Photo courtesy of Renae Reedy, Forest Lake Area Schools

Gene Hallberg of the Hallberg Family Foundation presents a Community Scholarship Foundation award to senior Charlie Babcock at the academic awards program on Monday, June 3, at Forest Lake Area High School.

Duane Rasmussen had a hunch 46 years ago that the greater Forest Lake community would support a scholarship program to help students pursue post-high-school educational programs. There were some meager days in the 1973 school year when he first shared his idea with Virgil Grove, a guidance counselor at Forest Lake Senior High School.

Grove was quickly on board with the idea, and the two men got the program off the ground in the spring of 1973, awarding $1,200 in scholarships.

Rasmussen would lead the community push to raise funds; Grove led the in-school effort to secure program approval from the school board and encourage students to explore the scholarship possibilities. They teamed with other community members to organize the Community Scholarship Foundation and serve as volunteers to judge scholarship applicants for awards.

Rasmussen was only five years into his newspaper ownership career in Forest Lake when he began sharing his dream of a scholarship foundation. A native of Austin, Rasmussen purchased the Forest Lake Times in 1968 and quickly became a leader in community betterment matters. Growing up in Austin, Rasmussen liked what his hometown was doing.

“I liked the idea that the whole community could be involved,” he said of the Austin program.

As he studied options for a program to cover the sprawling Forest Lake district that extends into three counties, he said he believed the Austin model would work here, and Forest Lake could do it even better.

And was he right; as the 2019 school year wraps up, the Forest Lake Area Community Scholarship Foundation has achieved another milestone by surpassing $2 million in scholarship awards presented to just under 3,000 individuals during its 46-year history.

Hall of fame honor

Rasmussen’s early work with the foundation and numerous other community functions has not gone unrecognized. On Monday, June 3, he was among honorees named to the Forest Lake Area Schools’ District Hall of Fame. New members of the Hall of Fame were guests at a reception on Tuesday, June 4, at Forest Hills Golf Club.

During remarks to the Forest Hills audience, Rasmussen said it was the early goal of the committee to provide scholarships to graduating seniors along with School District 831 residents who sought coursework or training that would help them in their profession or trade.

“We had some teachers who went back for degree work,” he said of the early awards.

Rasmussen arrived in Forest Lake from a position as a newspaper publisher in Ohio. It was his goal to build a business in a progressive town, and he soon learned that Forest Lake had much to offer.

“I had no idea where Forest Lake was,” he said of his early search for a business opportunity.

He couldn’t be more pleased with how the foundation has grown and flourished.

“I had no idea that it would be that fantastic,” he said. “It’s far above what Austin has done. You’ve done well.”

One sad note, Rasmussen said, was the passing of Grove earlier this year due to complications from a stroke. The two had stayed in touch since Grove’s retirement and Rasmussen’s relocation to Texas following the 1993 sale of SELL Publishing Company, the parent company of The Times

Grove was a key figure in guiding the foundation through many years of growth. Following his death, his sons have established a scholarship in his memory.

Rasmussen said he was glad to have played a role in the early history of the foundation.

“Forest Lake was dear to my heart,” he said.

In addition to Rasmussen, six other new members of the district hall of fame were honored at the two programs last week. They are Dennis Alfveby, Todd Loushine, Karen Morehead, Marilyn Opp, Dave Purdy and Jerry Wavrin. Two new inductees in the arts and athletics hall of fame were also honored. They are Henry Hebert and Stephen James Anthony.

A powerhouse

The FLACSF has become a powerhouse among community-based scholarship programs.

According to Bill Somrock, a board member and retired teacher in the district, the foundation is now the second largest community-based foundation in Minnesota, trailing only the South St. Paul Educational Foundation. The foundation in South St. Paul awarded $441,600 in scholarships this spring after presenting students with $444,600 in scholarships in 2018.

The Forest Lake program made $250,000 in scholarship awards this spring to more than 130 recipients. CSF awards range from $1,000 to $5,000. The average scholarship now exceeds $1,600. Some scholarships are renewable.

The program has continued to evolve to meet the growing costs of postsecondary education and the changing technology world.

Several years ago, CSF received a matching grant from Wells Fargo to develop an online presence and easily accessible web-based application process for students. More than 200 electronic applications for financial assistance were received this year. Board members tasked with reviewing applications were also capable of accessing the online documents for their work.

The foundation has also doubled the size of its general community scholarship from $500 to $1,000 due to the escalating costs of education.

In keeping with its principles established in 1973, the foundation continues to award scholarships to students seeking trade and technical education, as well as those seeking two- and four-year degrees and post-graduate education. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of community involvement, school activities and academic achievement.

As it draws near to a half century of service to School District 831, the foundation continues to thrive on the strength of support from individuals, businesses and organizations. Over time, the foundation has also received funds for 75 named scholarships and 10 endowed scholarships. Nearly 300 donations are received each year.

The foundation remains locally based and locally governed by a volunteer board that is assisted by community members.

Support from the public is always welcomed, and tax-deductible donations can be made online at FLACSF.org or by check payable to FLACSF, P.O. Box 67, Forest Lake, MN 55025.

The 2019 foundation awards were presented at the high school on Monday, June 3, during the annual academic awards ceremony. Superintendent of Schools Steve Massey reported that 200 seniors in the class of 2019 received more than $2.8 million in scholarships and grants.

“That’s an amazing accomplishment,” Massey said.

This spring also marked the 10th anniversary of The Education Foundation of the Forest Lake Area, TEFFLA. The nonprofit’s mission is to support education and community activities that benefit youth, teachers, programs and communities throughout School District 831. To date, TEFFLA has received funding from businesses, individuals and organizations that have resulted in $130,000 in financial support to educational needs in the school district.

TEFFLA also welcomes community support. Information about tax-deductible donations can be found online at teffla.org.

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