Reading Specialist Dorothea Harju with her Port Edwards Elementary School students. (Courtesy Port Edwards School District)

Port Edwards teacher leaves ‘largest individual gift’ to UWSP

By Patrick Lynn

A woman who devoted her career to helping children read has provided the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with the largest individual gift in its 125-year history.

A gift of $4.3 million from the estate of alumna Dorothea Harju has been made to the UWSP Foundation for the School of Education.

The funds will be used to create the Harju Center for Equity in Education at UWSP, focused on addressing educational inequities in Wisconsin.

“By supporting diverse and first-generation elementary education teachers, the center will help level the education playing field for Wisconsin children,” a press release from UWSP reads in part.

Chancellor Bernie Patterson said Harju’s gift will help UWSP make an even greater impact in the world of education.

“[I]t will allow our School of Education to make an even greater impact, reach more children, especially the underserved, and train more teachers,” he said.

The Harju Center for Equity in Education will support rural education and prepare elementary education teachers. This includes 20 scholarships, which will first be available for students enrolling for fall 2020, and those at branch campuses in Wausau and Marshfield who major in elementary education at the main UW-Stevens Point campus.

Dorothea Harju. (Contributed)

Dorothea Harju grew up in Redgranite and received her bachelor’s degree in education in 1943 and her master’s degree in 1966, both from UWSP. She taught in various Wisconsin schools and served as a reading specialist in the Port Edwards School District for 25 years, retiring in 1977. Before her marriage to Onni Harju, Dorothea Berndt worked for the FBI in Washington, D.C. The couple lived in Wisconsin Rapids where Onni worked for Consolidated Papers, retiring as treasurer. She enjoyed golfing, traveling, flying airplanes and being civically engaged. Harju died in 2017 at age 98.

Her gift was a surprise to the college. Harju previously established a scholarship at her alma mater for Wisconsin students who pursued elementary education, benefitting 22 students since 1999.

The Harju Center for Equity in Education will help supply more teachers to rural school districts and prepare them for the special needs of those areas. It will also help UW-Stevens Point serve underrepresented minority students in metropolitan areas.

More than 200 high schools are in rural communities in Wisconsin, according to Lynda Fernholz, associate dean, School of Education head.

“Our hope is to recruit students from rural communities who will return to those areas to teach after they graduate from UW-Stevens Point,” she said.

The Harju Center will:

  • Create a literacy program to serve children of Central Wisconsin, giving UW-Stevens Point education students hands-on learning experiences.
  • Provide fellowships for rural district teachers who want to start an Educators Rising Club and mentor students for the teaching profession.
  • Host summer camps for high school students interested in becoming teachers.
  • Provide grants to purchase teaching materials and professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers, UW-Stevens Point students, and faculty.
  • Provide renewable scholarships and mentoring for UW-Stevens Point students.

UW-Stevens Point was founded as a teacher’s college in 1894. Today, the School of Education has more than 1,200 students and is recognized as a leading school for educators in the country.

Harju’s gift helped UW-Stevens Point surpass the $40 million mark in successfully completing its first capital campaign.