Robertson’s legacy lives on at Simpson

by Shara Tibken

Over the years, Simpson College has received many generous donations from alumni. The largest donation came from Amy Robertson, a name that Simpson will never forget.

“Amy provided the college with the largest single gift we’ve ever gotten,” said Tracie Pavon, assistant vice president for enrollment and financial assistance.

Robertson’s gift to the college following her death was about $10 million.

Along with the $10 million gift, Robertson also donated $600,000 to the college in 1980 to build a new music building, now named the Amy Robertson Music Center.

Robertson was very generous to Simpson, but why did she choose Simpson as a benefactor?

According to “Beneath the Whispering Maples: The History of Simpson College” by Joe Walt, a retired Simpson history professor, Robertson “was born on Aug. 28, 1897, in Promise City, Iowa, a tiny hamlet in Wayne County.” She didn’t have any siblings and was never married.

Robertson attended Simpson College after high school and graduated in 1921 with a bachelor’s degree in music.

Following college, Robertson taught music in Allerton, Iowa then at Audubon High School. She then took “time off to complete work for a master’s degree in music in 1930 at DePaul University in Chicago,” according to Walt.

For a while, Robertson ran a profitable business making dolls for Marshall Fields and Sears Roebuck.

Walt described Robertson as “A woman of courage, fiercely independent, an earthy pioneer, strong willed, given to forceful opinions and more entrepreneurial spirit than was characteristic of high school music teachers.”

Robertson “invested every spare dollar she could find in farmland in Wayne and Appanoose Counties until she finally owned seven farms containing 1,380 acres of land,” according to Walt’s book.

Oil was found on land that she bought from relatives in Texas, which contributed to the bulk of her wealth.

In 1951, according to Walt “She was invited to join the Simpson board of trustees, the seventh woman ever accorded that honor.”

After a highly successful life, Robertson died May 31, 1992 at the age of 94.

Over the years, Robertson’s money has made a significant impact on Simpson College.

“This money has benefited hundreds of students,” said Pavon. “This year we have 539 students receiving her money.”

Many awards of different types are given to students each year.

“Out of [the money from] Amy Robertson, there are five different scholarships, grants and loans.”

The loans that are awarded are forgivable loans.

“The loans are loan grants,” said Pavon. “If a student stays here and graduates, then that loan is forgiven.”

Students do not apply for the funding it is simply reported on their financial aid award.

One thing that the financial aid office looks at when awarding Amy Robertson funds is class rank, Pavon said. “We also look at the whole package [of the student].”

Robertson was from Wayne County and she wanted to help the community grow.

Robertson helped organizations from Wayne County with funding. One beneficiary of her money was the Wayne County Historical Museum in Corydon.

Robertson also helped students from that county attend college and even funded the education of some personally.

Today, the hometown of a student does not determine whether or not the student will receive financial support from the Robertson fund.

“Students do not have to be from Wayne and Appanoose counties [to receive the funding], but Simpson has 17 full-time students from those counties,” said Pavon. “A large majority of them are receiving funds from Robertson.”

Senior Jill Toombs, a citizen of Appanoose County, was a recipient of the Amy Robertson Fellowship.

“It was on my financial aid award. I live in Appanoose County, and Amy did a lot of business there since she lived in the next county over,” she said.

For the 2003-04 school year, “over $477,000 was awarded out of the Robertson fund,” said Pavon.

According to Pavon of the $477,000, $240,000 was given out as forgivable loan grants.

The funding from Amy Robertson provides an incentive for students to attend Simpson.

“This money makes a huge impact on our recruitment of students. I don’t think there is another account that does that,” said Pavon.

The scholarships funded by the generous donations of Robertson help make Simpson College more affordable for students.

“This award helps me with my tuition. Without the help of scholarships such as the Amy Robertson Fellowship, I know that I and many other students would not be able to attend Simpson,” said Toombs