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  • Writer's pictureGig Harbor Living Local

Encouraging Continued Education

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

Local nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships for Gig Harbor women

By Jillian Chandler | Photo by In-Gear Media

The Minerva Scholarship Fund is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Founded in 1991, the nonprofit has been providing scholarships for women whose formal education has been interrupted for at least one year and who reside or work within the Peninsula School District Boundaries #401.

The nonprofit was established by three women—Colonel Sybil Mercer, Army nurse; Colonel Florence Casey, Ph.D. economist with the federal government; and Ruth Taylor, a local school librarian—who were all members of the Gig Harbor branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). They knew the value of education and believed deeply in providing support to women in our own community, which inspired the group to create the fund—first from their own money (each donating $5,000), with friends at AAUW-Gig Harbor sharing the vision of the importance of higher education for women and matching their contributions by raising an additional $15,000. Just two years after the Minerva Scholarship fund was established, these women were able to offer the first Minerva scholarship in 1993.

“Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula residents, and many others, have contributed generously to the Minerva Scholarship Fund for over 20 years,” says Patty Nelson, president of the Minerva Scholarship Fund. “Together they created a fund that has grown large enough to allow scholarships to be awarded from earnings, while leaving the capital in the fund undisturbed.”

Donations to the Minerva Scholarship provide support to women within our community; many who would not be able to pursue their educational dreams without Minerva’s support. “A Minerva Scholarship not only improves the lives of the women and their own families, it benefits our local community as women complete their education and work among us as professionals,” shares Julie Offner, board member.

Each spring, the nonprofit awards scholarships to deserving women living and working within the boundaries of the Peninsula School District. “In the last two years, we awarded more than $100,000 in total,” shares Julie Buffington, vice president. “What could be more rewarding and gratifying to know that we, Minerva, are making such a difference in our own community and in the lives of the women who receive the scholarship?”

Once the qualified candidates are notified, the board holds a reception to present them with a certificate from Minerva. The stories of these women are filled with excitement and gratitude as they embark on their quest to enhance education and their employment opportunities.

Past recipients of academic support have pursued certificates and degrees in diverse areas such as environmental science, criminal justice, gerontology, truck driving, social work and screenwriting. “Many women concentrate on advanced degrees in the medical field, from radiology to physical therapy, with previous Minerva Scholarship award recipients working as nurses, teachers, administrators, musicians and paralegals.

The success of the organization’s mission is due to Minerva scholars, founders, donors, Board of Directors and the greater Gig Harbor community. The Board is currently seeking local residents, with a strong background in education or human services, who are interested in serving on the board. “Serving on the board or donating to Minerva is an opportunity to do something meaningful and uplifting, with long-term consequences,” Elizabeth Robinson, marketing/communication chair for Minerva, attests. If you are interested in being considered for a board of directors position, please email

“The women on the Minerva Board of Directors have a sense of ‘belonging’ in the community. We have worked in the education system, been a part of Rotary, the Gig Harbor AAUW, the Yacht Club; engaged in civic and political life of the area,” states Elizabeth. “Even board members who live outside of Gig Harbor have a long history with the Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor. We enjoy making a difference right here at home.”

In celebration of their 30th anniversary, Minerva Scholarship Fund has been offered a challenge donation of $5,000, with a goal to match or exceed this generous gift by the end of 2021. For those who would like to donate, a donation form can be found at, and contributions can be mailed to: Minerva Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 2705, Gig Harbor, WA 98335.

Minerva Scholarship Fund's next application period will begin January 1, 2022. Visit their website,, for more information.

Minerva Scholarship Fund

P.O. Box 2705

Gig Harbor, Washington 98335

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