Superior classmates honor educator by creating scholarship in his name
Dennis White of Lac Courte Oreilles said the UWS scholarship bearing his name will benefit Native American students who favor a smaller campus.
LAC COURTE OREILLES, WIS. — Education has long been a central theme for Dennis White of Lac Courte Oreilles.
From his elementary school years at Howe School in Superior to teaching art and math at Lac Court Oreilles Ojibwe University today, White’s involvement in education inspired his classmates to launch a new scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Superior in his honor.
The Dennis White Scholarship was created to help Native American students achieve their academic goals, and the first $1,000 scholarship will be awarded for the 2023-2024 academic year.
Several of White’s peers from the Central High School class of 1965 attended an event in 2017 when White was named a UWS Distinguished Alumni, which inspired them to create a scholarship in his name, said Linda Dee, one of White's classmates. Since then, she said they’ve managed to raise $35,000, which came from small donations. Their new goal is to raise $50,000, so that two scholarships can be awarded annually.
“He’s done so much for his people,” Dee said about why the group wanted to create the scholarship.
For White, the first of 13 siblings to earn a college degree, the new scholarship at UWS is particularly meaningful.
"It's been a favorite place for a lot of people around here and close to Minnesota because it's not a gigantic place,” White said. “I've talked to a lot of students who went to a gigantic place ... and you're going to get lost there really easily. It's important that there are other Native students with them and Native people in positions.”
Furthermore, White said education is critical for Native people to reach a level of independence.
White was born in Superior after his parents left the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation during World War II. He remembers growing up in a house south of the 21st Street viaduct, between the railroad tracks that separate Billings Park and the Banks, Oakes and Butler avenues in the midtown area of the city.
"That was maybe the third place they lived in Superior,” White said. "They found a place that was kind of like living here because there was not many houses around. It was almost woods, so they could do the things they were used to doing, kind of secluded in some ways."
White remembers his father hunting in August and September, and wild ricing.
“We had lots of wild rice all the time,” White said. “Wild rice and venison … we would eat wild rice and venison all the time, but when you're young, it's like ‘wild rice again?’"
And he remembers crossing the railroad tracks to go to school.
"I did very good in school,” White said. “Math and science were my strongest, though. I got good grades in everything. Every year, they give out awards to the top students. I got two awards when I was a senior. One was language arts. One was foreign language. I studied German in high school … but I liked math and physics. I liked to write, too."
After graduating from Central in 1965, White went on to earn a degree in mathematics with a minor in physics from UWS in 1969.
"Things were changing in 1969 … the end of the Vietnam War was still a few years away then,” White said. “It was watching your draft number. I wasn't too worried because I'm blind in one eye, so I ended up with a 4-F (draft deferment). They didn't want me because I couldn't shoot the rifles, I guess."
Taking up teaching
That year, White said he got his first teaching job when he fell into an Upward Bound program for disadvantaged youth.
“I really had no intention of teaching then,” White said. "That was my first time teaching, and it was amazing.”
White said it was 1972 when he got his first real teaching job at the College of St. Scholastica teaching Native American studies — one of the first such programs in the nation.
Then in 1975, the Native American students walked out of Hayward High School demanding courses relevant to their culture. In 1976, he joined the tribal school that was started because of the walk-out.
In the early 1980s, White studied math education at UW-Madison where he earned a Master of Arts in mathematics.
After a few years working as a software engineer with AT&T Bell Laboratories, White returned to education in Lac Courte Oreilles, teaching math and art.
“I still like teaching,” White said. “I had my first class at the college yesterday … I have a lot of fun. It’s a really good time. I enjoy teaching."
How to donate
The Central High School class of 1965 is still working to raise money for the Dennis White Scholarship.
Based on the UWS Foundation spending policy, an endowment fund of $25,000 is needed to award a $1,000 scholarship, said Jeanne Thompson, UWS vice chancellor.
Dee said their goal is to be able to award two Dennis White Scholarships.
Donations to the foundation can be made by sending a check payable to the UW-Superior Foundation, PO Box 2000, Superior, WI 54880 or online at uwsuper.edu/give .
To make a donation to the Dennis White Scholarship, Dee said to write the name of the scholarship in the memo line of the check.