By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — What do you suppose the chances are that the very first Charles E. Ford Scholarship recipient from UW-LaCrosse in 1980 would be randomly selected 30 years later to review applications for the same scholarship?
And then what do you suppose the chances are that the person randomly selected to review the scholarship applicants also teaches at the same school where the man after whom the scholarship was named also taught 77 years earlier?
The chances seem pretty slim, actually.
But that’s exactly the case for Tim Devine, an English teacher at Colfax Middle School and a 1984 graduate of UW-LaCrosse.
Devine was the very first recipient of the Charles E. Ford Scholarship at UW-LaCrosse in 1980 — and he was asked a few years ago to review scholarship applications for UW-LaCrosse — for the Charles and Marian Ford Scholarship.
“Of all the hundreds of scholarships that are given to students at UWL, I was randomly selected to review the Charles and Marian Ford Scholarship. Talk about coincidences. I was the very first recipient, and I’m employed by the same school district that hired Coach Ford!” Devine said.
Jim Ford, the son of Charles “Ben” Emmet Ford (UW-LaCrosse Class of 1935), started the scholarship 36 years ago in honor of his father.
According to the August 3, 1939, edition of the Colfax Messenger, “C. Emmet Ford of Genoa City, prominent LaCrosse State Teachers College athlete and graduate of the same, will be the athletic director and coach this fall. Mr. Ford replaces Ernest Brickner, who will attend the University of Iowa during the coming year.”
During his research, Devine discovered that Coach Ford was hired as the head football and basketball coach at Colfax High School and “replaced Ernest Brickner, who had previously held the position for two years. Although Coach Ford’s football team did not win a game in the highly competitive Middle Border conference, his basketball team was in second place when he resigned at the end of the first semester to take a teaching/coaching position at the new $393,802 junior high school in LaCrosse. This new position enabled him to move closer to home and it came with a substantial increase in salary. Prior to being hired at Colfax, his first coaching job was a very successful four-year stint at Wonewoc High School, which included the school’s first boxing team. Ford was an outstanding high school and college athlete winning four letters in both basketball and baseball at Genoa City High School and multiple letters in golf, football, basketball and track at both Lawrence and LaCrosse Teachers College. He also played semi-pro basketball and baseball for five years, and he was the head lifeguard at the LaCrosse Municipal Swimming Pool.”
Devine recently attended the scholarship banquet at UW-LaCrosse, where he had an opportunity to meet Jim and Judy Ford for the first time.
“I have only been reviewing the scholarship applications for a few years. I actually enjoy the process, and it enables me to give back in a small way to my alma mater. I’m sure that I will be doing this for the rest of my life,” Devine said.
“I accepted an invitation to attend the scholarship ceremony this year because it gave me an opportunity to reconnect with the Ford family and meet some of the recipients,” he said.
According to an article published by UW-LaCrosse about the scholarship banquet, Jim Ford is of the opinion that Tim Devine “exemplifies what we have envisioned as an outcome from the scholarships.”
Devine has taught in the Colfax school district for more than 30 years.
While at UW-LaCrosse, he was a physical education and health education major.
When asked how he ended up teaching reading and English at Colfax, Divine said, “At the young age of 10, I decided I wanted to be a coach. I grew up watching my Uncle Dan coach the Green Bay Packers and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and spending time in those locker rooms had an impressionable impact on my childhood. I loved playing sports as a kid, and if I couldn’t play sports for the rest of my life, I thought coaching them would be the next best thing. Therefore, when it came time to choose a major, becoming a phy-ed teacher seemed to make the most sense.”
Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending upon your point of view — the timing didn’t work out right for Devine’s first plan.
“When I realized that I wouldn’t be able to graduate in four years with my double major in Physical Education and Health Education, I decided to add a minor in English. My favorite teachers growing up were my English teachers. That decision proved to be a wise one,” Devine said.
Unlike today, when students fill out applications for scholarships, Devine said he did not even apply for the Charles E. Ford Scholarship.
“Back then, you didn’t apply for a scholarship. A committee of university professors recommended and selected all scholarship winners. Therefore, when I was selected for scholarships at the end of both my freshman and sophomore years, I was very much honored. It’s a great feeling knowing that a group of professors recognized my hard work,” Devine said.
According to the UW-LaCrosse article, the first Charles E. Ford Scholarship was $500. But during the summer of 1980, Devine received a letter from UWL’s Foundation Office informing him that the scholarship would increase to $1,000 because “the Ford family decided to double the amount after reading the thank you letter he wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Ford.”
Devine says he almost did not go to the scholarship banquet in 1980.
“I had no idea I was going to win anything. My roommate and I decided to go only because there were free snacks and drinks provided. How many college kids do you know who turn down free food?” Devine said.
“When my name was announced, all I remember is my roommate laughing out loud and me walking nervously to the stage to find out what I had won. Although a college education was much more affordable in my day, it still was a huge financial undertaking. Receiving those two scholarships eased my burden quite a bit,” he said.
Devine says that while the review process for the Ford Scholarship is not complicated, it does take some time.
“I am the only reviewer, so I take my responsibility very seriously. I read all of the applications, 15 to 20, and then create a spreadsheet. I take into consideration the major/minor, GPA, work experience, campus/community involvement, essay responses and financial need,” Devine said.
“I admit that I am a softy when it comes to financial need, especially considering the cost of tuition today. After I rank the applicants, my notes are forwarded to the family. The donor obviously has the final say, and he decides how many scholarships to award based on my recommendations — and his pocketbook,” he said.
So what inspired Tim Devine to go into education in the first place?
Devine says he doesn’t want to sound “too corny” but that while coaching got him into education, it was the love of children, especially middle-school aged children, that has kept him in education for 32 years.
“I love forming meaningful relationships with my students and watching and listening to the crazy things they do and say. Middle school is my fountain of youth,” Devine said.
“On the outside, I may look like a 55-year-old, but on the inside, I feel more like a 25-year-old kid, and I credit my students for keeping me young at heart. Although I could retire this year, I plan to keep at it for a little while longer,” he said.
Considering the difficult job that teaching has become, with the amount of standardized testing and the increased job duties, Devine believes it is important to encourage education majors.
“We live in a political climate that doesn’t always appreciate the job teachers do. That is why I have accepted invitations the past four semesters to speak to education majors in Dr. Christina Berchini’s classroom at UWEC to remind these young people that teaching is one of the most important and noble careers in the world. We need good young teachers to help keep our profession strong,” Devine said.
Jim and Judy Ford also have done their best to encourage education majors.
“I am very appreciative of the efforts of people like Jim and Judy Ford who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help offset the costs of a college education,” Devine said.
“Investing their money to help others is not only selfless, it is a tremendous way to honor the legacy of Ben and Marian Ford. It is my privilege and honor to be associated with such find philanthropic people,” he said.
Jim and Judy Ford have recently increased the scholarship amount so that three $5,000 scholarships will be awarded for the 2016-2017 school year.
The scholarship now also honors Jim Ford’s mother, Marian.
Marian Ford earned an elementary education teaching certificate in the late 1950s from LaCrosse State.