William McGeachin Scholarship
Set up by Betty McKee to honor her father, the late William McGeachin (see article at right about Mr. McGeachin), this fund is for undergraduates demonstrating academic excellence and financial need. McGeachin was an engineer for the Lincoln gas company, a 1903 graduate of the University of Nebraska and a native of Orleans in Harlan County.
He demonstrated a live-long commitment to resource conservation and the beauties of nature through various state and community projects and by passing these passions on to his children.
- Typically 5 per year
Two significant contributions were as a major lobbyist for passage of the Highway Beautification Act in Nebraska, which banned billboards within 600 yards of the Interstate and made the state eligible for additional federal conservation funding; and a statewide tree-planting program for fifth-graders that was adopted by various communities.
When Betty McKee thinks about her father, what she remembers most is how he taught his children about the importance of protecting the environment. Having lived through the Dust Bowl years, William McGeachin would point out shelterbelts and other conservation practices whenever the family traveled.
"He wove environmental protection into every one of his teachings. I think that it's important to encourage such lessons," she said. "My dad was a very intelligent, caring person. He grew up in Orleans in Harlan County and lived there being in touch with nature."
In memory of her father, and to support lessons both her parents taught, as well as the kind of work she sometimes did as a state senator's aide in Illinois, McKee established the William McGeachin Memorial Scholarship Fund for the School of Natural Resource Sciences. The fund is for undergraduates majoring in natural resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln demonstrating academic excellence and financial need.
A 1903 graduate of UNL, McGeachin worked most of his professional life as an engineer for the Lincoln gas company. But conservation was his avocation and his love. Among his lasting legacies is the state Highway Beautification Act. This act established a ban on billboards within 600 yards of the U.S. Interstate Highway. In addition, if the state passed the law, a percentage of federal highway funds were to be used for beautification along the interstate. Signed into law in 1960, the bill took much persistence on her father's part during the 1950s, McKee said.
"He contacted each legislator individually every year until the bill passed. He considered the passage of this act to be one of his most significant achievements," she said. McGeachin's work for this and other beautification projects earned him the highest award given by the Garden Club of Lincoln and the Federated Garden Clubs of Nebraska: the President's Citation for Distinguished Service to Horticulture.
Another little-known legacy is a tree-planting program for fifth graders in Nebraska's elementary schools. After retiring, McGeachin began this program in 1954. Students were given trees to take home and plant. Six years later, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce adopted the program and instituted it in all Lincoln elementary schools.
"He just had a lot of ideas about conservation," she continued, "things that hadn't been pursued. He also loved hunting and fishing."
McKee, a 1941 graduate of the University of Nebraska, established the McGeachin Scholarship shortly after the creation of the SNRS in 1997. A University of Nebraska Foundation staff member visited her about a gift as the university was just setting up the school, and the scholarship seemed like the right way to contribute, she explained.
"It was like an epiphany, to set up this scholarship," she added. "I'm sure that there are still a few people who remember what my father did for the environment, but the quiet heroes are often forgotten. This is my way to help others remember Bill McGeachin."
Opportunities for Giving
Information about giving to this and other funds can be found at the NU Foundation web site.
Ellen Paige Dolph