Giving: Fall 2010
Author: Meg Descamp
Posted: September 30, 2010

Hattie Justesen and her daughter “GOING BACK TO COLLEGE was a very tough decision,” says Sue House ’98, MEd ’99, reflecting on her decision to attend PSU in the mid-1990s. Thirty years old at the time, House was supporting herself and her two children on a receptionist’s salary. “The fact that someone was willing to invest money in me to go to school was a huge support.”

That support came from the Nancy Ryles Endowed Scholarship Fund, and it covered tuition and fees as House earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. She went on to earn a master’s in education and has taught science at Portland’s Madison High School for 11 years.

This fall on the 20th anniversary of the Ryles Scholarship, Hattie Justesen becomes the most recent scholar. She’s a single mother whose college career was interrupted more than 10 years ago. She plans to pursue a double major in business management and human resources. “It’s an honor to be part of such an incredible group of women,” says Justesen.

IN JULY 1990, Nancy Ryles learned that a fast-growing brain tumor would take her life within months. The former state legislator was then serving as the first woman member of the Oregon Public Utilities Board.

Three of her close friends—Joan Johnson ’78, Leslie Emery, and Jean Morton—wanted to create a lasting tribute to Ryles, something that would reflect her commitment to education and women. They came up with the idea of an endowed scholarship.

Ryles suggested that the scholarship be for women whose college education had been interrupted, and that it be established at PSU to serve women in the metro area. The scholarship was announced at PSU on September 10, 1990, and Ryles died two days later at the age of 52.

IN THEIR FIRST meeting with PSU administrators, Johnson, Emery, and Morton announced their intention to raise $250,000 to endow the scholarship. What they raised instead were eyebrows. “We had no cash in hand, but we did have experience fund-raising for Nancy’s political campaigns. Clearly, this was not the usual way to set up an endowment,” remembers Johnson.

But they proved they could do it. Twenty years later, the fund stands at more than $710,000, with the vast majority of that money coming in small donations—anywhere from $5 to $150. It is now PSU’s largest endowed scholarship that is funded primarily by grassroots donations.

The true measure of the scholarship’s value is how many women it has assisted. Since 1991, 28 women have been Ryles Scholarship winners and 23 have completed their bachelor’s degrees. The scholarship provides complete tuition support for up to four years of undergraduate study, and it’s renewable so long as students complete at least 36 credit hours in a year and maintain a 3.0 GPA.

The fund has provided nearly 53 school year’s worth of support—in dollar terms this is well over $265,000.

And while the financial assistance is important, Johnson says, “Time and time again, Ryles scholars have said the fact that people believed in them and saw their potential has inspired them to achieve their goals.” That’s exactly what Nancy Ryles wanted.

To support the Nancy Ryles Scholarship Fund visit or call 503-725-4911

Photo: Hattie Justesen (right) is planning a new life for herself, with the financial help and inspiration of the Ryles Scholarship.