Though they died decades ago, long-time Fonda residents W. Barent Wemple and Ashley Burton Wemple will have a lasting impact on students at the Fonda-Fultonville school district.
The Wemples died in the late 1960s or early 1970s, District Superintendent James Hoffman said Thursday. Unknown publicly for years was the money the couple left in their will for their hometown school district, totaling $1.83 million. That bequest is expected to pay for about a dozen students annually to obtain two-year degrees.
Applicants must demonstrate a family financial need. The Wemples specified in their will that the scholarships be distributed to both male and female students, Hoffman said. Academic achievement will also be a consideration in distributing the scholarships, he said.
The first of these scholarships will be presented at graduation ceremonies this June.
District officials were notified in November of the details of the bequest, which will be put into scholarships estimated at $7,000 — the cost of two years’ worth of tuition and fees at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
“It’s really exciting,” Hoffman said Thursday.
“This is in a graduating class of about 110 to 120 students. We’re talking about 10 percent of the class is going to be able to get a scholarship,” Hoffman said.
Income-eligible students who might not have the opportunity to go to college will be targeted as prospective recipients, and applications are being distributed next week, Hoffman said.
Hoffman said researchers say in terms of education and success, a two-year degree is worth what a high school diploma was 20 years ago. But public high school is free. College isn’t, Hoffman said.
“The thought was, what about the students that can’t afford it,” Hoffman said.
Students receiving the scholarship won’t have to attend FMCC, Hoffman said. The fund’s trustees decided to match the award amount to the cost of two years at FMCC, he said.
The amount of the scholarships over time will increase to reflect the two-year cost at FMCC, Hoffman said. If invested right, the fund’s principal should grow, he said.
Hoffman said he is in discussion with the FMCC Foundation, which could provide money for scholarship recipients in severe need to obtain books if they decide to attend FMCC.
It was unclear Thursday exactly when the Wemples died. W. Barent and Ashley Burton Wemple are identified in a November 2006 obituary of their son Frank, 71, as having run the Fonda-based Mohawk Valley Democrat newspaper.
Hoffman said the couple’s will required the funds be dedicated toward a scholarship once their heirs passed away, Hoffman said. The will identified the school as District No. 1 of the towns of Mohawk, Glen and other municipalities, the predecessor of Fonda-Fultonville’s district, Hoffman said.
High School Principal David Halloran said the new scholarship is the biggest he’s seen in four different school districts in which he’s worked.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for a district this size to have such a large percentage of a graduating class be in the running or have an opportunity to have such a large amount of money allocated to their education,” Halloran said.
The scholarship won’t be restricted to any particular field of study. This means students can go to trade school or seek other education as long as it’s continuing education, Halloran said.
Halloran said the school district is not in a particularly wealthy area so the scholarships should have a major impact.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for students who possibly have never had a parent go into college,” Halloran said.
“This is big news for students of Fonda-Fultonville and I’m really happy for this district,” Halloran said.
Hoffman said the school district itself won’t have to touch the fund. It’s being held as a trust fund by NBT Bank of Norwich. As superintendent, Hoffman and HFM BOCES Superintendent Geoffrey Davis are among the trustees.
Five percent of the fund’s value will be awarded each year to graduates pursuing accredited education programs, according to the district.
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