Learn how the Mesabi East Foundation is investing in the future of its community by offering scholarships to graduating seniors.
Once known for the large glacier that covered the area — Indigenous people named it Mesabi, meaning giant — during the late 1800s and early 1900s the northern region of Minnesota would come to be known as a giant for a vastly different reason: ore mining.
In search of employment and better lives, migrant workers traveled from near and far to the Mesabi Iron Range. During a time of prosperity from the mining of iron, workers began to invest in the futures of their children’s education. This included building multiple schools in the towns of Aurora and Hoyt Lakes, with illustrious auditoriums and swimming pools.
Since the 1980s, the Iron Range has seen a major decline in population and employment for various reasons including a lack of mining jobs. This change has also had an impact on local schools.
To ensure youth have what they need to thrive, the Mesabi East Foundation invests in the future of their community through education.
“The idea for the Mesabi East Foundation started about 10 years ago when I was the superintendent of Mesabi East,” said Board Chair Gregg Allen. “At the time, one of the strategic plans was to set up a Hall of Fame and a school foundation.”
After attending the Minnesota School Foundation National Convention in Chicago, Gregg sought out help to establish the Mesabi East Foundation. It just so happened that at the time he was looking to start the foundation, he was introduced to the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, which offers support to local foundations through our community affiliates program.
The Mesabi East Foundation’s mission is to enrich the education of Mesabi East students by honoring the district’s mission of excellence and education. One of the main goals of the Mesabi East Foundation is to help fulfill this mission by generating enough funds to provide a two-year scholarship for Mesabi East graduating seniors.
“ It was easy to find people to get the Hall of Fame started, but we quickly learned schools aren’t built to operate a foundation.”
Gregg Allen, Mesabi East Foundation Board Chair
Since these fruitful encounters, the Mesabi East Foundation has developed multiple funds in partnership with the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation to contribute to scholarships for Mesabi East students pursuing specific careers or educational studies.
“When people heard there was a foundation, they wanted to contribute to things they were passionate about,” Gregg said. “So that’s why you see the special education scholarship, STEM, education and health and scholarships for track and field.”
One of the seniors to receive scholarships from the foundation is Carter Skelton, a current freshman at the University of Minnesota Duluth. While still in high school at Mesabi East, he earned his Associate of Arts degree and now plans to earn a Bachelor of Science degree.
“Being from the Iron Range, there weren’t always as many opportunities as you would like,” said Carter. “Receiving these scholarships and having them be available to students gives them the opportunity to better themselves and become successful. It also helps give students who have worked hard at what they’re doing a sense of pride.”
Carter received a total of $3,200 in scholarship funds from the foundation, including a $1,800 Marvin Lamppa scholarship donated by LeRoy Storbeck for track and cross country, and a $1,000 Mike Krulc scholarship for STEM.
“Receiving the scholarship just helped give me an opportunity where I can receive my education and then hopefully one day give back to the community, like LeRoy Storbeck,” Carter said, referring to a friend and donor to the fund.
“For example, he recently just donated $100,000. LeRoy and I have always had a pretty good relationship. I told him that my new goal is to donate $101,000 to the Mesabi East Foundation by the time I’m a gray man, like himself.”
“ Receiving the scholarship just helped give me an opportunity where I can receive my education and then hopefully one day give back to the community.”
Making a Lasting Impact
Once he graduates, not only does Carter plan to invest in the Mesabi East Foundation but the area’s economic future.
“I always wanted to come back to the Iron Range and maybe become a renewable resource engineer in the mines up here,” said Carter. “I want to come back to the small-town feel and more than anything, come back hopefully start my life here.”
Carter is just one example of how the Mesabi East Foundation has changed the lives of its youth and the landscape of its community. As more people learn more about and contribute to their work in the community, they hope to provide each senior with funding equivalent to covering a two-year community college degree.
A Strong Partnership
In addition to helping the Mesabi East Foundation manage multiple funds, the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation has also served as a sounding board.
“I can pose a question to Tod [Herskovitz, Community Affiliates Program Manager] and get an immediate response on anything I’m concerned about,” said Gregg. “I can call the Foundation and that takes the burden off me because this is all new territory for me and the board members.”
As the Mesabi East Foundation continues to grow, it has begun looking at new fundraising opportunities to bring in funding for scholarships, as well as capacity building for the school district and foundation. This includes promoting their work at upcoming high school reunions and local service clubs. In the near future, he hopes that their foundation can bring on some new volunteers to lighten some of the fundraising work of the board.
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