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Engineering legacy: Endowments are forever

Portrait of a bearded man.

James S. Rollins, “father” of the University of Missouri, was instrumental in the land grant university’s placement in Columbia. He also created the first endowed scholarship in 1888, which each year is still awarded to six undergraduates, including a civil engineering major. (Photo courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia C:1/141/8 Box 2)

Time has a way of pushing once-momentous innovations into obsolescence. In 1888, for instance, William Seward Burroughs patented the adding machine. George Eastman patented the first roll-film camera, and Thomas Edison filed a patent for the first movie camera. All of these groundbreaking occurrences have been eclipsed by events that have transpired in the ensuing 125 years.

However, not every inspiration is supplanted by the march of time. That same year, James S. Rollins — the “father” of the University of Missouri — created MU’s first endowed scholarship. His gift was intended to annually recognize the merit, character and intellectual and literary abilities of six students in five disciplines. One of the six recipients who annually benefit from Rollins’ long view about the importance of education is a civil engineering student.

Rollins, born in 1812 in Richmond, Ky., settled in Columbia, Mo., to work as a lawyer. A Whig party activist and politician, he served in both the state legislature and the U.S. Congress.

The influential Boone County politician also was a successful businessman and a great proponent of education. He held interests in agriculture and worked to improve and enhance rail and river traffic in the state.

Rollins also played a key role in securing Columbia as the site of Missouri’s land grant university in 1839 and as the site of the Agricultural College in the 1870s. He additionally served as president of MU’s board of curators for nearly 25 years during some of the university’s formative years.

The James S. Rollins University Scholarship fund was established upon his death in 1888, adding the accomplishments of its numerous recipients to his MU legacy. His original $6,000 gift now tops $125,000.

As is the College of Engineering’s custom, those who have funded scholarships — or their representatives — are invited to attend an annual Engineering Scholarship Dinner. At the event, donors and scholarship recipients are introduced and get to know each other over dinner.

Glee Rollins is the widow of James S. Rollins, Jr., BS BA ’49, who passed away in 1994. He was the great-grandson of the original James Rollins and the last family member with the Rollins name. Glee has attended the scholarship dinner for the past several years.

“I’ve always been delighted to have been asked,” she said, adding that her husband was very proud of his family.