A friend, Steve Scholz, told me recently that his son had won the Anson Scholarship. Besides beaming with pride that his son had won one of the most coveted awards handed out in the City of Merrill, I could tell – like any parent in that position – Steve was not upset about not having to worry about paying for his son’s college tuition.
This got me to thinking as it does every year about this time, who was Leonard Niles Anson and what is the history behind his scholarship? While doing research for my weekly column, I came across the un-credited article published in the Foto News in 1974. As I was not able to read back then, and some of you may have forgotten, here is what the author back then said and what we know now.
Leonard Niles Anson was born in Plover, WI on July 3, 1848. According to his grandson Leonard A. Donoghue of Merrill, “his parents were proud but poor farmers that earned their living by the sweat of their brow.” Anson received his elementary education in rural schools. At the age of 12 he falsified his age and joined the Grand Army of the Republic in 1862 and went off to fight in the Civil War.
The war itself changed Anson, and one of the things he never indulged in was playing cards as he told his nephew that he watched his fellow Union Soldiers playing cards so much around the campfire that he developed distaste for that form of recreation.
After the War, Anson returned to the north and went to business college in Chicago. Anson went to work in the Meehan Mill in Stevens Point where he met and fell in love with the owner’s daughter, Henora Meehan. Being married to the owner of a lumber mill did not apparently come with a large bank account, as Anson was forced to take up employment in a lumber camp for a salary of $4 a month including board and “found.”
In 1883, the same year Jenny became known as Merrill, Anson and George F. Gilkey founded the Gilkey and Anson Lumber Mill. Shortly after the mill got going Gilkey took ill, leading Anson to take charge. I am sure that is when it was changed to the Anson and Gilkey Company.
Stories about Anson point to his generous nature and his yearning to help young people who were looking to get real life experience. One of the stories told was about a Mr. Reedenburg from Jacksonville, Illinois, a top accountant for Anson and Gilkey. He asked if Anson would take his young son under his wing and guide him in business. Anson did just that and when he ran into the father a few years later he had retired and became a race horse owner in Illinois. Asked how the young man was doing in the real world, the father responded “L.N., if my horses were moving as fast as my son I would be winning every prize on the circuit.”
Another similar case did not go so well as a customer of the mill asked Anson to take on his son. It was reported the young man was assigned to the office along with L.N. Anson’s son George and his daughter Mae. It seems the young man spent much of his day sitting at his desk with his feet up reading the newspaper. A farmer came to the weighing dock with a load of timber that he wished to sell to the mill. The young man told George Anson he better go out there and weigh the load, to which George Anson replied that he was busy at the moment. A few minutes later the young man told him again to hurry up and go wait on the farmer, and George told him to go out there and weigh the man in himself. The young man declined and a disgusted George Anson went out and waited on the farmer. Upon return to his office, an argument occurred between George Anson and the young man prompting the young man to storm into L. N. Anson’s office and inform him, “this office isn’t big enough to hold the both of us, either George goes or I go!” Well you can guess which one of the men packed his desk that afternoon and went away.
Along with the administration of the lumber mill, L. N. Anson was also Mayor of the City of Merrill from 1890 to 1891. His son George held the same office from 1906 to 1907. In May of 1927, L. N. Anson died at his home in Florida at the age of 79. He was brought back to Stevens Point and interned in the Anson family mausoleum at Saint Stephen Cemetery.
On Sept. 24, 1928 Henora Anson, the widow of Leonard, made a donation of $100,000 to the University of Notre Dame and signed an agreement with the institution that established the Leonard Niles Anson Memorial Scholarship in honor of her late husband. According to the agreement, the donation was used by the University as it saw fit and it was to then provide a male graduate of Merrill Senior High School with tuition, room and board, class fees, books, a pass to all intercollegiate sporting events, attendance at regular entertainment, laundry service, and medical treatment at the college infirmary.
The rules were changed over the years and now women are eligible to apply for the scholarship as well and in 2000 Lindsey Peterson; daughter of Steve and Diane Peterson of Merrill became the first woman to accept the Anson Scholarship. She went on to become an economist with the United States Labor Department based in New York, but her father reports she travels around the United States working on policy for the agency.
Other past winners have done as well or better. A survey done of local graduates for the 1974 article showed of the 48 winners, over one third were employed in engineering, three in the medical field, five were teachers and one was a priest. All of those who responded said Notre Dame left a lasting impression on them. All of those who replied said they never would have attended the University on their own if they were not selected as the Anson winner, with cost being the reason cited by every respondent.
If the scholarship was established in September of 1928, logic would have it that it was first awarded in spring of 1929. It is known that a mystery recipient in 1982 turned down the scholarship so Jagger Scholz becomes the 84th young person to go off to South Bend representing his class and Merrill in a melting pot of students from around the world.
I don’t think Henora envisioned that her donation, which would amount to about $1.3 million in today’s money, would provide the type of education and real life experience that her husband yearned for. Nor did the University imagine that a donation of $100,000 in 1928 would cost them what it did in the long run. According to most web sites, the cost of tuition and room and board at Notre Dame is $44,000 per year. With four Merrill youth on their campus each year, that means Henora’s donation allows for $176,000 worth of education to our youth each school year.
Many a fine man and woman has used this great gift and given back and grown. Jagger Scholz, you have a tough road ahead of you as you now have to complete four years of education at a highly prestigious school whose alumnus includes a host of United States Congressmen and Senators, from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Regis Philbin to Joe Montana. But with the spirit of L. N. Anson, your classmates, your family and the Community of Merrill behind you, I think you will do just fine.
Special thanks to whoever wrote the uncredited piece for the Foto News in 1974 for providing the background for this story, much of which was credited to his grandson Leonard Donoghue.