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Scholarship grows from rural roots to urban education

Ralph and Richard Quinney

Ralph and Richard Quinney

Two brothers, farm kids born in 1934 and 1936, leave in different directions, achieve success in seemingly divergent fields and, more than 60 years later, arrive in the same place and come to the same conclusion.

That conclusion, to remember not only the spirit of their parents but their devotion to education and farming, led Ralph and Richard Quinney to establish the Alice and Floyd Quinney Scholarship. And in a turn of the sociological screw that reveals a logical twist, the Quinneys' lifetime of rural service will reward someone devoted to teaching in an urban setting.

After their mother died in 1999, "we sat down and tried to think of some way that would give us a chance to create a remembrance of them ... something in their names that would give students some assistance in getting an education and in going out into the community where they are needed," said Ralph Quinney. "The urban idea came from my brother," said Ralph, a service- minded community banker in Ripon, now retired.

The Whitewater tie was important, the brothers said, because Alice Holloway Quinney graduated from Whitewater State Normal School – now UW-Whitewater – in 1925. It was a nine-month term in a program designed to provide teachers for rural Wisconsin. She taught for five years in the sort of district where the teacher came to work in a horse cart, a required skill. After marriage, she continued to teach and promote education, the brothers said.

"She was with us at the kitchen table, helping with homework," recalled Richard Quinney, a retired professor and author now living in Madison.

Richard sometimes went a little overboard with questions, and Ralph sometimes had to be pulled from chores to get his homework done, but the priorities were clear. Education was not only an investment but an important part of culture. She also clearly valued her teaching career.

"She taught all eight grades (at Bay Hill School) near Williams Bay, (with) some students who were nearly her age," Ralph said.

"She kept a few photographs of her early students; they were among her most cherished possessions," said Richard, who frequently refers to his parents' skills in his writing.

Both parents – they met in a dance hall in Delavan in 1929 on a Saturday night – encouraged the boys to continue in school. Floyd Quinney "was always sorry he was unable to go to school beyond the 8th grade," said Ralph, who was a student at UW-Whitewater before transferring to Marquette University. Ralph stayed in Wisconsin and forged a banking career with attendant civic participation that continues today.

Richard entered the world of academia and developed an expertise in sociology-criminology, first on the East Coast and then at Northern Illinois University. The brothers still own the family farm, which has become a haven for experimental organic farming techniques.

Where, then, does the Quinney scholarship's urban education requirement come from?

"How we interpreted that was that when our mother went to (Whitewater Normal), the focus was improving rural education, teaching the students out in the country. The equivalent today is the need for educating the students in the city," said Richard.

The Quinney scholarship provides between $500 and $750 to a senior at UW-Whitewater who intends to teach in an urban setting.

As a girl of 9, in 1916, Alice Holloway Quinney received a diary as a gift, and she wrote in it every day for five years. Her accounts were brief, keen and telling, the sort of entries a no-frills future rural educator might make.

On Jan. 13, 1916, for example: "It was 20 below zero. Alice Jordan froze her face going to school."

And on Oct. 24, 1918: "Had salt fish for dinner. (Drank water all afternoon.) Mama and I picked ducks. Feathers all over."

The Quinney brothers have not speculated on the grand influence of the modest scholarship in their parents' names, but the hopes are on two levels, one practical and one philosophical:

They hope that "some urban student will be able to pay for books, or could use some help."

And above all, that this "is a memorial to our parents, who valued education and told us to do the right thing."