As a college student, John Cleveland worked at JCPenney, on construction, and in the wheat fields of North Dakota. Ardus Cleveland de-tasseled corn and spent two summers working as a nanny. The two western Minnesota natives who attended St Cloud (Minn.) State University to become teachers eventually married - and together discovered how tough it can be to make ends meet going to college and graduate school.
That's just one of the reasons the retired UW-L psychology professor and his wife recently established the John and Ardus Cleveland Scholarship Fund through the UW-L Foundation.
"When you think back to all we had to do to pay tuition and living expenses, it seems natural that we'd want to help today," says Ardus, who worked as a primary teacher before returning home to raise their four children. She was active in Campus Dames, a faculty wives group that met for social and volunteer opportunities, along with church and other community groups.
The Clevelands came to La Crosse in 1960 after John earned a master's in educational psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. He was hoping to become a counselor at a Rochester, Minn., high school, but came farther east after receiving a call from La Crosse State.
John was interviewed for a counseling position in the Dean of Men's Office under Joe Gunning. Instead, he received a call from President Rexford Mitchell offering him a teaching position in psychology. "I was surprised they offered me a teaching position," he recalls.
John and the only other psychology faculty member, Robert Jackson, set the roots for a department that today has grown to 25 and is currently among the top five departments on campus in enrollment. Eventually, he was instrumentally involved in establishing the school psychology graduate program.
"Probably the most exciting and rewarding experience I went through was being a part of the team that helped the department grow," he says. "The growth of the department and the student response to psychology as a major made for an exciting place to work." Growing up in northwestern Minnesota, John didn't plan on becoming a professor. In fact, he was lucky to head to St Cloud for a bachelor's degree.
"Education was valued in my family, but there was no way my parents could support all of us going to college," he explains. Yet, five of the seven children earned college degrees. La Crosse administration supported him as he earned a doctorate, as well as reaching a dream of teaching internationally. He and his family lived in Guam for two years while he was a visiting professor.
"UW-L provided me with an incredible opportunity to grow professionally. The university and community have been very good to us," John says. "We felt this is the place to let our gift work and give back to today's students. We wanted the legacy to be at UW-L and continue."
It was only natural to have the fund assist the program he worked in for more than 30 years. "There's so little financial support for the students in psychology," John explains. "We wanted to do it while we could be personally involved."
The Cleveland's philanthropy extends to the community they have called home for a half century. Ardus established the Ardus and John Cleveland Family Fund through the La Crosse Community Foundation to support various community projects. "We have received a lot and want to share it," explains Ardus.
They also give to their alma maters. "Our purpose in life is to serve and to share," says John. "We wanted to do that while we are still here to enjoy it."
Having attended the UW-L Foundation's scholarship programs in years past, it's exciting to see different funds at work. "When you see faces and talk with students receiving scholarships, it's priceless," says Ardus.