Parma’s $3.7 million gold ticket to college

PARMA — Parma teacher Irma Gallegos-Cuevas is reviewing vocabulary words with her third-grade students. The first word on the list: contribution.

It’s a word Cuevas and her family know well. 

Her parents are migrant workers from Mexico, who settled in Parma without realizing the educational benefits the move would bring to their nine children.

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Irma Gallegos-Cuevas

Seven Gallegos kids were awarded college scholarships because of a small-town foundation that supports high achieving kids who graduate from Parma High.

“My family wonders what would of happened if we would of lived in another town,” Cuevas said. “Life could’ve turned out a lot different.”

The Gallegos clan has taken full advantage of the Bruce Mitchell Scholarship. The Gallegos’ could not have afforded to send even one child to college.

“My parents could only give me moral support,” Cuevas said.

Cuevas learned about the scholarship in the eighth grade as she watched her older siblings use the unique benefit and go off to college. She pushed to own a 3.0 grade-point average, a requirement to apply for the scholarship, so she could fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.

She was given $12,000 in Bruce Mitchell Scholarship funds, graduated from the College of Idaho in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and vowed to pay it forward by returning to Parma to teach. She’s in her first year at Maxine Johnson Elementary.

“Parma gave me so much,” Cuevas said.

Who is Bruce Mitchell?

Bruce Mitchell was born on Feb. 17, 1916 and raised on a farm north of Parma on Highway 95.

He graduated from Parma High School in 1934 and wanted to pursue a college education. His grandparents and parents were farmers during the Great Depression and couldn’t afford to send Mitchell to college. An unknown person loaned Mitchell money to attend the University of Idaho, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1939.

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Bruce Mitchell

Mitchell worked for Idaho Power Company as an electrical engineer. He lived in Boise during the week, but returned to Parma for the weekends. Upon his retirement in 1980, he became a full-time Parma resident.

Mitchell was an only child, never married and lived a frugal lifestyle.

“He wasn’t a social person or someone who took a lot of leadership within in the community,” said Edward Johnson, a Bruce Mitchell Foundation trustee.

One of his hobbies was investing his money, which led to building a small fortune.

In 1990, he funded a four-year scholarship for one student of Parma High’s senior class to go onto college. Mitchell selected Zach Lester, who attended the University of Idaho and earned an architecture degree.

“Bruce would refer to Zach as his boy at the university,” said Parma resident Darlene Hotchkiss.

Mitchell wanted to send more Parma kids to college so he met with Boise accountant Bob Reynolds in 1991 and donated all of his money to create a foundation that would provide scholarships to Parma graduates.

“He wanted to do something good for the community,” Reynolds said.

Mitchell died on Jan. 18, 1994, at the age of 77.

The Bruce Mitchell Foundation

Mitchell’s foundation has support 620 Parma High graduates with $3.7 million in college tuition since its inception in 1991.

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Board trustees Pat Gotsch and Edward Johnson.

“Because someone helped Bruce get his college diploma, he wanted to give back to students,” said Pat Gotsch, the foundation’s chairwoman.

The foundation is governed by a five-member, volunteer board of trustees. Trustee can come from anywhere, but the preference is for Parma residents. A trustee can’t have a child who is eligible for a scholarship. Sitting trustees fill board vacancies after an application process.

“It’s a wonderful position to be in — giving away money, scholarships and making a difference,” Gotsch said.

There is only one paid employee, a secretary, and the board must pay out a minimum of 5 percent annually of the value of it’s investment portfolio.

“We have endeavored to make the scholarship perpetual,” Johnson said. “We are building on principal during the good times and not losing too much during the down markets.”

Technology grants are given to the Parma School District when the board has additional money to spend. More than $750,000 has been given since 1994 for computers.

“Every community has a Bruce Mitchell,” Gotsch said. “You need to reach out to individuals in your community and let them know how they can make a huge difference in a students life.”

The Bruce Mitchell Scholarship

The foundation currently supports 125 college students, including 40 freshmen, at a cost of $340,000.

All scholarships are renewable for eight semesters based on meeting certain criteria. The scholarship is awarded to students ages 16–30, with preference given to Parma High School graduates. Any student who lives in Canyon County can apply.

“As a board we tend to look at each student on a case-by-case scenario,” Gotsch said.

Parma’s college go-on rate is regularly higher than the state’s average of 46 percent. Parma’s 2015 go-on rate was 49 percent and the 2014 rate was 59 percent.

Eligibility requirements for graduating high school seniors to apply
  • Have a 3.0-grade-point average
  • Be enrolled as a full-time student in curriculum essential or important to earning a bachelor’s degree or better
  • High school seniors have to write an essay about their education goals, pass an interview with the foundation’s board members and submit results of college entrance exams
Eligibility requirements for college students to apply
  • Have a 3.0-grade-point average
  • Submit a current transcript as a full-time student from an accredited university of college

Foundation board members announce the scholarship winners at a school-wide assembly in May.