Judy Keplinger pursued a higher education at time when it wasn’t the popular option for young women.
Now, after her death, she is using the wealth she accumulated to help other people pursue educations.
The Columbia Basin College Foundation received a $1.9 million donation from Keplinger’s estate. The money is paying for 20 scholarships each year, starting in 2017.
Keplinger was starting grade school when her family moved to Richland from Colorado. They stayed in the city and she graduated from Columbia High School in 1961.
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Her family impressed upon their daughter and son the importance of education. When she had a chance to go to Washington State University for a business degree, she pursued it, said family friend Lynn Stedman.
“Those were the days that the expectation was a woman was either going to be a secretary, a teacher or a wife,” Stedman said. “She had a dad that saw how sharp she was, and told her she should major in something.”
During her time at the university, she found the technology that would help shape her career.
“She happened to take a computer class. It was when they had these punch cards,” Stedman said. “Because of her math background, she really took to it.”
She graduated from WSU in 1965, and went to work for General Electric in Richland and Arizona before moving on to Bechtel. She moved on to the company’s international offices in San Francisco.
She happened to take a computer class. It was when they had these punch cards. Because of her math background, she really took to it.
Lynn Stedman, family friend
“She said that because of that class, she could get into systems further than other people,” Stedman said. “It really served her well to have that introduction. ... When computers showed up, she was ready.”
Her work took her across and out of the country, allowing her to form friendships across the world, according to her obituary in the Tri-City Herald.
“Travel was always on Judy’s mind,” according to an obituary. “She visited every continent except Antarctica.”
Richland drew her back after she retired in 1998. She stayed active as a master gardener, in several bridge groups and as an organizer for the Richland High School’s Class of 1961.
Her family died before her, and Keplinger never married, so when she developed cancer in 2015, she wanted a way to spend the money she accumulated to benefit others.
She really realized what having an education did for her. It set her up to be independent and she wanted to make sure that young men and women had the same opportunity.
Lynn Stedman, family friend
Initially, she looked at WSU, but felt her money could go further at CBC.
“She really realized what having an education did for her,” Stedman said. “It set her up to be independent and she wanted to make sure that young men and women had the same opportunity.”
The money goes into an endowment, and is available to any student qualifying for a scholarship, said Anneke Rachinski, the college foundation’s director of alumni relations and planned giving.
“This is a very large endowment for us,” she said.
Last year, more than 600 people applied and qualified for a scholarship, but the foundation only had money for 420. The 20 more scholarships expands the chances for people to attend the school.
The college is accepting scholarship applications for the 2017-18 school year until Feb. 21.
After speaking with Stedman about Keplinger, Rachinski said the money is going to help a new generation of students pursue their dreams.
“We’re really honored that she’s extending those opportunities to other people in our community,” she said.