The University of Minnesota has received its largest single gift for scholarships -- $14 million -- from a woman who lived modestly in southwestern Minnesota.
The money comes from the estate of Myrtle Stroud, of Windom, who died last year at age 101. University officials said Thursday the gift will be used to establish the Charles E. and Myrtle L. Stroud Scholarship fund for the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), the U's largest college.
Beginning this fall, it will help 45 students, a number that will grow over the years as the endowment is fully established and invested, the school said.
"This is going to enable students to come and graduate with less debt and devote more of their time to studies, instead of having to work part time," University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said.
The Stroud Scholarship will support freshmen entering the College of Liberal Arts, returning students and students transferring from other colleges.
"With the high rate of transfer students we have entering CLA and the growing need for all students for financial support, it will help us respond to emerging trends," said CLA Dean James Parente. "The return on Myrtle Stroud's investment in CLA students will be felt for generations to come."
Margaret Juhnke, Myrtle Stroud's power of attorney and a close friend, said Charles Stroud made his money through ownership of the State Theater in Windom, farmland holdings and various other investments.
Myrtle Stroud also made sizable donations to the hospital in Windom, a nursing home and her church, Juhnke said.
The Strouds were "not into being pretentious" about their wealth, Juhnke said.
"They drove a Cadillac in the '50s and '60s," Juhnke said. Their home was "very modest. Houses were not their thing. They wanted life to be simple."
At first, university officials didn't know how much Stroud's gift was worth.
A letter arrived at the University of Minnesota Foundation office last September informing the school that it was a beneficiary of the Stroud estate, said Frank Robertson, the foundation's director of planned giving.
Two months later, in talking with the estate's attorney, he learned the gift would be at least $1 million.
But it wasn't until the payments began arriving this year that university officials knew the full magnitude of Stroud's generosity.
"It's a wonderful gift. It will have a huge impact," Robertson said. "It is quite a story in itself that the small town of Windom would have a person with those kind of assets."
Born Myrtle Erickson in 1909 in Winsted, Minn., Stroud graduated in 1929 from Miss Wood's School in Minneapolis, one of the first prep academies in the nation for kindergarten teachers.
She taught in Minnesota schools for several years and attended the University of Minnesota in 1932. She married Charles Stroud, of Windom, in 1943, and the couple settled there for the rest of their lives.
Charles, who died in 1973, had attended the university in the early 1920s.
Neither Myrtle nor Charles had siblings, and the couple had no children.
That they chose to make university students their heirs touched Kaler, who said of the gift:
"It came from their heart, unprompted. We're incredibly grateful for that."