FARGO – Bob Alin may not be a household name, but there have been a lot of North Dakota high school graduates over the years who owe him some thanks
Alin is the guy who helped turn Dollars for Scholars into a scholarship juggernaut in the state, giving many thousands of graduating seniors a leg up on going to college or technical school.
Alin helped start his first successful Dollars for Scholars scholarship program in LaMoure in 1988.
Two years later, he retired as a partner and manager at Scheels and really got down to work.
In four years, the pied piper of scholarships put 33,000 miles on his car. With $250,000 in backing from Fred Scheel and the help of a wide network of friends, he started 50 more Dollars for Scholars chapters across the state, something unheard of in the U.S.
"I was pie in the sky, I guess," the 85-year-old Fargo man said.
North Dakota now has 68 Dollars for Scholars chapters that have raised more than $32 million since they were started, said Laura Fiedler, executive director of the state chapter. Over the years, $14 million was given to 25,000 students.The rest is held in income-generating endowments.
Alin also helped start the North Dakota Dollars for Scholars chapter, Fiedler said.
"He is such a neat guy, so passionate about helping students," she said.
Fargo's Dollars for Scholars is distributing 52 $1,000 scholarships this year, said Carol Johnson, executive director of the Fargo Public Schools Development Foundation. The scholarships, which will be announced in today's edition of The Forum, go to graduates of the city's public and private high schools, she said.
The program is popular with donors because the local dollars go to local graduates, Johnson said.
Dollars for Scholars was the brainchild of Dr. Irving Fradkin, who started the first group in 1958 in Fall River, Mass.The first North Dakota chapter was started in 1962 by a Grand Forks businessman, the state chapter's website said.
But it was Alin that put Dollars for Scholars on the fast track in North Dakota.
Alin had friends "that knew everybody, everywhere," who helped him meet bankers, newspaper publishers, professional groups or the Chamber of Commerce. They would form a group to study the possibility of starting a Dollars for Scholars chapter, then have a community meeting.
He didn't bother hitting up school districts for money. They don't have money to spare, Alin reasoned.
Alin stuck to shaking the money trees-successful alumni, businesses and corporations.
The result was that instead of adding a chapter a year, as was the norm across the U.S., North Dakota was opening a chapter a month.
People just wanted their children to have a shot at college, Alin said.
"I didn't make it a hard sell. But by the time you got done, you'd see heads nodding," he said. "Because that's the most important resource we have, the young people."
Deb Gebeke, assistant director of family and consumer sciences for North Dakota State University's Extension Service, ran North Dakota Dollars for Scholars for several years.
"He is an incredibly selfless, giving person," Gebeke said. "Not one dollar of that (fundraising) would have happened without Bob Alin."
Gebeke, a former K-12 school counselor, said Dollars for Scholars scholarships go to a variety of students and are a nice hometown pat on the back.
"You know the community believes in you," she said.
The state chapter hit a tough patch in 2006 and ended its staffed program, but continued with volunteers.
In 2008, the Bank of North Dakota stepped up by providing the state chapter with office space, and money for expenses, website management and a staffer. With the Bank of North Dakota already helping the state's students with school loans, it was a perfect fit, Alin said.
Meanwhile, as others praise him for the success of Dollars for Scholars, Alin refuses to take credit alone.
"I don't take any credit other than being the messenger," he said.