Ralph Jacobsen

Ralph Jacobsen discusses his club's decision to withhold a $500 scholarship this school year.

ED LEGGE/Dells Events

A local service organization’s annual scholarship won’t be available to a Wisconsin Dells student this school year because the scholarship’s citizenship requirement conflicts with the district’s guidelines.

The school district said it would not publish the Mason Lake chapter of Lions Clubs International’s $500 scholarship in its booklet listing awards available to students. Following the decision, the club withdrew its award entirely.

Wisconsin Dells School District Superintendent Terry Slack said the award would be left out of listings published by the district because the application for the local group’s scholarship requires candidates to be United States citizens. He said federal anti-discriminatory laws prevented the district from publishing information about the scholarship, but the school had offered to allow its presentation during an annual scholarship awards ceremony.

“It doesn’t mean they can’t offer the scholarship, but we were not comfortable putting it in our local scholarship booklet based on some things we reviewed,” Slack said. “We don’t exclude scholarship opportunities.”

The club declined to offer the award without its publication and school-wide application process.

Lions member Ralph Jacobsen of Dell Prairie said the club added the U.S. citizenship requirement to the scholarship application materials five years ago, though the scholarship has been awarded for more than 20 years. He said the requirement had not been an issue in the past and pointed out that other organizations limit which students can apply for awards.

“There are certain scholarships only available to customers of the electric co-op sponsoring the scholarship, there are certain scholarships available only to students interested in going into nursing,” he said.

He said the requirement is intended to boost pride in U.S. citizenship and was not created to exclude students.

“The Lions Club has chapters all over the world and we do good things for people all over the world,” Jacobsen said. “So it’s not like we’re trying to single out any race or any color or anything. We could care less where they come from – all we ask is that they be a U.S. citizen, that’s all we ask.”

Lions Clubs International spokesman Dane LaJoye said the organization does not regulate the scholarship requirements for local chapters.

“We do require that any of our clubs follow local jurisdictions and state and federal laws,” Lions Clubs International spokesman Dane LaJoye said. “But I guess it would be up to the club if they don’t want to change the policy and forego the wording of scholarship.”

Slack expressed disappointment over the club’s decision to withdraw its scholarship from the school program, but indicated a local benefactor already had offered to replace the $500 scholarship.

“We are and have been appreciative of how (the Lions) have helped the youth of this community,” Slack said.

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