SALEM --Two Salem high school students have been presented with a unique scholarship, courtesy of a Utah man who understands their family situation because he has been there too.
Karl "Willy" Winsness saw first-hand the struggles his children faced while he was incarcerated in the Utah State Prison for 17 years. With the assistance of the Community Foundation of Utah -- a tax-exempt public charity that helps people with their philanthropic ideas -- Winsness created the “Willy the Plumber Scholarship,” presented annually to Utah students who have an incarcerated parent.
Winsness was convicted by a Salt Lake City jury in 1988 for shooting and nearly killing a Salt Lake County sheriff’s deputy who was attempting to serve a “no-knock” search warrant at Winsness’ home. After not having the opportunity to raise his children, Winsness set a goal during his 2004 parole -- to help the children of other inmates.
This year's recipients include Raunie Lindberg and Ashley Black, each from Salem, as well as Abigail Bowcut from Clinton and Selena Montoya from Murray.
Benefit for further education
Raunie, a senior at Salem Hills High School, is a 4.0 student who knows exactly what life is like with an incarcerated parent. She was just 8 years old when her father Ronald Lindberg, an educator, started serving time for raping two of his teenage students.
“It was a confusing time, and my mom didn’t tell me what my dad had done because I wouldn’t have understood,” Raunie said. “I grew up knowing that my dad was in prison and that was that.”
Raunie’s parents divorced, and she, her siblings and her mom moved in with Raunie's grandmother for three years. She saw how hard her mom had to work to take care of four kids. Getting a college education remained important and was something that Raunie’s mom and dad encouraged her to do.
“When it was just my mom and us for so long I knew that at the start of high school I would have to get scholarships to attend college because my mom couldn’t pay for it herself,” Raunie said. “I found out about the ‘Willy the Plumber Scholarship’ from my aunt. A lady in her [LDS Church] ward told her about it, and my aunt passed word on to me.”
Raunie sent in her transcript and the required documentation that her father was in prison. She also wrote an essay. Raunie found out she had received the scholarship on April 18 -- her birthday.
“When Blair [Hodson, director of initiatives for the Community Foundation of Utah] called and told me they were granting me the scholarship I was thrilled,” Raunie said. “I was jumping up and down and was really excited. I saw the benefit this would have in my schooling.”
Both Raunie and her mother Tory Satteson are grateful for scholarships like these.
“You hear about the person who did the crime and even the victims,” Satteson said. “Nobody talks about the family. How do they go on and support themselves? You are literally on your own. My kids knew early on that they would have to have help to go to college.”
“I would strongly encourage others in this situation to apply for this scholarship,” Raunie said. “When people get divorced there is child support. When someone dies there is Social Security, but when a parent is incarcerated, there is no funding there. I would encourage students to go after any scholarships because there are so many out there.”
Raunie also has received three additional scholarships and plans to attend Snow College.
She and her mom have maintained a good relationship with her father, and Raunie was able to share her news with her dad on May 12 -- the first time she had seen him in 17 months because he was attending a sex offender program.
“When I told him he was so excited and I was so excited,” Raunie said. “He had actually heard a little about the scholarship, so I was able to tell him more about it and the circumstances and background of Karl, who founded the scholarship. My dad was excited and completely positive about it.”
Good from a bad situation
When Ashley was a sophomore in high school, she found out while reading the newspaper that her father, Russell Black, was charged with two counts of attempted forcible sodomy, both first-degree felonies, against a family member. Black is currently incarcerated in the Utah State Prison and doesn’t have contact with the family per a restraining order.
It was a hard time for Ashley and her five siblings, but she knew she wanted to do great things in life.
“Money has been an issue, so I knew that I would have to apply for scholarships so that I could go to BYU,” Ashley said. “I went into the counseling office and checked the filing cabinets that hold the scholarships and saw the ‘Willy the Plumber Scholarship.’ I thought it was random, but I read through it and realized I qualified for it and applied.”
Ashley found out she had been awarded the scholarship through an email and letter that also included gift certificates to local restaurants.
“I was overwhelmed with gratefulness,” Ashley said. “I want to go out in the world and make a difference. Right now I haven’t decided on a major, but I want to do volunteer or humanitarian work with organizations.”
Despite having many struggles in her family, many positives have also come out of the situation.
“My mom was remarried in August 2012, and my stepdad is adopting all of us kids,” Ashley said.
She is grateful for scholarships like the “Willy the Plumber Scholarship.”
“I am so thankful for it,” Ashley said. “All the information about my dad came out during my sophomore year and I didn’t go to school that year, so my grades were just OK and it affected my GPA, so I didn’t qualify for academic scholarships. So I am so thankful that I can use something that happened to me and get something good out of it.
"This will give me the opportunity to do something good from a situation that was bad. I am so, so thankful.”