A gift from the heart

The late Norris and Irene Johnson are shown near the South Pier in South Haven in this undated photo. The Johnson’s adopted daughter, Patsy, and her husband David Eilers, have set up a scholarship program in honor of her parents. Johnson Scholarships will be awarded to foster students attending Ferris State University.

BIG RAPIDS — Former South Haven resident Patsy Eisler has never forgotten the love and care she received from her parents, the late Norris and Irene Johnson who adopted her when she was 8 months old.

To show her gratitude toward them, Eisler and her husband, Ferris President David Eisler, have established a $350,000 scholarship endowment in the Johnson’s honor to provide funding for orphans and foster care youth to obtain an education from Ferris State University.

The Ferris Foundation, through its Ferris Futures Scholarship Challenge, will match the Eisler’s gift, to create $700,000 in scholarship support for the university’s growing former foster care youth population.

“Because Patsy was adopted, she holds foster care youth near and dear to her heart,” David Eisler said. “When discussing our gift, scholarship support for Ferris’ foster care youth was an especially meaningful way to honor Patsy’s parents. ... Patsy and I are deeply passionate about doing everything we can to give these students the hope and support to succeed and to make them feel welcome at Ferris, which, for most, is their only home.”

The Eisler’s gift will establish the Norris and Irene Johnson Scholarship Endowment providing financial assistance toward the cost of attendance to full-time, former foster care youth who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees. These students will be known as the Johnson Scholars, and will utilize a host of academic, professional and life skills support services available through the University’s Ferris Youth Initiative program, administered by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion.

Johnson Scholarship awards will be up to $5,000 per year toward the cost of attendance at Ferris.

“My parents would be very pleased that we are supporting young people who have a similar background to mine,” Patsy Eisler said. “My father and mother were incredible role models.”

The late Norris and Irene Johnson were married for 57 years and owned the former J.W. Johnson and Son Clothing Store in South Haven before retiring in 1974. Norris Johnson was the founding commodore of the South Haven Yacht Club, president of the South Haven Country Club and a former South Haven City Council member. Irene was an on-air radio fashion consultant for Johnson’s,

“It was at my father’s urging that I attend the University of Michigan, his alma mater, where I met Dave,” Patsy said.

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, only half of youth raised in foster care end up finishing high school and less than 3 percent graduate from a four-year college.

“A gift such as this will be of tremendous benefit to the students in the Ferris Youth Initiative. It will provide them with the opportunity to see college as something that is ‘within their reach,’” said Janette Ward, independent living coordinator and campus coach for the Ferris Youth Initiative. “Many students who have experienced foster care have limited or no financial resources which can create the potential for a large amount of student debt, from having to take out loans to pay for college.”