As a single mother of two elementary school-age daughters, Beth Hagen recognized the value of education when she enrolled in the 1960s at what was then Fergus Falls Community College.
“She knew education was important if she was going to make a good life for all of us,” says daughter Dana Wedum Kennelly.
The 1953 graduate of Fergus Falls High School went on to graduate from FFCC and earn a sociology degree at St. Cloud State University. She married John A. Wedum, and the couple had successful careers as entrepreneurs and business owners.
Now the foundation first set up in 1959 with money from the estate of John A. Wedum’s grandfather – also John A. Wedum – is redoubling its efforts to support and encourage other single parents who attend the Fergus Falls campus of Minnesota State Community and Technical College.
The Mary Beth Hagen Wedum Scholarship was created with a $20,000 donation to Fergus Area College Foundation from the Wedum Foundation in 2012. The donation followed the death of Beth Wedum, who was a founding and board member of the Minneapolis-based foundation.
There have been annual contributions over the ensuing years, and in December the Wedum Foundation announced an additional donation of $110,000, plus another $50,000 to be donated later this year for scholarships that support single parents. These two donations will bring the Wedum Foundation’s total endowment for scholarships to $323,000.
“Single parents face unique challenges when they enroll in college,” said Lori Larson, FACF executive director. “Finding time to spend with your children can be difficult when you’re attending classes and working full time. Now add in homework and home duties, and then we can’t forget the cost of day care.”
Dayton Soby, a Wedum Foundation board member from Fergus Falls and second cousin of John A. Wedum, letters from recipients have inspired the foundation’s continuing support for this scholarship. In their letters to the board, recipients say they couldn’t attend college without this scholarship, that the scholarship means they don’t have to work two or three jobs while they’re in college, that the scholarship makes it possible for them to finish their degree in two years rather than three or four.
“We get thank-you letters from these parents, and these letters are unlike anything the foundation board gets from anyone else,” Soby said. “These letters are in another class. They talk about how we’re changing lives, how they want to be a good example for their kids, how they’re the first one in their family to go to college. These scholarship recipients out of the Fergus Falls area touched the hearts of our board.”
Since 2013, FACF has awarded scholarships totaling $141,100 to recipients of the Wedum scholarship. Larson said the scholarships are targeted to help students who, like Beth Wedum in the 1960s, are single parents with a financial need.
“Scholarships are gifts from people who are telling the recipients (usually total strangers to them) that someone believes in them,” Larson said. “That’s pretty amazing stuff.”
Dawn Downs, Beth Wedum’s youngest daughter, said her mother’s message to recipients of the Mary Beth Wedum Scholarship would be that, whatever their goal, “it can be done.”
“If you really want something and it’s important to you, it can be done,” Downs said. “Dana and I were brought up being told that education is important, and that it’s important to encourage people – to set your sights high.”
“And that’s what this scholarship is about,” Kennelly said, “giving students an opportunity to achieve their goals – an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have had.”