It began with a single piece of mail.
“We got a letter asking if we would donate to a first generation scholarship,” says Alice Fjelstul of the initial contact she and her husband, Dean, had with Florida Gulf Coast University.
They sent a $500 check and were subsequently invited to the President’s Scholarship Luncheon to meet the scholarship recipient “who was a remarkable woman struggling with drug addiction in her family and was working part time to get an education and get ahead,” Alice Fjelstul recalls. “When we started to walk out after the luncheon my husband went over to reception and wrote another check for $500.
“We come from families in which education was extremely important. We marvel at these young adults who are struggling to get an education so they can have a bright future. We have three children and they are doing well so we have found uses for our money that we believe in strongly.”
Since that first scholarship luncheon, the couple has increased their giving substantially, establishing the Alice and Dean Fjelstul Education Endowment with a $1 million deferred gift commitment to provide scholarships for full-time juniors and seniors in the FGCU College of Education. Special consideration may be given to those who plan to teach the visual arts.
“We learned that education students have a hard time doing their student teaching because they don’t have enough free time to work, so it seemed like something we could do to help them,” Alice Fjelstul said. The visual art component “was encouragement to keep art in the schools.”
The Fjelstuls have taken a slightly different approach with their gift. Rather than the endowment lasting in perpetuity and paying out about $40,000 per year, their endowment will pay out $125,000 per year for teacher education scholarships. Because of the higher payout, the fund will last only about 10 years. But, Dean Fjelstul says, “this will provide a lot more support for a lot more future teachers, sooner. Our public education system, which has been a basis for American success for over 200 years, needs a lot of help. We believe that more and better teachers are critical. The FGCU College of Education has been doing a great job and it deserves our support.”
President Wilson G. Bradshaw says, “We are so grateful to the Fjelstuls for their support of both our future educators and our aspiring artists. Students in every discipline need to know that what they are doing is important and that the community supports them. The Fjelstuls’ generosity is a clear signal to them that their goals are valuable and worth pursuing.”
The couple has also established the Alice and Dean Fjelstul Visual Arts Fund, a restricted fund that will support projects, programs and activities that directly benefit students, particularly those that inspire them to broaden their visual arts knowledge, experiment in or create visual arts.
It is an area that means a great deal to Alice Fjelstul, who had a successful American stenciling business, wrote two books on stenciling and sold products to 500 stores around the county. These days, she continues to paint, sculpt and run an art book club for the Southwest Florida Pastel Society.
The Fjelstuls – who met on a blind date when she was at Wheaton College and he attended Dartmouth – have lived in Estero for 13 years after moving about the country multiple times as Dean, whose career was in finance, accepted a series of better jobs that required relocation.
They have strong convictions about education and the arts and what they see as a lack of adequate financial support for both.
““Whenever Dean meets with businesspeople and politicians in Florida, he tells them education is vital to the growth of this state,” Alice Fjelstul says. When it comes to art, “politicians look for direct results and studying art is more philosophical. But there are technical aspects as well. I know how limited the finances are for art departments and we wanted to encourage students to continue their pursuit of art.”