In June 2004, the summer between my junior and senior year of undergraduate studies at Wright State University, I received a notification from the Wright State University Scholarship Committee that I had been selected to receive the Robert S. Oelman scholarship in the amount of $500 for one year.
Unlike most of the scholarships I had received from WSU over the years, this one had very specific stipulations to along with it, one of which being to write a letter addressed directly to the donor, Robert S. Oelman, which I had to send back to the WSU Foundation, who then forwarded it to Mr. Oelman at his home. No complaints here! A timely and sincere thank-you letter seemed a more than fair requirement in exchange for $500 towards paying for my college.
And so I wrote the following on June 26, 2004 (yes I still have a copy of the letter and managed to dig it up in a matter of minutes- archivist here!):
Dear Mr. Oelman:
I hope this letter finds you well. Recently, the Wright State University Scholarship Committee notified me that I have been awarded the Robert S. Oelman Scholarship in the amount of $500 for next school year. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful to receive your generous donation because, as you know, the cost of higher education is rising every day.
Next year will be my fourth and final year at Wright State University. In June 2005, I will graduate with a B.A. in History and Latin. After graduation, I plan to further my education. I have learned many things these past few years, not least of all the fact that knowledge is valuable and powerful.
Once again, I whole-heartedly thank you for your kind generosity to Wright State University and to me. It is very much appreciated.
Lisa M. Pasquinelli
At the time, I did not know to whom I was writing that letter, other than that he was a presumably wealthy man who lived in Florida and who gave generously to the university, though as to his specific connection to WSU or why he would choose to give us money, I had no idea—except, oh hey, he had the same last name as one of the main instructional buildings, Oelman Hall. But whether that was the same man the building was named after (it was) or why they’d name a building after him, I honestly had no clue.
But now I know.
Robert Schantz Oelman (1909-2007) was one of the founders of Wright State University—before it was even Wright State, when it was still the “Dayton Campus” of Ohio State University & Miami University in the early 1960s; he was chair of the first WSU Board of Trustees and served on it until 1976. He and his wife were also descended from prominent Dayton families: his mother was a Schantz, and his wife Mary was descended from the Peirce and Forrer families.
I know all this now for a number of inter-related reasons:
- A year or more ago, in my work as an archivist, I arranged and described the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Papers at the Dayton Metro Library. In researching and writing the biographical sketches, I saw that Robert S. Oelman had married into the family (genealogy info on WeRelate).
- Last year, when I accepted a job as one of the archivists at Wright State University, one of the first things I did was read Founding and Fulfillment (read it on CORE) about the founding of WSU; I learned a lot about Mr. Oelman from that book. Since then, I’ve highlighted Oelman and the other founders in an a “Founders’ Quad” exhibit and worked with our university archivist on a blog post about Oelman (lots of pictures!).
I’m glad to finally know who he was and how he “fit” into Dayton and Wright State. And I’m so, so pleased that I’ve had an opportunity to, in some small way, help to pay him back a little bit—not that he was looking to be paid back, certainly, but it’s a nice little twist of fate.
I took that $500 and put it towards a B.A. in history (at a school Mr. Oelman helped to found), that later led to an M.A. in history with an emphasis on archives (again, at the same school that he helped to found). That led to my first archives job (indeed, my first full time job) at the Dayton Metro Library, where one of my last tasks before leaving (and certainly the one that took the longest and possibly the one of which I am most proud) was arranging and describing a large archival collection, which happened (I found out as I was researching it) to contain the papers of several generations of Mrs. Oelman’s ancestors. And just as I finished that up, I was offered the opportunity to work as an archivist at Wright State University, a university which, without Mr. Oelman, might never have existed in the first place—and now there I am, helping keep its history safe and promoting its collections to anyone who will listen (and, I hope, helping in some way to preserve and protect part of Oelman’s legacy).
Now that I know who Robert Oelman really was, that 2004 thank-you letter looks pretty lame. I should have been thanking him for a lot more than the money. Sure, $500 is a generous gift, any way you slice it, and I did then, and do now, appreciate it.
But I know now, he didn’t just give me $500. He (and a number of others, of course) gave me Wright State University. I spent 6 years learning and growing as a student at Wright State, and now I continue learning and growing there as an archives professional. Wright State University is where I started dating my husband and where I met the best friends I’ve ever had.
I literally don’t know where I’d be if it hadn’t been for Robert S. Oelman’s interest in and dedication to Wright State University.
So I say again–with infinitely more gusto and understanding this time–thank you, Mr. Oelman. No, really. You have no idea.
Robert Schantz Oelman died May 10, 2007, in Palm Beach County, Florida (read his obit in the New York Times), so I know he’ll never read this. But I wanted to “put it out there” to express my thanks to him, even if it has to be posthumously.