CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – There was a noticeable energy around the Austin Peay State University campus on Tuesday. APSU President Tim Hall planned to announce a “transforming gift” that afternoon, prompting faculty, staff, students and the community at large to keep asking, “What is it?”
Their curiosity was apparently overwhelming because a crowd of people packed into the Morgan University Center ballroom, requiring APSU officials to set out more chairs. Finally, after some brief introductions, Hall stepped behind the podium.
“Future histories of this university will distinguish Austin Peay from before the Eriksson gift and after it,” he said.
Hall was referring to Lars Eriksson – the tall gentleman with the pleasant smile sitting at the front of the room. He’d come up from Florida, where he owns Crankshaft Rebuilders, Inc., but his late wife, Martha Dickerson Eriksson, graduated from APSU in 1962 with a bachelor of science in education.
Late last year, Eriksson presented the university with an 8-figure gift in honor of his wife. The donation is by far the largest single gift in APSU history. In recognition of this unprecedented generosity, the University officially changed the name of its College of Education to the “Martha Dickerson Eriksson College of Education.” One of the three new residence halls, set to open this August, will also be named for her. And the College of Education’s STEM Center was renamed the Jack Hunt STEM Center, in honor of her late brother-in-law and a local teacher.
“We are here today to establish a legacy to further education standards in memory of my wife Martha, or Becky as she was known,” Eriksson said. “Becky grew up in Clarksville, graduated from Austin Peay and went on to the Orange County, Fla., area and taught in middle school levels for 32 years. During that time, she was always proud of the accomplishments of her students. I have established 27 scholarships to be given each year to students who want to dedicate themselves to continue teaching upon graduation. I’ve also helped fund the program for the continued education for existing teachers with the Jack Hunt Austin Peay STEM Center.”
The students who receive the scholarships will be formally known as Eriksson scholars.
“The gift consists of an initial sum of $1 million to provide scholarships each year for the first three years of this program,” Hall said. “After those initial years, the gift includes a pledge of an additional $330,000 per year across the lifetime of our donor. And finally, Mr. Eriksson has created a $10 million estate gift, which will establishes an endowment, which will permanently fund at the same level of scholarships for as long as the university lasts.”
Few local individuals knew the Eriksson name before that Tuesday afternoon, but it will now be so woven into the fabric of campus that future generations of students will come to associate it with generosity and academic excellence.
“Today, Mr. Eriksson has chosen to continue her legacy with a more than generous gift to his wife’s alma mater,” Hall said. “Her name will continue guiding and motivating students for generations to come, turning them into master teachers just like her.”
For more information on the gift, contact the APSU Advancement Office at 221-7127.
Photo cutline: Lars Eriksson and APSU President Tim Hall outside the Claxton Building, which houses the newly named Martha Dickerson Eriksson College of Education. (Photo by Beth Liggett/APSU Staff