Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Scholarship honors Dowagiac teacher

01/16/2020 - 9am
Gertrude Jurgensen, Class of 1939

A $3,020 gift to Southwestern Michigan College created the Gertrude Jurgensen Education Scholarship in memory of a 27-year Dowagiac teacher who died last August at 98.

The scholarship is earmarked for students with financial needs who are majoring in education.

“We appreciate this generous donation by the family to honor her memory and, at the same time, help address the Michigan teacher shortage,” SMC President Dr. Joe Odenwald said. “This is a great example of paying forward to the next generation of educators. SMC has a record of producing educators since our very first student, Dr. Bruce Watson.”

Mrs. Jurgensen, born Gertrude Loehr in Dowagiac on Aug. 4, 1921, graduated in 1939 from Central High School, where she later taught while it was a junior high. She taught in the Dowagiac Union Schools District from 1956 until retiring in 1983, including Justus Gage, Patrick Hamilton and Lincoln elementary schools and reading at Union High School.

Mrs. Jurgensen majored in English and physical education at what is now Western Michigan University, playing tennis. She was an avid golfer, coached volleyball, played bridge and collected coins and stamps. She completed all but her dissertation for a doctoral degree because becoming an administrator didn’t interest her.

Her first teaching assignment was in Wyoming Park. On Dec. 28, 1942, at her home on Orchard Street, she married Gale Jurgensen before he left for U.S. Army officer training.

With World War II in full swing, she returned to her hometown and worked as a telegrapher for the Michigan Central Railroad, assisting with checking people in or out and making sure cargo was correct. She worked alongside her father and attended the old Federated Church, which her dad helped rebuild following a fire.

In 1946, she rode the train to California, then boarded a “banana boat” (cargo ship) for Hawaii to visit Gale, stationed in Honolulu. They returned to Dowagiac when Gale was released from the Army and lived in an apartment over the pool hall in downtown Dowagiac until buying a home on Oak Street.

Daughter Krin, a United Airlines flight attendant from 1969-2005, often traveled with her mother. Mrs. Jurgensen rode a camel in Egypt, went on an African safari — sleeping in a tent by the lions’ watering hole — experienced a sauna in Finland, tangoed in Argentina, ate kimchi in Korea and was game for any adventure that presented itself.

“She lived until she died,” said Krin Jurgensen, who joined the SMC Foundation board in 2016. Krin’s father taught business at SMC. The Jurgensen’s son, Charles, lives in Sturgis.

SMC’s foundation accepts contributions to existing scholarships in addition to establishing new scholarships. Direct donations to: SMC Foundation, Director of Development, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, MI 49047. Contact Nate Swords at (269) 782-1301 or nswords@swmich.edu for more information.