Agnes Drexler was just a girl when her father fell ill and became bedridden. When he died, her widowed mother worked to support Agnes and her three sisters. Growing up in a single parent family with limited financial resources and the lack of opportunities for women at the time prevented Agnes from pursuing her education. After Agnes died in 1988, her children wanted to find a fitting tribute to memorialize their mother. A newspaper story about a scholarship fund for single mothers inspired them.
Together, Agnes’ son, John, daughter Mary Bayorgeon and daughter-in- law, Nancy, established the Agnes Drexler Kujawa Memorial Scholarship for Single Mothers at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Foundation. The fund provides annual scholarships to single mothers trying to obtain a college degree to improve their lives and the lives of their children. “My family believes that people have a moral obligation to help others,” Mary said. “That’s the way the world becomes better by people doing what they can in their own surroundings. Many things can be accomplished by ordinary people.”
During the last 18 years, the fund has awarded scholarships to more than 115 single mothers. The scholarship is renewable, so some women receive it more than once. Many are so moved they send personal thank you notes with photos of their young children. Graduation rates for recipients are very high.
“It is a very moving experience to read the applications and hear the stories,”Mary said. “Each story is a little different, but they all have that common theme of need, ambition and willingness to sacrifice for a better life.” Mary has also included the fund in her estate plan. The gift ensures that even after her lifetime, the fund will continue helping single mothers do something her mother could not—earn a college degree. It is a fitting tribute and one that would, undoubtedly, make her mother proud.