Scholarship Honoring Mother of Nobel Prize Winner Goes to Single Mom

As a non-traditional student with a six-year-old son, Jobyna McCarthy has a full life with a carefully coordinated schedule to meet her duties as a student and a parent.

“Having an education allows you to provide more for your family,” says McCarthy. “But that desire doesn’t always translate into the ability to pay for school.”

Now though, thanks to the generous spirit and dedication of alumna Donna Marie Pentz Schmidt, McCarthy’s dreams of getting a higher education are coming to fruition.

“I really appreciate being selected as the inaugural recipient of the Donna Marie Pentz Schmidt ’68 Scholarship,” said McCarthy. “It is helping me come back to school and ultimately to provide a better life for my son.”

Today, McCarthy is excelling in her undergraduate studies of exercise science, with the hopes of attending a physician assistant program afterwards. But the icing on the cake is that the scholarship has provided her with the ability to have that little bit of additional time that doesn’t pay the bills, but that makes life richer and invaluable to her son Quinn.

“Because of this scholarship, now I have more time to help my son with his homework, with school, with practice at baseball and other extracurricular activities,” McCarthy says. “That time to support my son really makes me appreciate the generosity of the Schmidt family.”

Donna Marie Pentz Schmidt was born in 1947 in Sidney, Mont. Growing up on a farm in the western end of Richland County, electricity and telephones had not yet arrived.

Heading to town meant a 25 mile trek over rugged roads, with many childhood memories of long walks after cars got stuck in the snow or mud, not to mention the dreaded creek crossing on the threemile “driveway” from the road to the family home.

This rural setting, without the luxuries of running water and other vital services, profoundly shaped Schmidt. Later on in life, she would talk about how she appreciated the privilege of paying taxes to have easy access to the simple amenities most people now expect.

At an early age she was introduced to school life as her mother was a teacher in nearby one room/all grade schools. Eventually Schmidt would graduate from the Poplar School District as class valedictorian. In addition to her academic achievement she was a skilled orator, winning numerous state level awards for her speaking ability. Outside of school, Schmidt was active in 4-H and spent summer time and many weekends on the farm engaged in work and community activities.

Schmidt entered the University of Montana in 1964, and received her undergraduate degree in history in 1968. During her studies, she met Dana Schmidt and they married in 1966, giving birth to Brian Schmidt while still attending school in 1967. Eventually Donna Schmidt would return again to the University for a Master of Arts in speech communications in 1975.

“As Donna was dying from lung cancer in 2009, one of her priorities was to establish a scholarship for University of Montana students, especially those who came from rural areas, or single parents,” Dana Schmidt says. “Getting a higher education was an important touchstone for Donna, and our family has been very blessed with our experiences at the University of Montana.”

With this wish from Donna Schmidt, the family set up an endowed fund, the Donna Marie Pentz Schmidt ’68 Scholarship, the bulk of which was funded by Donna’s life insurance policy, in addition to other family and friends contributing, for a total of more than $59,000. Dana Schmidt says it is a scholarship that reflects the humble beginnings of his late wife, and her dedication to providing opportunities to those who might not otherwise be able to attend college.

“As a young woman in rural Montana, not too many people went to school,” Schmidt says. “Typically folks would end up taking over the family agricultural business, but Donna’s parents were different in that they really valued a formal education, and they sacrificed to make sure that their children could go to college.”

It is a legacy that lives strongly today, and that has manifested itself in many ways, including her son Brian’s Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011 for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae.

“I am very much a product of the University of Montana, in that it helped form and educate my parents, who in turn passed that passion of learning on to me,” said Brian Schmidt. “Education is generational, and the benefits my parents got from their educations flowed to me. My mother wanted to provide the opportunity of education for an upcoming student with the hope of making a generational change.”

Today, because of the generosity of the Schmidt family, and their dedication to providing others with the opportunity to learn, Jobyna McCarthy dreams of a day when her son Quinn will attend college. Now though, it’s time to practice a solid fastball pitch, and to get a sturdy crack at the ball from home plate. Because you never know when the next chance to swing for the fences will happen, but for Jobyna and Quinn, they'll be ready.