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Funding the Future
Methow Valley Education Foundation

Liberty Bell High School graduate Vince Miller, class of `86, first met Pi Dombernowsky, a native of Denmark, while skiing in Switzerland. They roamed the world, eventually landing in Fiji, where they managed a cattle ranch for four years. In 1996, they decided to settle in the Methow Valley.

They both worked as carpenters, though Miller says he had always been interested in medicine. But carpentry paid well, so he stuck with it. Then, at age 37, he lost his carpentry job. He decided it was time to act on his long-held interest in medicine and become a nurse. So did his wife, Pi.

photoVince Miller and Pi Dombernowsky with son Emmet.

However, the couple faced a financial hurdle: going from two salaries to one while trying to find money for school. Then they heard about the Methow Valley Education Foundation and applied for financial help.

The upshot was that they each received grants of $1,500 a year for two years of their nursing studies. “It was a huge help with tuition and gas and books,’ says Dombernowsky. “It makes it possible that you can do that and live here,” she says of the foundation’s grants. “They were easy to deal with and made it a very pleasant experience.”

“Pi put me through school first. Then I put her through school. It took six years,” says Miller, who has been nursing since 2007; Dombernowsky has been a nurse for 18 months. They got their nursing degrees at Wenatchee Valley College’s campus in Omak.

The two Rendezvous residents now are employed as registered nurses, he on the night emergency room shift at Brewster’s Three Rivers Hospital and she on the acute care day shift at Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak. This schedule helps with child care for Emmet, age 15 months, with grandparents Theresa and Lee Miller as helpful backups, adds Dombernowsky.

“It’s Vince’s fault,” smiles Dombernowsky when discussing her decision to join him in the nursing profession. “I never thought I’d be a nurse.” But now, she says, she’s discovered that it’s highly satisfying work.

“There’s not a lot of options for a way to make a living here,” Miller observes, but their nursing degrees have made it possible for them to remain in the valley. “This has always been home and it felt good to get back.”

“I enjoy when I can take care of people I know in the community. It’s kind of a perk of the job. In the city, I don’t think you get that,” he adds. Prospective nursing students are first required to  spend time working with the elderly in nursing homes, Miller explains, so they can see if nursing is what they want to do. “I really enjoyed my time there with the old folks. That kind of clinched the deal,” he says.

quote from storyMiller and Dombernowsky are among 294 students who have shared $782,113 worth of education grants since the foundation’s inception, according to board president Terry Karro, who started it in 1984 with her late husband, Bob Maves.

“I went to law school with the significant help of a grant from the local Wagner Foundation,” says Karro, a retired Winthrop attorney. She and Maves wanted to give some help back to the community, she explains, “and we were concerned that so many kids got an award for their first year of college, but then what?” We wanted a way to give more significant help and to have it follow the student for up to four years of school.”

At the end of 2012 the organization was just $62 short of having raised $1 million from “many hundreds” of donors during its existence. Monies not distributed to students is invested in an endowment fund, said Karro.

“All monies go to grants or endowment and all expenses are covered by the board members,” she adds. Current board members include Beau Adams, Craig Boesel, Tucker Barksdale, Harold Heath, Ann Henry, Susan Peterson, James Pigott, and Robert Ulrich.

The foundation began modestly with just four scholarships worth $500 for four years of school, says Karro. Today students - who can be older and returning to school or freshly minted Liberty Bell High School graduates - receive $1,500 for two to four years, depending on the student’s program of study. They must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average to remain qualified for funding. This year the foundation is supporting 32 local four and two-year college and vocational school students in their studies.

The foundation is accepting applications until April 6 from Methow Valley residents for the current round of funding. Information is available at or P.O. Box 3056, Winthrop, Wash., 98862.


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