Neither Ed Johnson, nor his late wife, Polly, graduated from high school. Yet the Galesburg couple, who were married 54 years, understood the value of higher education, so much so that Johnson has created a scholarship that will benefit three area schools, including Monmouth College.
The Pauline and Edwin Johnson Endowed Scholarship will support students who transfer to Monmouth College from Carl Sandburg College. On average, about 15 to 20 students enroll at Monmouth each year after studying at the nearby community college.
“Ed’s thoughtful gift is especially important to Monmouth, as it will help re-enforce the new Pipeline Program with Carl Sandburg College,” said Mary Stahl, director of individual and planned giving, who worked with Johnson on including Monmouth in his scholarship plans.
The Pipeline Program makes a seamless transfer to Monmouth College from Sandburg efficient and easy.
Johnson has committed his entire estate to helping students further their education. Thirty percent of his estate will support the Monmouth College scholarship.
“My wife and I discussed what we were going to do with our money,” said Johnson. “I asked, ‘What if we invested it in kids?’ She looked at me funny for a minute, and I said ‘Scholarships. We can structure it to where it will last a while.’ She agreed that would be all right with her.”
Another benefit, clearly important to Johnson, was “How are people going to know who Polly is?” Through the scholarship, the memory of Johnson’s wife, who worked for 22 years at Galesburg’s A&P grocery, will live on. An avid reader, Polly spent time with the Bible every day, reading it through 31 times, Johnson said, and she also was interested in historical subjects, such as the Civil War.
Not only will Johnson’s endowed gift have a lasting impact, he is also happy that area colleges will share it.
“Rather than put all the marbles in one spot, you spread it out,” he said.
Language in the scholarship agreement includes helping students “realize their full academic potential.”
“I didn’t graduate from high school,” said Johnson. “There’s a lot of hard work for people who don’t follow the pathway laid out in front of them.”
While Johnson didn’t go as far as he could academically in his younger days, he’s proud of the fact that he earned his GED in 1984 through Carl Sandburg College. He completed the requirements a year after retiring from a career spent in several of Galesburg’s factories, including the final 11 years as a supervisor at Gale Products.
“Out of 61 students, I finished third in the class,” Johnson said. “I was quite proud of that.”
While Sandburg is important to him because of its Galesburg location and his GED experience, Johnson is also quite familiar with – and impressed by – Monmouth College. Two of his nieces studied at Monmouth, and he said he frequently came to campus for athletic events, especially Fighting Scots football games.
“Monmouth provides a quality education, plus I like the people there, and that’s important to me,” he said.
One of those people is Stahl, who said, “It was such a pleasure to work with Ed to establish the scholarship. His wishes were simple. He wanted to do something to honor his wife and to help students, and the scholarship is a beautiful and meaningful way to do that.
“It is a generous gift that helps maintain the momentum of the ‘Fulfilling the Promise’ capital campaign for academic excellence at Monmouth College,” added Stahl, who is director of the campaign.