When Westminster alum Anthony Merritt died this year, he and his wife left money to start a scholarship for single mothers at the college.
Tony Merritt was born into poverty. His wife, Anne, says Tony’ mother was the sole provider in his family.
“She worked as a domestic, she had 8 children, things were very, very rough. So Tony always said if we had the means to do it that we should set up a scholarship at Westminster,” says Ann Merrit.
After the Merritts graduated from Westminster College in 1964, Tony became the first African American to work in Salt Lake City schools. While teaching, he completed a Master of Arts at the University of Utah and went on to have a career in the auto industry, eventually owning a Toyota and Lexus dealership in Arizona. Now, in his estate, Tony’s left one million dollars to Westminster for athletic funds as well as a special scholarship for single mothers.
Anne Merritt says educating mothers has a ripple effect.
“It gives them an opportunity to earn a decent wage where they’re not dependent on government of handouts, they can provide for the family themselves, and promote education for their children,” says Anne Merritt.
Gina Bogdanich is a single mother, recently graduated from Westminster. On this day she’s meeting her 9-year-old daughter Mila at school for the short walk home.
Bogdanich works full time as a registered nurse at Primary Children’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit, but she tries to walk her daughter home from school whenever she can. When her daughter was born, Bogdanich was 20 years old and working as a hair stylist. When her daughter was a toddler, she started school at Salt Lake Community College. Her goal was to get a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, but she thought she could not afford Westminster.
“I wouldn’t even look at it. I had driven by there numerous times, and thought it was a beautiful campus, but it was somebody that said, just go talk to them,” says Bogdanich.
Westminster’s Director for Financial Aid Jenny Allen Ryan, says the college is sensitive to the fact that single parents often need extra support.
“These individuals a lot of times, especially if they’re living independent of their family, they have a lot of additional needs with food costs, housing costs, transportation, and other things. When there is 2 incomes working obviously it helps to offset, but when there is only one working, they do need more in financial aid,” says Ryan.
Ryan says the college has more than 100,000 dollars earmarked to help single parents just like Bogdanich. She says in the last couple of decades, there are many more nontraditional students, and more scholarships to help them.
“We probably have oh 15 to 20 different donors that have earmarked for single parents, and if a student completes an application, and checks that box, a lot of times designating yourself as a single parent is optional. If they let us know, we will consider those students for the scholarships,” says Ryan.
Turns out Bogdanich qualified for numerous scholarships including one for Utah single mothers called the Deanna Forbush Endowed Scholarship. Bogdanich says school, work, and the demands of motherhood exhausted her, but she stayed in school for more than 7 years.
“People don’t really realize how much it takes for a single mom to dedicate time to go to school, time to study, to sit down and write a paper. It takes so much more than I even thought it would,” says Bogdanich.
When asked what got her through, Bogdanich finds herself tearing up.
“I thought I wasn’t going to cry… confidence. To be able to receive a scholarship from somebody that says you deserve this and I believe in you enough to give you this money. I think that is what touched me the most. I can’t let myself down, I can’t let my daughter down. And I certainly can’t let down this free money that was given to me just on the fact that I was willing to try,” says Bogdanich.
Bogdanich graduated this spring, and says she loves her work at Primary Children’s Hospital.
“I still kind of pinch myself when I get to go to work. It is one of the most remarkable feelings to have successfully finished something and sparked an interest in my daughter’s eyes of school,” Bogdanich.
Bogdanich says her goals for her daughter are just like any parent. She wants her to live a good life, to be honest, but also to have possibilities.