For Susan Loeffler Anderson ’67, the pieces began to fall into place during the floods that devastated southeastern Minnesota in 2007.
She found herself in Rushford, a small town about 20 miles from Winona, wearing yellow boots and shoveling mud out of a flooded basement. “I thought, ‘This isn’t enough.’ I can contribute something that will make a more lasting impact.”
Anderson grew up on a farm near Le Center in south central Minnesota, but she formed a special connection with Rushford when she was a freshman at Winona State. Two of her floor mates had graduated from Rushford High School, and Anderson says she identified with them because “they grew up in a rural community and went to a good public high school, just as I had.” The longtime friends continue to get together every year.
As she began to consider how she could do more for her adopted hometown, Anderson again looked back to her undergraduate days. She received a scholarship and “was flabbergasted it was there for me. It gave me a measure of confidence, that I could do it and someone cared.”
She decided to award scholarships to graduates of Rushford-Peterson High School who planned to attend Winona State. At first, Anderson focused no further than the first class following the 2007 floods. She enjoyed selecting and building relationships with her students – much more than she ever had shoveling post-flood muck – by meeting with the superintendent of schools and talking with families.
Anderson says she plays the role of an “eccentric aunt” to her students. She sends regular notes, checks up on their progress, and stops by to visit if she thinks someone is struggling. Anderson enjoyed strengthening the connection with Rushford and with Winona State. “During that first year, I got the feeling that this was valuable and productive. That it had the possibility of growing.”
The Susan E. Anderson Scholarship is now in its sixth year of making awards to selected graduates of Rushford-Peterson who choose to attend Winona State. Students receive an initial grant of $1,000 per semester, which continues as they maintain a 3.0 GPA. If they fall below a 3.0, they can become eligible for the scholarship again at any time during their four years at WSU.
Although the number of students has increased, Anderson remains just as involved in their lives. On the day of her interview for this story, she was scheduled to drive to Rushford to visit with the new high school principal and check up on a student from whom she hadn’t heard in awhile.
“The students return more to me than I give to them,” says Anderson. “I’ve been able to strengthen my association with Winona State, with my friends, with Rushford, with the kind of college student that I was. The pieces fit together perfectly for me.”