COVID-19 has affected almost every aspect of our lives. In times like this, we can be heartened by those who rise to the occasion and continue to do good no matter the circumstances. The Olympia-Tumwater Foundation (OTF), the largest scholarship donor for seniors in Thurston County, has made this very clear in a statement by Executive Director John Freedman. “I want the community to know we are still open and supporting our community in this time of COVID-19,” he shares. “The scholarship application process is being run a little bit differently, but we will still be nurturing and pulling for our high school seniors’ success with our scholarship program, just as we always have.”

A Brief History of the Olympia-Tumwater Foundation

OTF is a local charitable organization whose roots trace back to the Schmidt family of Tumwater and the famous Olympia Brewing Company. It was created in 1950 by Peter G. Schmidt, Sr., long-time president of Olympia Brewing Company and oldest son of brewery founder Leopold Schmidt.

The original mission of the Foundation was one of general philanthropy. Over the years OTF has supported a range of worthwhile activities, from regional medical research to preservation of Northwest history. Today, OTF is best known for the pair of properties it owns and maintains for public use: Tumwater Falls Park and the historic Schmidt House. It is also acclaimed for its education program awarding scholarships and grants.

Tumwater Falls Park

Opened by the OTF in 1962 as a gift to the South Sound community, Tumwater Falls Park combines spectacular scenery with historical significance situated along the banks of the last quarter mile of the Deschutes River. The Park receives nearly 300,000 visitors each year and is the site for many special events. Every fall, thousands of visitors and school students arrive to witness salmon working their way up the river during their annual migration

Schmidt House & History Program

The Foundation also owns and operates the historic Schmidt House that was built in 1904 by Leopold Schmidt, founder of the Olympia Brewing Company. The home is made available to nonprofit, cultural, educational and historic organizations in support of their charitable mission. Also located in the House are the Foundation archives, which serve as a repository for artifacts, documents, and objects preserving the memory and legacy of the Schmidt family and the Olympia Brewing Company. Under a shared services agreement with the City of Tumwater, the Foundation hired a Curator and Public History Manager to support and promote the cultural heritage of the City of Tumwater and its historic district with an effort known as “Heritage Builders.”

A handful of the many scholarship recipients who have gone on to do great things with their lives. Photo courtesy: Olympia-Tumwater Foundation

The Scholarship Program

Higher education is extremely expensive for the vast majority of attendees, and for many, it’s only made possible via scholarships. Acclaimed as the largest provider of college scholarships to high school seniors in Thurston County, the Foundation has given over $2.1 million since their first $500 scholarship in 1967, with over $1 million being giving in the past 9 years.

On average, OTF awards 20 scholarships per year, ranging from $5,000 – $15,000. Their scholarship committee takes pride in reviewing the many applications they receive, and awards are based on financial need, educational achievement and potential, school and community involvement, leadership, and a personal interview with the leading applicants.

Rikki Martinez is one of the scholarship recipients who prospered from the opportunity she earned from the OTF. During our conversation, she reflected on her experience and shared wisdom for prospective applicants.

Who were you before the scholarship program, who are you now, and what are you looking toward in the future?

“Before the scholarship, I was the first in my family to apply to college. I was determined to make something of myself and make my parents proud. I had no idea what was to come and what I needed to do to accomplish my dream of earning a college degree. With the OTF scholarship, along with others, I was given the opportunity to afford college. I completed my college career in spring of 2019 with my Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. I currently work for a private engineering firm and have joined the scholarship committee at the Olympia Tumwater Foundation. In the future, I hope to mentor other students in our community and help them accomplish their goals.”

Rikki Martinez is a prime example of just how important the scholarship program is, as she has achieved great success in her life. Photo courtesy: Olympia-Tumwater Foundation

How did the scholarship program shape your life?

“The scholarship I received from OTF was more than just financial support; it was a networking opportunity with our local community. After receiving my scholarship, I had the privilege of interning with the Foundation. While interning, I met several community members and was able to make numerous professional relationships. My journey with the OTF even helped me commit to a career in engineering, and now I have the pleasure to be a part of the scholarship committee.”

What message would you like to convey to prospective candidates? And what about to those who don’t even know about the program and who should?

“I hope high school seniors take advantage of this scholarship and the opportunities that are tied to it. This scholarship offers more money than most local scholarships in Thurston County. I believe this committee truly picks the recipients of the scholarship based on who they are, what they contribute to the community, and what they’ve accomplished. The Olympia-Tumwater Scholarship is inclusive of all students in the community, regardless of your background, race and financial state. Unlike most scholarships, the committee of the Olympia-Tumwater Scholarship ensures that middle class families are represented and supported. I believe getting involved with the scholarship program is an opportunity all students in our community should pursue.”

Typically, they work directly with the counselors at the schools, who review the application first. However, this year due to COVID-19 they are running the process a little differently. Seniors can apply directly to the Foundation, via the application available on their website, and the deadline is Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

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