Group begins raising funds for foundation scholarships

Courtesy photo Members of the United Way, on the left side of the photo, make a presentation to members of the Huron School District Foundation board - all either Huron High School graduates or administrators - to help kick off the new foundation’s planned donor wall.

HURON — ‘Creating a foundation to enhance educational opportunities…’

That was the simple, but definitive portion of the original press release announcing the formation of the Huron School District Foundation late last year. As the volunteer organization nears its first anniversary, the broad approach has been honed down to a solitary focus, at least until the Foundation has found its legs and is ready to take on more.

Toward that end, next weekend is a milestone, as the Foundation will host its first ever fundraising golf tournament, taking place over Huron High School’s Homecoming weekend. It is an event that the Foundation sees as something that will grow into a regular part of the homecoming week activities. In addition, this year the Huron High School Sports Hall of Fame holds its every-other-year induction ceremony, bringing more HHS graduates to town for the festivities.

A dozen Huron residents - many with a firm footing in education - have been meeting, speaking to groups and asking for donations to the Foundation since November, but it was two months ago, according to several board members, that the vision became clearer.

“I became involved through Garret Bischoff and Terry Nebelsick,” said Foundation board president Brad McGirr. “From all I have learned, the idea originated with them - when Garret was on the Huron School Board and Terry was superintendent. They had the idea to build a foundation, modeled after what some other school districts had done, to help students in their education.”

That is the broad view. As it turns out, for an organization just starting out, the approach may have been too broad.

“I met with some folks in the community, after speaking to them about donating and the consensus was that we were trying to do too much, too soon,” McGirr noted. “We were patterning our foundation after ones in school districts in South Dakota, but some of them were 20 to 25 years in existence. We needed to narrow the focus.”

McGirr said he went to the next foundation board meeting and related the feedback. “I asked ‘What can we do, that will help the most? Something we can hang our hat on?’ Mr. Nebelsick, Dr. (Kraig) Steinhoff (current HHS Superintendent, and Rich Reimer (former HHS teacher and administrator) all immediately responded ’Scholarships.’”

Nebelsick, who retired from the Huron School District after several years as first high school principal, then superintendent, said he was aware of the foundations at other schools and had it on his ‘to-do’ list, but other things came up forced it onto the back burner.

“I was aware of Watertown and Madison having foundations and ultimately when I was asked to join the board, we patterned ourselves after those groups, but we were just starting and didn’t have the same base upon which to build. Yet.”

“The discussion of creating a school foundation has been going on for a few years now,” said Bischoff. “When I was on the Huron Community Foundation board and we noticed the school would often apply for funding for extras that were outside a normal school’s budget. We talked about how it would be nice to find a way to create a foundation that would handle many of those requests.”

Nebelsick noted that while the Huron School District has led the state in several areas - grade-based learning centers for instance - “We are followers on this and are learning from how other places were doing it.”

A prime example of the effectiveness of a school district foundation is in Milbank, McGirr said. “Last year, on Huron High School’s Senior Day (when graduates receive scholarships from numerous individuals, businesses and organizations) just bit more than $29,000 was presented to graduates.

In contrast, Milbank, who graduated 36 kids last year, created $230,000 in scholarships and other aid through the district’s foundation.”

“The more we have dug into school foundations and the good that they can do, the more we have turned our focus to student scholarships,” Bischoff added.

McGirr said the realization that something needed to be done to focus on the issue and make changes.

“Our goal is to raise $1 million for an endowment,” McGirr said. “The South Dakota Community Foundation will oversee the funds, just as it does for the Huron Community Foundation and the various family funds that create grants for local groups and organizations. When we reach that goal, by using the interest generated by the endowment, we will be able to distribute another $40,000 to $50,000 per year, while allowing the principle to go untouched.”

Reimer invested 40 years into education, 25 years in the classroom and the final 15 years as an administrator.

He and his wife Pat fund a scholarship each year, which is among those designated on Senior Day.

“When I was in the administration and this was more than 20 years ago, the counselors at the time - Mark Neuharth and Kathy DeBoer - had the idea of a community scholarship program,” Reimer said.

“They contacted businesses and individuals about funding scholarships then. That was not an endowment, but was something that would be donated each year.” Reimer said that some scholarships were targeted - for instance, if an engineering company was willing to donate toward a scholarship, they would often earmark it for a student interested in pursuing an engineering education.

“But these were every year things,” he said. “It helped students, but the assistance was somewhat small compared to what other communities were doing, in terms of financial assistance for kids.”

“The scholarships through the endowment is a way to fill in the gaps,” Nebelsick said. “That is what created the excitement for us. Can we meet the demand and have innovative finance opportunities that goes above and beyond? In addition, the Huron School District Foundation will dovetail so well with the unbelievable success we’ve seen with the endowment for the Huron Community Campus, which makes possible the $40 per credit hour. I think that this can partner and give students headed to a technical school or a four-year college ongoing support. I am really very excited about the possibilities.”

“Ideally,” Reimer said, “we want to get to the point where we can continuously fund scholarships each year. At that point there may be other avenues that can be explored to improve education.”

“Fundraising has picked up when we  narrowed our focus,” McGirr said. “We can continue to add as we go forward. A $2,000 donation adds the person or persons making the donation to the Founders Wall, which is in the hallway that connects Huron Arena to the Event Center. “ Other funding levels are also being recognized: $5,000 - Orange Level; $10,000 - Black Level and $25,000 - Tiger Level.

“The Huron School District Foundation provides an opportunity for many of us, whose kids have graduated, to contribute and enhance continuing education for HHS students,” Nebelsick noted.

“My hope is we can raise $100,000 our first year,” Bischoff said, “and hopefully within 10 years grow our fund to $1 million, so we would have the ability to offer any student graduating Huron High School a scholarship to help them achieve their goals in life.”

In addition to McGirr, Nebelsick serves as the foundation vice-president, Bischoff is the secretary and Marcia Zwanziger is treasurer. Other board members include: Reimer, Jeff Duffy, Sherman Gose, Jodi Hegg, Craig Lee, Rhonda Kludt and Nichole Wenz.