On a hot summer day in the early 1940s in a small Iowa town, a bored teenager visited the local library. There, the teen found several books by Victor Hugo stacked inconspicuously on a lower shelf. Those books kindled a 60-year love affair with all things French and indirectly provided the impetus for a $100,000 gift to UNF.
That Iowa teenager was Harriet LeMaster, who recently established the Harriet LeMaster French Scholarship Endowment, the first French language endowment in the University's history. The scholarship, which includes study abroad funding, is for students with a declared interest in French studies, students majoring in French studies or pursuing any other French degree.
"We could not be more pleased with Harriet's incredibly generous gift," said Dr. Jorge Febles, chair of the Department of World Languages. "It comes at such a perfect time, just when we have won approval of the new B.A. in the French Studies program."
LeMaster, 82, recalls that summer day in Atlantic, Iowa, and how, after reading Hugo's novels, she developed a lifelong appreciation for the French culture, an appreciation that ultimately led her to audit French classes at UNF over a period of 15 years.
"Grammar, literature, history, art - whatever came along I was there," LeMaster said. "It was so much fun. I mostly had Dr. [Shira] Schwam-Baird. She is very good, very knowledgeable. She knows her stuff."
Schwam-Baird remembers LeMaster as a good student who always did her homework and took part in class discussions and activities. "With this gift, Harriet is showing us that she believes in this program, that she wants it to grow and enrich the lives of more students," she said. "I am enormously grateful to her."
Prior to making the gift for the scholarships, LeMaster funded study abroad trips to Strasbourg, France, for UNF students in Schwam-Baird's classes.
"I can't speak highly enough of those two ladies," LeMaster said, referring to Schwam-Baird and Ann Crook, assistant vice president for development in the Office of Institutional Advancement. LeMaster worked with Schwam-Baird and Crook on the study abroad trips. "They were very kind and kept me posted about the kids and how they were doing. That personal touch encouraged me to give the larger sum."
LeMaster calls the University "just a favorite place of mine." Not unlike those long-ago summer days in Iowa, one campus building is perhaps her most favorite place. "My idea of heaven is to have a permanent UNF Library card."