One long-running scholarship program won’t help local high school seniors with their college educations this year.
The Thomas McGirl Memorial Education Fund, which has depended on interest from investments over the years, didn’t generate enough income, said Bill Murphy, secretary of the board overseeing the fund.
The board plans to discuss changing some of those investments, Murphy said.
The McGirl has been one of hundreds of scholarships available to Billings-area students each year.
Few can beat the McGirl’s history, which stretches to the earliest pioneers in the Yellowstone Valley.
McGirl, born in 1845 in Ireland, fought in the U.S. Civil War before coming to Montana to work in the Butte mines in 1876.
In 1877, 11 months after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he arrived in the Yellowstone Valley and started a cattle ranch near what is now Huntley.
With his business partner, Omar Hoskins, McGirl built a log structure that became a trading post and stage station, the only one at the time between Fort Keogh, now Miles City, and Bozeman. Hoskin’s wife cooked at the station.
“Until the railroad came in 1882, their establishment was the hub for frontier life along the Yellowstone,” according to an article in the June 30, 1927, Billings Gazette.
McGirl also operated a ferry across the Yellowstone River.
McGirl’s hardscrabble life left little time for much schooling. When he became successful, McGirl, who never married or had children, was a generous benefactor of projects that helped children and promoted education, including serving on the school board and donating money to build the first YMCA in Billings.
“He fought for kids because he had little education himself,” said Jim Reich, a Billings resident who has researched McGirl’s life.
McGirl was an early, but not founding, member of the Ashlar Masonic Lodge in Billings, which was started in 1884.
When he died in 1930, McGirl left $10,000 that was to be used for loans for students graduating from local public high schools and attending Montana colleges and universities.
McGirl stipulated that the principal of the fund never be touched, Murphy said.
The fund has been administered by the Ashlar Masonic Lodge and the York Rite, of which McGirl also was a member.
Loans were given out for several years until, for an unknown reason, they stopped. The fund lay fallow for several years, continuing to grow.
When the fund was reactivated, it was decided to make the payouts scholarships — Thomas McGirl Masonic Memorial Scholarships — instead of loans.
The scholarships are given on the basis of need, academics and community involvement. No link to a member of a Masonic organization is required.
As many as four scholarships a year were given out, three to students from public Billings high schools and one from an outlying area.
Until this year, the scholarships had been given out the 12 years Murphy has been involved with the fund.
Last year, the fund’s investments didn’t produce enough income to give a scholarship, but the Masons raised enough money to give four, $650 scholarships.
This year, again the fund is down, but more money couldn’t be raised, so no scholarships will be paid out.
Last year spring, Logan Grimstad of Billings Senior High received one of the McGirl scholarships to attend Montana State University in Bozeman to study mechanical engineering.
Grimstad will return to Bozeman for his sophomore year this fall.
Even though tuition, fees and living expenses run more than $15,000 a year at MSU, a scholarship of a few hundred dollars is important, Grimstad said.
He used the McGirl money last year to pay some of his required academic fees.
Also receiving scholarships last spring were Skyview High graduates Ryan Frank and Katy F. Warner. Gregory Arno of Rapelje was the fourth scholarship recipient.