From purchasing books for her nieces to creating endowed scholarships for medical students, Erna Jorgensen had a long history of generosity as well as a strong belief in education. Her scholarships — the Erna M. Jorgensen Endowed Scholarship and the Harry G. Schuck Memorial Scholarship Endowment, named after her friend and business partner – have given out 111 awards to 69 students since their creation.

Fourth-year student Xaviera Ortiz, pictured above in her rotation in the emergency room at Harborview Medical Center, appreciates her scholarships. Remembering a recent medical-school loan statement, Ortiz says, “I had already reached that $100,000 debt mark. I can only imagine what it would be without the scholarships I received.”

By all accounts, Erna Jorgensen was a strong, independent woman.

She refused to dance with a Nazi officer on a cruise to Europe in 1938. When she went hiking, she befriended the shepherds who roamed the Cascades, and she used a gun on a would-be burglar. And with an investment of $2,500, she became the co-owner of a store that would become Schuck’s Auto Supply — a financial success that made her a very wealthy woman, influential in Seattle business circles.

What her niece and namesake Erna Jorgensen Snipes remembers most, though, is her generosity. “My best memories of her are when I was sick as a six- or seven-year-old,” says Snipes. “She bought me my first books. Dr. Seuss books.”

Melinda Walsh Lamp, another niece, says this was typical. “Books were everything” to Erna Jorgensen, who had degrees in English and teaching. In the 1950s, after undergoing a double mastectomy, says Lamp, Jorgensen also became interested in medical research and education, an interest that led her to establish an estate gift that benefits medical students.

Since the Erna M. Jorgensen Endowed Scholarship was established in 1994, it has helped many students at the UW School of Medicine to afford a medical education. Justin Hopkin, M.D. ’04, now a primary-care physician in rural Wyoming, says his career owes a great deal to the Jorgensen Scholarship. It removed a roadblock, and it helped confirm his interest in practicing in a rural area.

“Moving from Seattle to a rural locale was not going to be financially feasible,” says Hopkin. “The scholarship allowed my wife and me to move to Libby, Mont., for six months and experience rural living and rural medicine.”

Xaviera Ortiz is a fourth-year medical student and a recipient of the Jorgensen Scholarship. Originally from Puerto Rico, Ortiz remembers the homeless people and drug addicts who lived on the streets of San Juan. “If [my friends and I] were in San Juan, we would buy them food,” says Ortiz. Those experiences fostered her desire to work with underserved populations.

Scholarships have been important to Ortiz. “I’ve appreciated the help a lot,” she says. “For me, it did make a big difference in being able to come to UW…. at the time I was applying, I was a Texas resident, and the tuition is a lot cheaper at those schools. It was something I took into account.”

Not enough people realize how important a little bit of money can be, says Melinda Walsh Lamp, who receives thank-you letters from scholarship students like Ortiz every year.

“Even if you can only give one scholarship,” Lamp says, “one is important.”