Cortez Journal

'Uncle Bill' leaves $200,000 to help fund local kids' education

February 2, 2002


By Gail Binkly
Journal Managing Editor

Willis Rees and his wife, Mabel ó who were better known as "Uncle Bill" and "Auntie Peg" ó were frugal people. Although they owned a successful health-food store in Englewood for a number of years and were well-off, they never stopped saving, according to their nephew, Doyle Marsell of Cortez.

"Auntie Peg had the first dime she ever made," he said. "They never spent anything on anything. They would go to yard sales and buy clothes. And he was one of those people that never threw anything away.

"Thatís what happens when you grow up during the Depression, I guess."

The coupleís thriftiness has paid off for the youth of the Four Corners.

Peg died in 1992, and Bill moved back to Cortez, his place of birth. When he died last Dec. 19 at the age of 92, he left the bulk of his estate ó more than $200,000 ó to start a scholarship fund for local students, according to his former bookkeeper, Gina Bowers.

The non-profit foundation that was created to administer the fund is now taking applications for those scholarships.

It is also seeking other persons interested in leaving significant bequests in their will for the scholarship fund.

"We will award three or four scholarships this year," said attorney Erin Johnson, who handled Reesí will and is chair of the seven-person board of directors of Onward! A Legacy Foundation. The scholarships will be distributed to graduating seniors chosen from Montezuma-Cortez, Mancos or Dolores high schools, she said.

"Theyíre for anyone who is going on to any kind of post-high-school education. It could be a trade school, college, even hairdressing. The real foundation is that itís goal-oriented. If you show us you have a goal and can succeed, we may help you. Itís not necessarily need-based."

The board hopes some day to expand the scholarships to more of the Four Corners area and to non-traditional students, Johnson said.

Bill Rees himself attended college only briefly, according to Marsell. He was born Jan. 16, 1909, at Mylerís Corner (the junction of Road P and Highway 145, named for a store that no longer exists).

He graduated from Cortez High School in 1929 and married Mabel Moser, then a Cortez schoolteacher, in 1935. They soon left the area for the Front Range, but Bill never forgot his roots.

His bequest was inspired by his and Pegís love of children, Marsell said.

"He wanted to do it (leave a scholarship fund) pretty much all his life," he said. "He wanted to set it up for both him and her. They loved kids, but they werenít able to have any children of their own. He wanted to do something for the kids in the Four Corners area so they could go to college."

Johnson said applications are being sent out now to local high schools, and the board plans to make the final awards before graduation this spring. The amounts of the scholarships will be based on each studentís needs.

"We will consider the cost of the school, other scholarships they might be getting, such as tuition scholarships, and so on," she said.

"We might give them something for books or living expenses, or buy them a computer. Itís really pretty flexible. Weíre trying to fill in the gaps of what they need."

Students should ask their teachers or counselors for application forms, or contact Johnson at 565-2628. Anyone interested in leaving a gift to the foundation in his or her will should also contact Johnson.

Copyright © 2002 the Cortez Journal. All rights reserved.
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