Profiles

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Gone But Not Forgotten

Memorial scholarships are a lasting legacy for Point service members

Jeanne Nagle | Profiles | November 2023

Thomas Meier and Alexander Reeder were born more than half a century apart, yet they remain inextricably linked through both circumstance and their identity as Pointers. Each had strong military ties—one a veteran, the other a promising ROTC cadet. Another, more somber similarity is that each had his life cut short by a traffic accident while in his senior year at UWSP.

These two young men also leave analogous and enduring legacies at Point, through scholarships created in their names and supported by family, friends and fellow service members.

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By all accounts, Tom Meiers was well-known and -liked at Wisconsin State University. An economics major minoring in geography, he was active in campus life as a member of the Economics and Business Association and Phi Cappa Theta. Tom had served in the United States Armed Forces before coming to Point. As a veteran, he enjoyed the comradery to be had as part of the Vets 550s, a social organization designed to help former active-duty service members adjust to civilian life--specifically as students on a college campus. At the time of his death in December 1964, Tom was president of the organization.

Tom’s social status and outgoing activity were not confined to campus. His father, Richard, told a reporter with The Pointer that Tom thought of Stevens Point as a second home. He recounted what would happen when his son took a study break and traveled into the heart of downtown.

“Invariably he would meet some friendly person and spend a relaxing hour or two just talking with him,” the elder Meiers was quoted as saying. “Often local people called Tom and invited him to come to dinner. He never ceased to marvel at the warmth and open friendliness and hospitality people here showed him. Tom got a lot out of this community.”

News of the young man’s loss reverberated across campus. “When death comes, it is a time for mourning,” noted then-student council president Judy Christiansen in The Pointer about a week after Meiers’ passing, “but is also a time when we must weigh our losses against what the person gave us when he was alive.

“We should all pay our tributes as we see fit.”

Members of the Vets 550s decided that a fitting tribute to their fallen leader would be the establishment of a scholarship in his honor. Working with his family, the group spearheaded a fundraising effort that created the Thomas E. Meiers Memorial Scholarship at UWSP.

Given annually in December, the scholarship is granted on the basis of scholastic achievement and personal qualifications. Originally earmarked as a $100 award granted to a single student-veteran, the scholarship has grown incrementally through the years with regard to amount bestowed and number of recipients. As of December 2022, two student-vets were each awarded $1,300 under the terms of the scholarship.

Changes are afoot to make the Thomas E. Meiers Memorial Scholarship available to even more veterans at UWSP. Last spring, the university announced that Tom Meiers’ sister, Rita Canning, and her husband, John, had pledged $100,000 toward the sustained endowment of the scholarship. This fall, the Cannings increased that commitment to a total of $500,000 toward the scholarship, increasing the number of students it will impact going forward tenfold for ten years.


John and Rita Canning

“We wanted the Thomas E. Meiers Memorial Scholarship to go on forever, in perpetuity,” Rita Canning said.

“Veterans have already given so much,” John Canning added. “Why not make their getting an education a little easier?”

Helping those connected to the Armed Services obtain a college degree is also the driving force behind the Alexander H. Reeder Memorial Scholarship. The award is named for Alex Reeder, a psychology major and ROTC cadet at UWSP who died in 2014 as the result of a motorcycle accident. The collision with an SUV, which also claimed the life of passenger and fellow Pointer Katherine Axlen, occurred one month before Alex was set to graduate.

Group leaders remarked that Alex was well-suited to the officers’ training he was receiving through the ROTC program. He was on track to join the Army and begin a career in military intelligence after leaving UWSP.

In addition to being a natural leader and an honor roll student, Alex was an athlete and nature lover. Hiking, fishing and hunting were high on his free-time agenda. He also enjoyed physical challenges such as “Tough Mudder” events, wherein participants race through miles-long courses filled with obstacles designed to test physical and mental endurance.

As was the case with Tom Meiers, members of the UWSP community rallied around efforts to honor Alex through a memorial scholarship, given annually to a Pointer cadet “who exemplifies the same commitment to excellence displayed by Alex.” To make the scholarship a reality, the university’s ROTC program joined forces with the UWSP Ranger Challenge Club, of which Alex was a member, to host the inaugural Reeder’s Ruck March the following April.

A cross between the Tough Mudder events he loved and the rigors of military training, the event would have been right up Alex’s alley. Participants paid to complete an eight-mile challenge course along the Green Circle Trail while toting a 35-pound soldier’s ruck sack on their backs. More than 100 people--including ROTC cadets and Reeder’s family members--turned out for the inaugural march. In subsequent iterations, the event morphed to include a 5K fun run/walk as well, so that more people might be encouraged to participate. The challenge of finishing the 8-mile course wearing a loaded ruck sack and soldier’s helmet, or even a filled backpack, remained for any and all hearty souls who were up to the challenge.

The Alex Reeder Memorial Scholarship reached its endowment goal by the time the fifth Ruck March rolled around in 2019. The ceremonial final dollar toward that goal was presented to Alex’s mother, Stacy, prior to the start of the annual event.

Alex is remembered by those who knew him as a smart, fun, engaging individual. “He was a strong scholar, athlete, leader across the board,” said former UWSP professor of military science Lt. Col. Gary Thompson. “More than that, he was a friend who was constantly looking for ways to help everyone else.”

Through the scholarship that bears his name, Alex is still able to put his fellow students and cadets first by contributing to their education.

If you would like to establish or contribute to a scholarship at the university, contact the UWSP Foundation Advancement Team at foundation@uwsp.edu or (800) 858-5267.

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