FGHS principal says financial aid from the late Harold Wyatt is changing lives

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Harold Wyatt, who died March 31 at the age of 101, set up a million-dollar scholarship fund for Forest Grove High School graduates.Born long before cell phones, personal computers and the Internet revolutionized life in the 21st century, Harold Wyatt knew what it was like to face a challenge and meet it.

Four days after the longtime Forest Grove resident and Forest Grove School District benefactor passed away March 31 at the age of 101, his son said one of Harold’s dreams was to help other people improve themselves.

“He came from Halfway, Ore., and there wasn’t much money in his family,” said Doug Wyatt, a retired immigration attorney who lives in Beaverton. “He was on his own if he wanted to get somewhere in life.”

So Harold “studied real hard,” according to his son, putting himself through Reed College in Portland in the late 1930s and traveling throughout Europe before founding Flavorland Foods in Forest Grove, where he made his fortune.

In 1998, he gave back to the community he loved — and bolstered the educational standards he believed in — by establishing the Harold Wyatt Student Achievement Scholarship Fund, originally a $400,000 trust that provides scholarship money to Forest Grove High School graduates each year. Administered by the Oregon Community Foundation, the fund has contributed an average of $45,000 a year to between seven and 13 students, helping them pay for classes at two- or four-year colleges and universities. Students also have the option of applying for additional funds during their first year in college.

“Harold really wanted to give kids a chance to get an education beyond high school,” said FGHS Principal Karen Robinson, who met with Wyatt on several occasions to share stories of students he’d aided. “His heart was really in a good place.

“What he started is changing lives — talk about leaving a lasting legacy.”

Assistant Superintendent John O’Neill was principal of Forest Grove High in 2008, when Wyatt pledged $1 million to the fund. At the time, Wyatt, who was 95 and living at the Jennings McCall Center in town, told district leaders he intended to donate another $1 million upon his death.

“Due to his generous donation, we are able to sustain this scholarship indefinitely, impacting graduates from Forest Grove High School for generations to come,” said O’Neill. “Many students who would not be able to afford college, or are first in their family to attend college, will be able to do so.

“He was a true community leader and he will continue to have a positive presence long after his passing.”

Robinson said that one of her favorite times each spring is when students learn they’ve received a Wyatt scholarship. “Their faces just light up ... they’re so appreciative,” she said.

Scholarship committee members consider a student’s grade-point average, college entrance exam stores and individual essays when ranking applications, which have just been received for 2014. Winners will be announced sometime in May, Robinson said.

“I had the privilege of showing Mr. Wyatt letters of appreciation and photos of students who had received scholarships,” noted Robinson. “He was a great, great man.”

Doug Wyatt graduated from FGHS in 1966, five years after his sister, Linda Williams of Portland, a former data processor. Their father, he said, “was convinced that if you applied yourself and studied hard, you could really get somewhere in life.”

The vehicle Harold Wyatt viewed as most helpful in reaching that goal was education.

“Dad thought education was the way to improve oneself,” said Doug Wyatt, now 65, who described his relationship with his father as “very close.”

Services for Harold Wyatt were held Sunday at Mountain View Memorial Gardens in Forest Grove.

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