It’s the academic final stretch. Students are now both preparing for final exams and looking for ways to pay for their education. One way to help students cope are scholarship funds.

Thousands of Maine benefactors have made a big difference. Here’s a look at one of them and the fate of the fortune he left behind.

“Shot self with rifle,” was how Maine’s Chief Medical Examiner Henry Ryan described Lawrence Standish’s death. It was just after 8 a.m. on an overcast, cold Friday morning, the last day of November in 1990 when the 71-year old Standish took his own life outside the condo complex where he lived in Augusta.

It was a sensational end to what had for the most part been a quiet, solitary life. His attorney John Wlodkowski described the never-married and childless Standish as shy, reticent and lonely. His only sibling, an older sister, was no longer living. The whereabouts of his next of kin, a nephew, were according to probate papers, unknown.

Perhaps more shocking than Standish’s violent death, however, were the terms of his will: A $400,000 trust, which by 2007 had grown to nearly a $1 million, was designated to provide scholarships for University of Maine at Farmington seniors. It was at the time, one of the largest funds ever afforded to UMF students.

To be eligible, seniors chosen by UMF’s scholarship committee, must have a “keen desire to further their education by pursuing a Master’s Degree from the University of Maine at Orono, Maine and who have received full acceptance and admission to said Master’s Degree program.”

The trust fund has experienced a significant dilemma since it first became available in 1994: a shortage of qualified students seeking the award.

No awards were made last year and, two years ago less than $8,000 of the fund’s annual $56,000 revenue was turned over to a single student. Six years ago, with an annual income of more than $95,000, no awards were made.

The fund’s manager, KeyBank, has invested Standish’s money prudently, so that it has only taken a light beating in the last two recessions, and has more than doubled in value.

The problem with awarding the scholarship has been obtaining a sufficient number of qualified applicants, according to Laurie Gardner, UMF finance director. Standish limited eligibility to UMF students planning to matriculate immediately at Orono.

Seniors typically seek a “gap year” or two before going on to seek graduate degrees, she said. That time-out renders them ineligible.

The Standish fund, in spite of its inability to find beneficiaries for most of the income, has in the last 18 years provided some 15 to 20 UMF seniors almost $400,000 to have an all-expense-paid master’s degree at Orono.

Hopefully, more will awaken to the opportunity that Standish’s will so generously made possible. If they don’t, KeyBank could broaden the eligibility requirements. This they did not long after Standish’s death and could do so again if not enough eligible students apply.

Standish’s desire to reward students in Maine higher education stemmed no doubt from his early life experiences. Born and raised in Stratton, Standish described his father as a “laborer.”

Standish was president of the Stratton High dramatics club for two years and was a member of both the basketball and baseball teams. He graduated from Stratton High in 1936, and then entered the three-year program at UMF, then called Farmington State Normal School, graduating in 1939.

(A four-year program wasn’t generally available at Farmington until 1945.)

A route Farmington State graduates then often traveled — spending the next year to earn a bachelor’s degree at Orono — was closed off to Standish by the need to go out and make a living.

This Standish did by a teaching job at Cranberry Isles, population: 334, three miles off Mt. Desert Island. Service in World War II followed, but soon after, Standish returned to Orono and had earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree there by 1947.

The financial challenges of accomplishing this no doubt formed Standish’s desire to make the Farmington to Orono transition an easier one than it was for him.

Standish pursued further graduate studies at Columbia Teachers College, but because his advisers felt his thesis was overly critical of educators, he was not awarded a doctorate at the New York institution.

At some point, Standish became a contract negotiator between the Defense Department and private companies.

By the 1970s, Standish was back in Maine. In 1976, he took the lead in proving that some of Canal Bank’s passbook accounts were paying a lower rate of interest than the bank advertised. Standish’s objections gave rise to a rebate award to 1,483 customers.

In 1986, he made front-page news in Maine with his persistent “one-man battle” with the US Postal Service to stem the flow of junk mail.

In his final years, Standish was somewhat reclusive and amassed not only a substantial financial estate but also a collection of thousands of jazz phonographic recordings, which his will donated to the University of Maine at Augusta’s Learning Resources Center.

His greatest legacy, however, remains the fund that bears his name.

Students with an interest in applying for the Standish scholarship may contact Pat Carpenter, UMF gift planning director 778-7091 or [email protected]

Paul H. Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in Maine. He can be reached by email: [email protected]

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