Donors create scholarship for students in crisis

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‘There’s so much need out there,’ UNK alumna says

UNK Alumna Ilene Steinkruger says she and her late husband, Milton, both wanted to help students at UNK who are struggling because of a crisis, who are in jeopardy of dropping out.

They felt that type of scholarship could do a lot of good.

From a conversation with Ilene:

My dad died very, very suddenly. He was young, just in his early 30s. My mom became a widow when I was 10. She struggled. I was the oldest of three kids, and there was just no money.

I started working when I was in sixth grade. I worked for a dentist’s wife. When I got older, I cleaned houses and went to work at a Dairy Queen-type of drive-in. I was always interested in food – mostly eating it! So that’s probably what led me into home economics.

I majored in home-ec in college at Kearney and I loved it. While I was in college I worked in a restaurant that’s no longer there, Grantham’s. I did well. I knew all the customers, and I earned good tips. But trying to do my studies at night and still maintain a little social life was tough, because I worked pretty much full time.

I received a loan from Job’s Daughters. I also received money from the Kearney Junior Chamber of Commerce – money they designated for a sophomore who needed it in order to continue with college. It probably wasn’t much by today’s standards, but it helped pay my tuition.

My late husband, Milton, struggled, too. He had a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He was a real good punter. He’d actually gone to training camp and had a tryout with one of the major football teams. But he broke his foot in high school, and the doctor didn’t set it right. The medical expert on the football team took one look at the foot and said they’d have to pull the scholarship.

Milton was so disappointed. He stayed at UNL a semester and then came to Kearney to take his pre-mortuary college basics. He had to work real hard while studying. He worked at the funeral home just a block away from Grantham’s. One day while I was working, he walked in and winked at me, and that was it!

He built his own funeral home from scratch here in Colorado Springs. The mortuary business was a good field. He really enjoyed it and was very successful at it. But believe me, he worked hard. I’m sure that may have led to his early death, because of the stress.

We thought one of the things we would try to do in our wills was to help UNK students who are struggling, who are in jeopardy of dropping out because of a crisis situation. Most universities have so many specific scholarships and grants for students in certain fields, like math or science – great fields.

But I think sometimes a crisis can happen to a student and when it does, this type of scholarship is much more needed.

I let the people at UNK decide who gets the scholarships. I get a report every year on the number of scholarships. I get thank-you notes sometimes. Those make me feel good, like I’ve contributed to someone else’s success. There’s so much need out there.

I hope that the students appreciate this kind of help, because I sure did.

Student support is one of the top priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year. Since the campaign began in 2005, about $253 million has been raised to support students, and more than 1,700 scholarship funds have been created. If you, like Ilene, would like to help students, too, please consider giving online or contact the foundation at 800-432-3216.

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