Alumna donates more than $70K to Prairie Sage Endowment

An endowment that provides scholarships to Native American students with a desire to tell the stories of their people has received a donation that has more than doubled its size.

The Prairie Sage Endowment in February accepted a gift of over $70,000 in honor of alumna Delpha Mattison.

“Delpha had a place in her heart for the disadvantaged and for populations that our culture is striving to help,” Mike Flynn, Augustana’s director of development, said.

In the late 1960s, Mattison started college as a non-traditional student in her 30s. She graduated as a biology and earth science double major in 1970 and worked for 20 years at Zip Feeds as a nutrition secretary.

She volunteered for Bread for the World, a non-profit organization that works to end world hunger, and was an active member of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

After she passed away in 2015, Robert Mattison, Delpha’s husband, and the rest of her family wanted to donate in her name and asked Flynn if the university-assisted Native American students, and Flynn told him about the Prairie Sage Endowment.

Professor David O’Hara, his wife, Rev. Christina O’Hara, and other faculty members who wish to remain anonymous created the endowment in 2016 with a starting gift of $32,000, and so far, O’Hara estimated that students, faculty and other private donors have given around $10,000.

It currently supports one Native American student. There are only eight Native American students attending Augustana.

The goal, O’Hara said, is to grow the endowment to between $20 to $40 million to provide full tuition scholarships to around eight to 10 Native American students every year.

It will take decades, but as it grows it can help more students.

“That’s, for me, sort of a polestar—a guiding aim,” O’Hara said.

Along with full tuition scholarships, O’Hara said he hopes the endowment can fund lectures on Native American culture and history.

A member of the Lower Sioux Indian Reservation near Morton, Minnesota, junior Marissa Pacheco said the endowment will benefit future Native American students but the campus will have to accommodate them “if it is truly trying to help and not just trying to raise enrollment.”

One accommodation she noted was smudging. After moving into a new home, some Native Americans burn sage to cleanse bad spirits and renew old spaces.

“We can’t really do that here because we’ll set off the fire alarms and send everyone out of their dorms,” Pacheco said.

She suggested that students could come a day before move-in day to smudge their dorms.

Pacheco said the university may also have to allow Native American students to miss more class periods than other students for ceremonies and funerals and still have the chance to make up work they missed.

Many Native American nations believe in extended families made up of blood and non-blood relatives, so funerals can be more frequent.

“Sometimes, people ask ‘Oh, how’d you have three grandpas die?’ Well, that’s completely possible for Native people,” Pacheco said. “If someone dies, usually everyone comes back for the funeral. That’s how the culture is.”

O’Hara said he recognizes and is advocating for accommodation policies and believes that Augustana has the advantage over other universities with its proximity to reservations in South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, so students wouldn’t be as far from home.

Like all endowments, a part of the Prairie Sage is diverted into a pool which is invested in several portfolios in the stock market. The earnings of the investments are given back to endowments and become scholarships, Flynn said.

“We’re trying to make a prudent investment in the future for our students and our community,” O’Hara said.

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