Class in 1931
In the late 1920’s students entering the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan were prepared to work hard. The economy was booming all around the world. They had no idea what was around the corner. Then, in 1929, the stock market crashed, and the country plunged in to the “Great Depression.” Many students were forced to drop out because of financial problems, and those who remained struggled to stay in school. Many of the students who graduated in the class of 1931 worked their way through school, taking a semester off to earn tuition money and then returning to school before taking more time off to earn money for the next term. Some graduated late, but two hundred forty-seven managed to graduate as part of the Class of 1931. Despite their financial difficulties, the class managed to build up its class fund. At graduation time, the students were appalled at the cost of renting a cap and gown. Clarence Larson suggested the class funds be used to purchase new caps and gowns and then rent them at a lower rate to the engineering students who would follow their class. Years later, when the caps and gowns became too worn to be rented any more, they were sold. With the sale of the gowns and the profit from the rentals, the class fund totaled $7,000. The class wanted to leave a memorial to the College of Engineering, so they established the “1931E Class Student Loan Fund.” Loans were distributed from this fund to engineering students until 1995 when the remaining funds were added to the scholarship fund.
How the Scholarship was Started
Paul S. Bigby was elected president of the senior class and served until his death in 2003. The class traditionally held reunions every five years. At their 45th reunion, they decided to meet annually. At the 47th reunion, Chuck Dybvig told his classmates that his son had been killed in action in the Vietnam War and that he and his wife used their son’s insurance money to endow a scholarship in his memory. He asked that the class consider creating a scholarship fund to award scholarships for students because of the high cost of an education and to encourage academic excellence. The class voted to proceed with this plan; out of sorrow came an idea that has brought joy to many others.
The Fifty for Fifty Club
As they implemented Chuck Dybvig’s recommendation, the 1931 Engineering Class voted to raise $25,000 for a scholarship fund. Paul’s wife, Grace suggested that they raise the goal to $50,000 in honor of their fiftieth reunion and suggested that they name their campaign the “Fifty for Fifty Club.” The class planned to present their endowment to the College of Engineering at their Fiftieth Reunion. Chuck Dybvig agreed to lead the fundraising effort. A committee was formed to raise money for the scholarship fund and Chuck took the lead by making many calls to the Classmates.Through his hard work and persistence, by the end of three months, the fund had reached $22,000. To the class’ great delight, G. Lawton Johnson offered to match whatever amount the class raised. He gave everyone a scare when he announced he had changed his mind. Fortunately, his new offer was much greater: He gave $50,000! The 1931E Fiftieth Reunion came on the same day James Duderstadt became Dean of the College of Engineering. The class proudly presented him with a check for $108,000, establishing the “1931 Engineering Class Scholarship Fund.”
The Gift Keeps Growing
Before the Fifty-Fifth Reunion arrived, G. Lawton Johnson suggested that the class try to equal the success of their “Fifty for Fifty Club” and aim for a “Fifty-Five for Fifty-Five Club.” To open the drive, Lawton contributed a check for $55,000 and hoped the class would raise an equal amount. Again, they “went over the top” and presented the College of Engineering with a check for $112,000 at the Fifty-Fifth Reunion, bringing the total raised to $220,000.
To honor large donations, the class established commemorative scholarships. In the initial years six of these scholarships had been established. In 1989, the College of Engineering contributed $50,000 to the fund, designating it as the “Paul and Grace Bigby Commemorative 1931E Scholarship.” This was done in appreciation of Paul’s years of service as president of the class and for his and his wife’s dedication through the years.
In 1991, Howard Waldenmyer phoned Paul Bigby and told him he regretted that he had been unable to contribute to the 31E Scholarship Fund because of heavy medical expenses. He and his wife, Evelyn, had decided to bequeath some long-held stock to the 1931E Class Scholarship Fund. Since the original purchase, the stock has split several times and is worth over a half-million dollars. An additional major gift was received from Ken and Esther Benton.
During the 1998 dinner, Emil Anderson entertained the guests with stories of his Michigan experiences. He then presented his gift of $500,000 to the scholarship program.
Family members of 31E Classmates continue to make donations to the scholarship fund to honor Class Members. Now there are 1931E Commemorative Scholarships in the following names:
Alumni Scholar Award
Emil and Elsie Anderson
Steele and Mildred Bailey
Allen and Betty (Beezer) Gabroy Scholarship in honor of Joseph E. Beezer 31E
Kenneth and Esther Benton
Paul and Grace Bigby
Charles and Dorothy Dybvig
Laurence and Grace Einfeldt
Richard Albert Furniss
G. Lawton and Louise G. Johnson
Charles and Ruth Larson
Chet and Jessie Vielmetti
Howard and Evelyn Waldenmyer
Janine Johnson Weins
Gifts from Friends & Family
The class was honored in 1995 when Janine Johnson Weins donated a major gift to the scholarship fund. She chose the class because she wished “to give tribute to the class of ’31E(s), a class that has achieved more, and has done more for others, than almost any other class. In 1931 there were few jobs. Members of the class of ’31E(s) took what jobs they could find, worked hard and never stopped seeking better opportunities. When eventually they achieved some measure of success they chose to give so others would have an opportunity to obtain the education they considered so important to their life, their success, and their happiness. We can all learn from the examples set by members of the engineering class of 1931.”
In 1999, Louise Johnson gave an additional gift and requested that a portion of the gift be used to fund the Louise G. Johnson Reception and support the participation of the ’31E Scholars at the fall dinner. It is Louise’s hope that her gift will provide an opportunity for ’31E Scholars to meet other scholarship recipients, members of the ’31E Scholarship Committee, and key University officials.
Class members, families, friends and former ’31E Scholars continue to contribute to the endowed scholarship fund. The value of the fund is over $6.8 million dollars!
The 1931E’s Later Years
The 1931 Engineering Class has been very successful in a wide variety of fields. Most members focused on engineering. They established private practices, joined corporations and became management, technical, and sales executives. Some members took different paths, including a U.S. Navy commander, a patent lawyer, and two ministers. Seven members chose academic careers as university professors, four of whom taught in the U-M College of Engineering, Donald Katz became Chairman of the U-M Chemical Engineering Department, and in 1984 at a White House ceremony, President Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Science. Mars Fontana became a professor at Ohio State University, and a building on that campus is named in his honor.
One of the classmates, Steele Bailey, received a Donovan Scholarship in his senior year, enabling him to complete his education. In addition to his gift to the ’31E Scholarship Fund, he established an endowment fund for an award known as “The Outstanding Student Achievement Award.” After their deaths, Steele and Mildred Bailey’s names were added to this award.
In addition to the scholarships and awards discussed above, three members of the Class of 1931E gave major gifts to the College of Engineering. These gifts funded the:
- Steele Bailey Civil Engineering Scholarship
- G. Lawton & Louise G. Johnson Professorship in Engineering
- Donald L. Katz Lectureship
The Legacy Continues
In 2011, thirty years after the Scholarship was established, Alumni Scholars mounted a fund raising campaign. Chaired by Jeanne Whalen, the committee raised money from Alumni 31E scholars and presented a check for $65,387 to Dean David Munson at the 2012 Fall dinner.
This gift established the Alumni Scholar Award. The first Alumni Scholar Award was given in 2013.
To date there have been over 150 ‘31E Scholars.