Alums plan U’s first disability scholarship

Students with disabilities in the 1930s and 1940s attended a high school in Dinkytown and often took U classes.

Chelsie Hanstad

A former University student’s donation has sparked a drive to create the first-ever scholarship fund exclusively for students with disabilities.

Harvey Johnson, 84, attended the University for one year, but left because of frequent seizures caused by epilepsy.

In 1989, he and classmates from Marshall High School in Dinkytown decided to start the Marshall Access Education Fund using money left over from their 50-year class reunion.

Johnson graduated in 1939 from Marshall – where all students with disabilities in the city were sent during the 1930s and 1940s.

Because of Marshall’s location on the corner of 14th Avenue Southeast and 5th Street Southeast in Dinkytown – now the University Technology Center – many of its graduates went on to study at the University.

Many University professors also sent their children to Marshall. One of Johnson’s classmates became a Harvard law professor, another a member of a prestigious law firm and one a chemical researcher.

“It was a scholastically excellent class,” Johnson said.

In December 2002, Johnson handed the growing fund over to the University for safer keeping.

“(Johnson) was worried that if anything were to happen to him, the funds would be frozen and it would be stalled, so they wanted to get it to the University,” said Evonne Bilotta, a sign language interpreter for University Disability Services.

The fund also gains tax deductible status under the University’s control. When people give the amount to the fund, they can deduct from their taxes at the end of the year, Bilotta said.

Johnson is now working with Disability Services and the University of Minnesota Foundation to raise enough money for a scholarship endowment.

Nearly $9,000 has been raised so far, mostly in donations between $20 and $100, Bilotta said.

Once the fund reaches $10,000, it will be considered a quasi-endowment fund. Fund-raisers’ goal is to have a $25,000 endowment fund in the next few years.

Johnson said others are advertising for the fund through mailings to University and Marshall High School alumni.

Currently, about 1,000 University students with disabilities could qualify for the scholarships.