it went like that for the next several months.
Although there were a few negative rumors circulating about our infant organization, it seemed like nothing could stop the pent up desire to give something back to our small community. By the time the board met again on February 8, it was apparent the COLEG was going to live.
When the board met in April, the excitement about what had been accomplished could no longer be contained. Not only had the community responded very favorably with contributions, but the COLEG received its first annually funded scholarship. Lorraine (Nelson) Dunn (1959) contacted our organization and set up an award to honor her sister Leona (Nelson) Cerkowniak (1971). In addition, the American Legion Post 214 & Auxiliary asked our organization to administer their annual scholarship award. So, in less than four months after incorporating we already had two scholarships to award. Things were looking great for our future.
Helen & Lowell
Another milestone event also took place in April in the form of a generous gift from Helen (Swenson) Hunter (1933) and her brother Lowell (1939). These two alumni contributed shares of stock which at the time of the gift was worth almost $20,000. To say the board was caught off guard by this early and large gift would be the greatest understatement since Noah said it was going to rain. This gift provided further proof of the COLEG's legitimacy and level of trust placed in the organization and its founders.
Our First Commencement
At commencement in May of 2001, the COLEG was able to make 5 awards which totaled $2,600. Although the number and amount were not that significant, it should be remembered the idea to organize was only months old.
As the organization enters its 11th year of operation, it is evident the original goals of the founding board members have exceeded all expectations. Today the COLEG has 6 named scholarships of which 4 are funded by lump sums. With this year's awards, the COLEG will have presented a total of 99 scholarships totaling $136,300. And to think it all came about because of an attempt to award a $500 scholarship each year to a Lancaster School Senior.