Agatha's golden rule: a life of giving

Monday, May 9, 2011

In a teaching career that spanned four decades, Agatha Fleming never earned more than $16,000 a year. Yet throughout her lifetime she managed to give more than $190,000 to fund three St. Cloud State University scholarships that to date have supported the educations of 77 future teachers.

Agatha, who died at the age of 97 last October, established her "Golden Rule" scholarships with the St. Cloud State University Foundation in 1993. She shied away from recognition for her extraordinary generosity to her alma mater and its students but thoroughly enjoyed receiving the many thank-you notes from grateful scholarship recipients.

She was a modest woman who was compelled to help other students achieve their dreams, just as her mother had helped support her in her quest to become an educator. Her mother had become widowed when her father was killed in a farm accident. Elevenmonth- old Agatha and her mother then moved into the Marietta home of her grandfather to help care for him.

"Someone was there to help me at the time I needed it," Agatha said. It was 1930 — the height of the Great Depression — when 16-year-old Agatha enrolled in St. Cloud State Teachers College, and entered a new three-year music major program. Her mother agreed to pay for the program if she would "make good," said Agatha who spent most of her career in Duluth, where she became well known as a teacher who inspired her students and changed lives through her generous contributions to help people in need.

Agatha's three endowed Golden Rule Scholarships, which to date have provided $75,700 in scholarship awards, are:

  • In Music Education, which goes to support a student studying to be a music teacher.
  • In Child and Family Studies, which goes to support a student studying to be an early childhood school teacher.
  • In Elementary Education, which is the first fund that Agatha established and goes to support a student studying to be an elementary teacher.

In a 2010 videotaped memorial tribute, admirers said she remains a legend with her students because she "had that way of making each kid feel like they were her special student." While she was a simple woman who always was happy with what she had, she was not frugal in her giving. "She really had the best interest of other people first."

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View "A Legacy of Giving: Agatha Fleming's story

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