Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a Russell native, funds FHSU scholarship to honor his sisters

Bob Dole, an American political icon and native of northwest Kansas, has created a scholarship at Fort Hays State University to honor his two sisters.

Dole, who was born in Russell, was severely injured while engaged in combat in Italy during World War II, receiving two Purple Hearts for his injuries, and the Bronze Star with combat "V" for valor for his attempt to assist a downed radio man. He had a long and distinguished career in public service, serving as a member of the Kansas House, as county attorney of Russell County, as a U.S. representative and as a U.S. senator, as both minority leader and majority leader. In 1976, he ran unsuccessfully for vice president on a ticket headed by President Gerald Ford, and he was the GOP candidate for president in 1996, losing to Democrat Bill Clinton.

Most recently, Dole has created a fund with the FHSU Foundation named the Norma Jean Dole Steele and Gloria Dole Nelson Scholarship in memory of his sisters, both of whom passed away in 2012.

Steele and Nelson felt rich in every way, growing up with simple but important family values of honesty, hard work and faith, according to information provided by the FHSU Foundation. Russell was the setting for their hard-working family upbringing. Steele once talked about the simple family life that included a great appreciation for all that the family had. Earning a quarter after spending a full evening of feeding, bathing and doing dishes for the kids next door was greatly appreciated. The quarter was saved, and later spent, on something very special. The family did what was right, did it well and never questioned doing the work required to make ends meet.

"Both Gloria and Norma Jean had children, and they encouraged them to seek the best education possible," Dole said of his decision to create the scholarship in their name.

FHSU is the fastest-growing university in the Kansas Board of Regents system, with great significance for the region, the state of Kansas and the nation. The Dole family has made a significant impact in Russell, in Kansas, the nation and worldwide. The new scholarship creates a legacy for the Dole family in their home area on the western plains, and it will ease the financial burden for the students who receive it.

"Bob Dole is a long-time friend, both to me and to Fort Hays State University," said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president. "We cherish our relationship with the Dole family. This scholarship fund is the latest expression of their generosity, and it confirms their belief in the importance of higher education."

All undergraduate students from Russell County or who have graduated from Russell High School, in any course of study, are eligible for the $1,000 annual scholarships. Students with disabilities will be given the highest priority. A minimum grade point average of 2.5 is required.

The first scholarships will be awarded for the fall 2013 semester, and qualified students can re-apply. Students from Russell County who have completed the FHSU scholarship application are automatically considered.

Gloria Doreen Dole Nelson married Waldon "Larry" Nelson. She attended beautician school and operated a beauty shop in Ft. Morgan, Colo. Gloria was proud of her beauty shop, but her six children and family were most important. She was a dedicated mother who was involved with activities that her children were in such as Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts. She enjoyed camping, cooking, baking, gardening and Big Band ballroom dancing. Gloria became a housewife after returning to Russell. The scholarship is a tribute to Gloria's ongoing support of students from Russell County.

Norma Jean Dole Steele married Allen Thomas "Tom" Steele Jr. She was a housewife and sold real estate. They had two children. In a 1996 interview, she said: "Everyone knew Bob. Everyone was for him and hoped for the best. They showed this in their caring ways. They'd come to the house and leave a pie. That's the way the people are in Russell. They're always behind you, and I can't imagine Russell not being that way."

When asked if she was aware of her brother's large ambition at a young age and if he talked to her at that point as a young kid about what he wanted to do, Steele replied, "Well, we always claimed he'd be a lawyer because we'd be sitting there with our little toys, we didn't always have a lot, but what we had we'd be playing with our toys and Bob would have a book. … Bob liked to do his homework. Bob was a very good student. He was a hard act to follow, I'll tell you. But he worked at it, and he worked at his jobs. He was particular about the way he worked at the drugstore. He wanted to look nice, and he wanted to keep things clean down there. He'd walk around with that rag always wiping off the counter just over and over and over."

According to the FHSU Foundation, Steele shared a story about the family moving into the basement in order to lease the main level of the family home to another family. That small rent payment helped to pay the mortgage during difficult times. She indicated that the parents and each of the four kids held various jobs over the years, in addition to Bob Dole's position at Dawson’s Drug Store. "You pulled together and never walked alone," she said.

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