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Feature

Ralph Tillitt.

Ralph Tillitt in 1949.

Letter of Hope

From M, winter 2005

Half a century ago, a scholarship changed the course of Ralph Tillitt's life. Today, he gives to the U in the hope that his financial support can do the same for today's students.

In 1949, Tillitt was nearing the end of his senior year in high school. The St. Cloud native had seen both his brothers--participants in World War II--go on to college with funds from the G.I. bill, and he recognized the value of higher education. But Ralph wasn't a vet and his mother, a single parent with eight kids who supported her family as a seamstress, didn't have any money to put into advanced schooling. Tillitt applied for a scholarship at the U of M, but as months came and went with no reply, he gradually began to give up hope.

The summer after graduation, Tillitt took a job with the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho. It was hard work, removing disease-causing plants from the forest floor. Ultimately, he decided, he would attend a teachers' college in St. Cloud.

In late July, however, he got a telegram from his mother, telling him that a letter had arrived for him from the U: he had won a $300 scholarship. The scholarship was funded through gifts from alumni and friends, and it was being offered for the first time that year. "I was delighted," Tillitt recalls. As quickly as he could, he wrapped up his work and headed back to Minnesota.

In 1953, Tillitt earned a B.S. in Law and then obtained a J.D. in 1955. He moved to Alexandria and joined a local law firm that later became Tillitt, McCarten, Johnson, & Haseman. His education in law, born of his scholarship, has served him well. "I wouldn't have been able to go to the U without receiving that aid," Tillitt says. He donates to the U today, he says, because "I feel that if I do that, someone else may have the good fortune that I enjoyed."

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