A gift for Clark Fork

Edith Schuyler made her money through hard work. She married a man who shared her work ethic, and the two turned a patch of swampland near Lake Pend Oreille into a trailer park that made them rich. After he died in 2004, she searched for a way to honor her husband by donating their fortune.

Wednesday morning at a restaurant in the East Hope Marina, nestled on the northeast side of the lake about 15 miles from Sandpoint, Schuyler solidified a legacy and carved a future for generations of Clark Fork High School graduates.

With the help of the philanthropic organization the Inland Northwest Community Foundation, the 91-year-old gave $500,000 to the tiny, rural high school for college scholarships. The 135-student school is one of the few seventh- through 12th-grade schools in North Idaho and serves families in the most rural area of the Sandpoint-area school district – from the Pack River to the Montana border.

“They have much less than anyone else could imagine, and they have high hopes for their kids,” Principal Phil Kemink said.

Kemink called Schuyler’s donation “huge.”

“This will change the lives of some of our kids,” he said.

The 16-student class of 2008 will be the first Wampus Cats eligible for the money. About $15,000 will be available, likely in three renewable scholarships of $5,000 each. The seniors attended Schuyler’s announcement and thanked her for the gift.

“It’s pretty amazing that someone would donate that much money,” said Tyler Pesce, 17. “It’s a free ride to college.”

Neither Schuyler (pronounced Skyler) nor her husband, Hoyt, attended the school, and the couple never had children. But they fell in love with the area while working on their trailer park in Hope. They made weekly trips to Clark Fork to obtain burn permits while developing their life’s investment, the Island View Trailer Park and Harbor. They sold the business in 1971.

On Wednesday, Schuyler urged the Clark Fork seniors to work hard for the scholarships and in life.

“You don’t make anything in life without hard work. You’ve got to work hard,” she said. “When you get out on your own you’re going to have only yourself to look to. I don’t know of anything I can tell you except work hard.”

Born in New Jersey, Schuyler’s father died when she was 6. She moved with her mother to California, where she secured a scholarship to a private boarding school for girls. She blames it on luck – the school turned lots of girls away each year.

She credits the scholarship with helping her make something of herself. That factored into her decision to donate to education instead of a museum, as originally planned. She thought it would have a bigger impact.

Kemink hopes the new scholarships will keep the seniors focused in their final year. Students must have a 3.0 grade-point average to qualify, making their performance this year critical. Applications are due in March.

Senior Brenda Davisson has other scholarships in mind but said Schuyler’s is different.

“This one seems more real because it’s just for Clark Fork,” the 17-year-old said. “It gives us a better name because it shows people actually care about the school. There’s a pretty tight-knit community, but it’s pretty low-income.”

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