Gene Peterson, 1942 Purdue Yearbook

What about those who don’t get the scholarship? It’s a question I’m often asked and as far as I can tell, the answer is that they do quite well. It seems that the scholarship has had an impact on most everyone in the community; on those who get the scholarship and those who don’t.

Consider the example of Gene Peterson (Lakeview H.S., 1936) who watched all seven of his siblings receive the scholarship. Seeing one sibling after another go off to college, it’s not surprising that, as he told me, the Daly Scholarship was always on his mind. When he didn’t get it, he was very disappointed – he was the only one of eight in his family not to get the scholarship. Since he couldn’t go to college and didn’t want to stay on the farm, he got a job as a bookkeeper at the First National Bank of Portland in Lakeview. According to Myrna (Perry) Bell (Lakeview H.S., 1946), whose family lived on the same tract of land in the New Idaho District, Gene was so accurate he was called Perfect Posting Pete.

A couple of years later, Gene’s older brother, Eric Peterson (Lakeview H.S., 1924), wrote to encourage Gene to attend Purdue University where Eric received his PhD in physics and was an instructor of mathematics. Gene could live with Eric and his wife and, at the time, Purdue forgave tuition for students who were on the Distinguished Student’s List. Gene lived with his brother, stayed on the List for all four years and, in 1942, received his bachelor’s degree in physics followed by a master’s degree in physics at Cal Tech in 1944.

After Cal Tech, Gene worked at the spectroscopy lab at Dow Chemical. He left Dow to work for Hughes Aircraft and was one of several scientists who went on to establish the Santa Barbara Research Center where he worked for 30 years. Much of Gene’s work had to do with navigation through the highly accurate detection of celestial bodies, day or night. Before the widespread use of satellites and GPS, his work was critical to all types of flight, important for both civilian and military applications.

So, why didn’t Gene get the scholarship? Clearly, he was quite bright and highly motivated. It seems to have been a matter of poor timing. Most of his siblings were older and had graduated from high school before the Depression when interest earnings for scholarship funds were high and the costs of college were low. Throughout the 1920s, Oregon public colleges didn’t charge tuition for in-state students, only course fees, room and board, and textbook expenses. Following the Depression, they began charging in-state tuition in the 1930s.

When Gene’s older brother, Eric, graduated from Lakeview High School in 1924, he was one of 21 graduates; that year, like the year before and the year before that, there were more scholarship recipients than high school graduates. Scholarships were awarded to some who had graduated in earlier years before the scholarship was available. And, in 1924, each recipient received $600 a year – more than the total cost of college attendance. When Gene graduated in 1936, he was one of 48 high school graduates (Lakeview had grown and more students continued on to high school). The effects of the Depression were such that there was only enough money for 16 scholarships of $500 each, and Gene didn’t get one.

In retrospect, 1936 was probably the worst possible year for Gene to have graduated from Lakeview High School. His graduating class was the largest ever and the Depression depleted the scholarship funds to the lowest ever, a perfect storm of events. With so many graduates and so few scholarships, I expect the selection process was controversial. The very next year, in 1937, the Daly Fund Trustees passed a resolution to use standardized tests and establish consistent selection criteria.

2017 Photo of Gene

Gene’s story had a happy ending and the same can be said for many of those who didn’t get the scholarship but were influenced by it in a way that motivated them to excel.

P.S. In a little more than a month Gene Peterson will celebrate his 100thbirthday. Happy birthday, Gene!

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2 thoughts on “What happens to those who don’t get the scholarship?

  1. Sam,
    great writing! so interesting to read. I have heard all my life from my Mother, Myrna Perry Bell about the Daly fund. So glad you have done all this research and are doing this wonderful writing. I still hope some day when I am in Corvallis sometime that we get a chance to meet.
    -Jim Bell

    Reply

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