Dairy farms are often a generational picture of a family dedicated to the business through hard work and sacrifice. Much like marital vows, for better or worse, and richer or poorer, the dairy industry stands on decades of passionate people passing the torch of determination that never burns out.
The Michigan Dairy Memorial Scholarship Foundation (MDMSF) parallels the dairy industry in the history of funding young people to educate themselves to carry on the family business or support the industry in an allied career. Founded by a group of visionaries who wanted to provide scholarship funds to students interested in dairy science, the MDMSF is now in its 63rd year of awarding deserving students whose career path traverses the dairy industry.
Dr. Miriam Weber-Nielsen, MSU Department of Animal Science and Secretary of MDMSF Board of Directors, explained that the Foundation has awarded more than $1.4 million in scholarships to young people aspiring to careers in the dairy industry.
“Gifts to the MDMSF are used to grow the endowment fund with interest from the principal used to create scholarships and support learning experiences for our students in dairy,” Nielsen said. “The Foundation recognizes individuals, couples or organizations as Foundation Honorees with a $1,000 contribution, over 220 to date and the official number will increase once we can gather again to recognize our newest Honorees,” Nielsen continued.
Eleven individuals or couples have been recognized at a higher level with named scholarships. A named scholarship involves a minimum contribution, currently $50,000, and a conversation with the donors to plan the criteria for awarding of the scholarship.
According to Nielsen, the twofold purpose of the Foundation is one that people can feel good about: honoring leaders in our industry and supporting the education of young people interested in careers in dairy. The Foundation’s endowment has grown about 25 percent in recent years through generous gifts from individuals and organizations in Michigan and elsewhere. Many of these gifts were given to honor the accomplishments of individuals in Michigan’s dairy industry.
Two of the newly named endowments are the Trimner Endowment and the Hazle Endowment. Dana Sue Kirk is the daughter of the late George and Shirley Hazle who not only bred a renowned herd of Registered Holsteins, but as retired dairy farmers, they continued to enthusiastically support the industry.
“[George and Shirley] always had contributed to the scholarship and before dad died, he knew we were going to set up a named endowment for him. So, our whole family chipped in and got the endowment,” Kirk said. “Actually we were way over the $50,000 because we wanted not only to have a scholarship, but we wanted to also contribute to the dairy judging and the dairy challenge teams.”
Kirk said the endowment means allowing another individual to get an education at MSU. “Between Kevin and I and our three kids and their spouses we have ten degrees from Michigan State. And we just want to help others,” she said.
The Kirk’s son had his entire tuition paid through the Glenn Lake Scholarship. “It’s one of the longest running scholarships and it got funding early on,” she said. “With interest rates the way they’ve been in the last twenty years, they have really generated a lot of additional funding.”
Nielsen said MDMSF is kept alive through the generosity of the industry. “The dairy industry is filled with generous people, both those currently working in the industry and those who were associated with it in their past,” she said.
“They are used to contributing to their industry and to their community when they see a need. When our board members recognize a new Foundation Honoree for their industry leadership – whether that’s in an official leadership position, serving others, setting a positive example for others, or contributing to their industry or community in other ways, we find that people are quick to support the recognition with contributions to meet the $1,000 requirement,” Nielsen said. “The Foundation’s purpose of using the funds to support the college education of young people in dairy is attractive to many people.”
Nielsen pointed to a growing need for funding in recent years, “With many of our recipients coming from farm backgrounds, the importance of these scholarships has grown in the last few years with changes in the dairy and agricultural economy,” she said. “Many of our students are working while attending college. The scholarship support relieves their financial burden and allows them to focus more on their education,” Nielsen said. “It is more than just money, however. The fact that the Foundation believes in them enough to invest in them is a tremendous encouragement to our scholarship recipients, whether they come from farm or non-farm backgrounds.”
“I don’t think there is another program in the country like the Michigan Dairy Memorial Scholarship and the way it recognizes not only the student winners but also the dairy industry leaders,” said past scholarship winner, Renee McCauley. “When you look at some of the names
of the forefathers, it’s a great collection of history, and the program has a unique way of paying honor to those foundational people who had a great vision for educating farm kids.”
McCauley said it’s a picture of the dairy industry taking care of their own, “A child of the industry is supported by dairy farmers who share the same values, and the way it’s structured, the scholarship winners have a chance to meet the board members and donors, uniquely connecting the industry,” McCauley said. “It’s humbling to look at those names and see those who participated and gave back to the dairy industry through this scholarship. I’m a big fan of the Dairy Memorial scholarship.”
Gary Trimner, retired MMPA Director of Member Services, and his wife, Carolyn, established an endowment to support interns in the MSU Food Systems Fellowship Program through the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation. As a long-time leader in the dairy industry, Gary and Carolyn established the endowment to benefit organizations and programs that are committed to developing the next generation of industry professionals.
While working at MMPA, Gary helped establish the Food Systems Fellowship Program and realizes the value it brings to Michigan’s dairy industry, a reason the program is at the core of the endowment. “We saw that the number of large animal veterinarians was getting less and less and we knew that we needed more and more.”
Further incentivizing participation in the program through the endowment allows Gary to continue his role in bettering the dairy industry’s future. “The goal of establishing the endowment was to benefit MMPA, the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine and the dairy industry. That’s why we did what we did.”
This article was originally published in the July/August 2020 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »