CHADRON – A former research chemist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who died in March left more than $1 million dollars for an endowment that will provide scholarships for students at Chadron State College.
Virginia H. Stryker’s bequest of $1.03 million to the Josephine Newman and Henry Carl Stryker Endowment will fund annual scholarships for students within the CSC service region who demonstrate financial need, said Ben Watson, Chief Executive Officer of the Chadron State Foundation.
The endowment is named in honor of Stryker’s parents, who were tenant farmers in the Mitchell area. Stryker herself never attended Chadron State College.
Former Chadron State Foundation Chief Executive Officer Connie Rasmussen said she developed a close relationship with Stryker after initially being contacted by her in 2011.
“(Virginia) was the oldest of five children. Neither parent completed high school. Her mother attended CSC for one summer to get a teaching certificate,” Rasmussen said. “Education was so important to her mom, and Virginia saw that. When she started thinking about her estate, she wanted it to help students who grew up poor like her, but determined to get an education.”
Stryker was born in Scottsbluff in 1930 and graduated with honors from Mitchell High School. She studied chemistry at UNL and graduated in 1952. She spent one summer working for the Truman Commission, a study of the higher education system in America, in Washington, D.C., and was offered a job there after graduation, but turned it down after being encouraged to continue her education, said Rasmussen.
Stryker attended graduate school at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where she worked in a science lab with students, her obituary reported. While in Illinois she also worked for a pharmaceutical company doing medical research synthesizing medicines that are still in use today.
In 1987, Stryker moved to Lincoln and worked as a research chemist for UNL until her retirement. She then became a volunteer for the Lincoln Police Department, among many other activities.
“She had so many interests (and was) very philanthropic,” said Rasmussen. “She was giving gifts during her lifetime.”
Among Stryker’s many gifts to Chadron State before her death were a large set of high quality art books for the art department and silverware and Waterford crystal dishes for the college’s president to use for entertaining guests, Rasmussen said.
Stryker joined the Living Legacy Society in 2013 by alerting the Foundation that she planned a future gift to the college, Watson said. At about that time she also financed restoration of a Steinway piano used by the CSC music department and provided funding for the initial Cuba study abroad trip that took place in 2014.
Rasmussen said Chadron State was included in her philanthropy because she realized the impact that the college has on western Nebraska and the rest of its service region.
“She knew how difficult it was for her family and the sacrifices they made. She said, ‘I want it to go where it will really make a difference,’” Rasmussen said. “That was her whole point, education changes your life.”
The first awards from the Stryker endowment were actually made in the 2016-17 school year, because Stryker wanted to hear directly from the students who received the scholarship about their future goals, Rasmussen said. With the substantial balance of the bequest now transferred to the Foundation, more money will be available for scholarships from the endowment, she added.
“Chadron State is incredibly grateful for our relationship with Ms. Stryker and her gift that will transform lives for generations,” said Watson. “As a research chemist, I like to think that Virginia took a very analytical approach to determining where she could make the biggest impact. Virginia’s gift will create opportunities for students for years to come.”