Bookworms unearth EWU’s best kept secret

By Aaron Bocook, News Writer

Earle and Florence Stewart had no children and no close family.

In 1989, they decided to leave all of their money as an endowment to EWU, the Stewart Book Scholarship. They wanted students to have the opportunity to experience a life outside of their major or future profession by starting a personal library and attending cultural events.

The scholarship is available each quarter, and students can either apply for two books of up to a $250 value or one cultural event up to $100 with an option for the remaining $150 to go towards a book.

Dr. Sarah Keller, program director of Eastern’s Anthropology Department, said Earle Stewart was a true renaissance man. Stewart was a mentor for Keller when she came to EWU as a young professor and helped her start the anthropology department at Eastern in 1966.

“I’m the only person at Eastern who remembers Earl Stewart. Stewart was the man that hired me. He was my department chair and my mentor when I was a new teacher,” Keller said. “He had a Ph.D. in history, but he was the head for sociology [at Eastern]. He discovered anthropology and wanted us to have an [anthropology] department.

“He was very widely read in his own personal life. He felt that students, just because they didn’t have money, shouldn’t become very narrow in their reading. He thought they should have access to more than just what their major and occupation demanded they have books for.”

According to Keller, the scholarship is very specific on several things. The Stewarts wanted students to have books that were of lasting value, so hardback books are preferred over paperback. Almanacs and similar books that change over time are generally not granted.

Cross rock concerts off the list of events; theater, symphony and other cultural events are what the Stewarts intended students to experience.

The endowment is also very specific that nothing electronic can be purchased through the scholarship. This means no CDs and no software programs. The committee has made exceptions for books on tape for the blind and for books which have been bundled with an interactive disc.

The main goal of the Stewarts, Keller said, was for students to expand their knowledge and experience. Students cannot use the scholarship to buy textbooks or even contemporary publications from their major. The scholarship is set up for students to read books they enjoy and experience events simply for pleasure.

“It’s supposed to be selfish,” Keller said. “It isn’t books that you want to read to your children, it isn’t books for your library for your profession, it is books that are for you personally, authors you love to read or topics you always wanted to know more about.”

Keller said the committee approves a broad range of books, from full volumes of Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe to “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side” to books on religion and philosophy.

EWU alumna Mindy Parsons, who graduated in 2009, said she used the scholarship almost every single quarter she attended college.

“[The Stewart Book Scholarship] is the best hidden gem at EWU,” Parsons said. “It is a fantastic scholarship for those students that just take the time to write out an essay.”

Nick Tsyukalo, fifth-year mathematics major at Eastern, said he has applied for the scholarship at least five times, and found the process to be very straightforward.

“You fill in an application online, do a little write-up for each book or cultural event that you’d like to be compensated for,” Tsyukalo said. “A few days after the deadline, I think I knew whether I was approved or not. I’ve definitely only had positive experiences with the scholarship.”

After the application is submitted, Keller, and a committee of six to seven members, make decisions based on their interpretation of the Stewarts’ wishes.

Keller said that, prior to the current economic recession, the entire $10,000 to $12,000 budget was all used every quarter,, but now applications for the scholarship are in a slump.

“The word was out back then,” Keller said. “We had to prioritize because we spent it all each quarter. The portfolio went underwater during the recession. We didn’t have enough money for a year or two, and word didn’t seem to get out after that when it revived.”

“I think it’s an opportunity that by far most students forgo, sadly,” Tsyukalo said. “Basically, unless you’re too lazy to write, quite literally, a single paragraph on why you want a particular book, there is really no good reason to not take advantage of it.”

Parson also said she was always surprised by the number of students who had heard about the scholarship but had never bothered to apply.

According to Keller, money that could be utilized by students goes unused each quarter, but she is hoping for a renaissance of the scholarship. She encourages all of her students to apply, and as long as she is at Eastern, she said she will do her best to see that the Stewarts’ wishes are fulfilled.

“I’m there because I knew [Stewart] and was a great personal friend of him and his wife Florence. I’m there to interpret what he wanted,” Keller said. “We try to follow the letter of making people more broadly based and have a life outside of their profession, and to want to read.”