Above all else, what DeWitt residents who knew the late Tommy Capper remember was that he was a very kind, yet very quiet and private person.
But thanks to a stroke of genius — and an overwhelming act of generosity — on his part, the 1963 Central DeWitt graduate also will be remembered for leaving behind a unique legacy.
Capper, who never married and never had any children of his own, left a sizable trust.
Now, the Tommy C. Capper Foundation is accepting applications for its scholarship program — a program that welcomes not only current Central DeWitt students to apply, but also any Central DeWitt graduates from any time period.
“What a benefit this is for Central DeWitt,” said Pat Henricksen, executive director of the LincolnWay Community Foundation. “It’s so unique to have something like this for our graduates. Tommy Capper was a thoughtful and grateful person to set up this scholarship for Central DeWitt. I don’t know of any other school districts with this type of scholarship.”
Roger Hill, senior vice president and trust officer at DeWitt Bank & Trust, said Capper was two years ahead of him in school.
He remembered a creamery on the south end of town, owned by Capper’s grandfather, Oliver, and later, his father, Leo.
Hill also recalled the old Chevy that Capper painted yellow — with flowers — and drove to high school every day.
“That was a lot of fun,” Hill shared. “He was just a really, really nice guy.”
But what most vividly sticks in Hill’s memory is the last conversation he had with his old schoolmate.
“It was after his mom, (Althea), died (in Feb. 2014),” Hill related. “He had just sold her condo, and he came (to the bank) to see me. He said, ‘You know, I want to do something for the school. It would mean a great deal to me … I’m working on something.’”
But that would be the last Hill ever heard from Capper. In Aug. 2017, Capper passed away at his home in Aurora, Illinois, at the age of 71.
Cut to January of this year, when the Tommy C. Capper Foundation was created.
Capper’s lawyer and president of the foundation, Dr. Rick Law, as well as Law’s daughter, Catherine, have been working with the LincolnWay Community Foundation to set up and promote the scholarship.
Brett McKamey, who has worked as the project manager for the LincolnWay Community Foundation since Aug. 2019, said the scholarship is “most certainly one-of-a-kind.”
It was designed for Central DeWitt graduates who:
• Took time away from school to raise a family, but are interested in going back to earn their education and re-enter the workforce
• Attended college previously, but are interested in a career change and would like to pursue another course of study
• Have received a scholarship or have another way to pay for schooling, but lack the funds to pay for books and other fees
• Current students or recent graduates who intend on taking college classes or technical or vocational schooling.
“This scholarship will help so many people,” McKamey noted. “This will help such a wide range of people. The only directive was (for) this be used for Central DeWitt students only. It is focused on people who need financial assistance to change their lives through education at later points in their lives. There is a focus on short-term programs, but also is open to four-year traditional programs. (Capper) truly wanted his money to change someone’s life.”
Catherine Law, who has been working as the director of communications on behalf of her father’s law firm with the LincolnWay Community Foundation, said she was genuinely surprised and impressed with the truly distinctive idea Capper had.
“(The scholarship) can be used to help people and to meet them where they’re at in life,” she related. “Whether they’re right out of high school, or later in life.
“We’re super excited to get this started. Due to the nature of COVID-19, people will be facing transitions in their lives. I think things will look at lot different than in past years,” she said.
For more information on the scholarship and to apply, visit CapperFoundation.org.
“We’re so proud to work with the Laws on this project,” Henricksen related. “We can’t wait to see the success this scholarship could bring to former students, their lives and their families.”