Where the crossroads of education and giving back come together
Each spring, something happens in a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that brings MSU and a college education to the forefront in the community and has a profound impact on a student’s life.
Thanks to the generosity of a former Menominee resident, Gary Peterson (’69, Business; ’70, MBA), one student at Menominee High School learns thathe or she will be the next recipient of the Schmidtke-Wagner Scholarship to Michigan State University. The amount of the award equals one half of the current tuition costs. As long as the recipient maintains a minimum grade point average, the award is renewable for four years at MSU.
Gary, who graduated from Menominee High School in 1965, has steadfastly funded this scholarship award for 26 years, sustaining not only 21 successful Spartan graduates, but inspiring countless others to pursue their dreams of a college education.
Students in Menominee are well aware of the scholarship, often long before they enter high school, and they are motivated by it, says Ben Thoune, the 2010 recipient who just completed his sophomore year at MSU majoring in civil engineering.
“When I first learned about the scholarship, I wanted to work hard for it,” Ben says. “Without this scholarship, I’m not really too sure where I would be right now. MSU definitely would have been a possibility still, but you never know. It’s a lot of money and affects your decision to attend a school greatly.”
Gary looks forward each year to learning who the next Schmidtke Wagner recipient will be, in recent years sharing the selection with his Spartan daughter Jennifer Hogervorsc (’95, Social Science).
For Anne Garcia, a counselor at Menominee High School, being part of the announcement meeting is one of the highlights of her work at the school. “The impact that this award has on the students is very emotional and life-changing,” she says.
“I just remember crying…a lot,” says Ashley Grosso (’13, Lyman Briggs College), the 2008 recipient. “I called my parents and my mom started crying with me. It would have been very hard for me to attend a college like MSU without the help of this scholarship, and it meant so much to receive it.”
Most of Menominee High’s scholarships are announced at an awards program in May, but due to its significance, the Schmidtke- Wagner Scholarship recipient learns about the award in April. Gary’s former basketball coach and teacher, Bob Krysiak meets with the new recipient not only to reveal the student recipient but also to share insight on the two people Gary wished to honor with the award: William Schmidtke, his high school counselor, and Isabel Wagner Peterson, his mother.
“Bill Schmidtke really guided me through every step of the process, preparing me for exams and helping me with college applications,” Gary says. “Without him, I might have just gone to a local school. And of course, I stayed on the straight and narrow because of my mother. She inspired me byher hard work and other admirable values. I wanted to do something to honor both of them, and I wanted the scholarship to bear both their names.”
The impact the Schmidtke-Wagner Scholarship has made is remarkable, including increasing the overall enrollment of Menominee’s top students in MSU and encouraging others to create other significant scholarships to benefit students in the community.
Says Anders Hill, principal of Menominee High School: “We would like to thank Gary for the investment that he has made in the students of Menominee High School. I have no doubt that his contributions have made a difference in this community, the State of Michigan and our world. His generosity is inspiring.”
One tenet behind the scholarship’s success is Gary’s willingness to support any worthy student, no matter what academic major he or she might choose.
The first Schmidtke-Wagner Scholarship award was given in 1987 and only one year has gone by without a recipient. Among the 21 alumni are four teachers, three accountants, a social worker, a nurse, a musician, a metallurgist, a vice president of finance, a marketing and sales director, and a veterinary technician. In addition to all of them successfully completing their MSU degrees, three are currently in doctoral level graduate programs, one is in law school and six have obtained master’s degrees. The latest graduate, Ashley, will attend the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin in the fall. In all, approximately two thirds of the Schmidtke-Wagner students obtain an advanced degree.
After his own MSU graduation, Gary joined the public accounting firm, Arthur Andersen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he became a partner before moving to Northern California. Eleven years ago, he joined with 55 other partners to form a new company, Protiviti Consulting, which today employs more than 4,000 people in 24 countries. He has four children and has been married to his wife, Anne, for 28 years. They reside in Atherton, California.
Gary attributes his success to the difference MSU made in his life in part due to its academic rigor, its diversity and finding his initial niche in accounting, but also because of the critical life skills he acquired. For example, when he arrived at MSU he was shocked by the sheer size of the university, which had four times the number of people living in Menominee, forcing him to quickly acclimate to a totally new environment.
That skill would serve him well, as he now leads the international operations for Protiviti.
“In order to develop our international footprint, I needed to visit countries (e.g. China), navigate my way through the maze of professionals and select leaders to launch our local operations, similar to how I had to initially navigate through MSU.”
Like Gary, Chelsea Olsen, a junior studying English and French and the 2009 recipient of the Schmidtke Wagner Scholarship, is taking full advantage of MSU’s myriad of opportunities.
“Michigan State cultivated my desire to write and pursue a career based on my interests. State is where I grew as an individual and continue to grow,” she says. “The best part about attending State is the niche I formed through my involvement in French club where I serve on the executive board as secretary.”
Chelsea is headed to Tours, France, this summer in one of MSU’s study abroad programs.
Gary travels to MSU for at least one weekend each fall, where he meets with the four current Schmidtke-Wagner Scholarship recipients. He enjoys hearing of their success and growth firsthand. He is always accompanied by three or more of his four children and/ or his wife, Anne.
“If it weren’t for MSU, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he says. “I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to enjoy the success that I have, to take care of my family the way I can, and to help others. It is extremely gratifying to be able to see firsthand how your contributions have made a difference in the lives of people with whom you share a bond.”
The current recipients of the Schmidtke- Wagner Scholarship are similarly minded.
“I think it is extremely important for alumni to give back, and I definitely plan on doing so once I am financially stable,” says Ashley. “It is amazing the difference you can make in someone’s life by giving back, and I definitely think you should pay it forward.”
“I would do anything in the world to give someone the opportunity that I have been given,” he says. “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, and one cannot be thankful enough.”
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