Like other bright, young women of her generation, when Ruth Saloman Engel was in her late teens, she hoped to attend college, but history and circumstances conspired to defer that dream.
“My wonderful mother never went to college, but she wanted to,” says William Engel, the Nick B. Williams Professor of English at Sewanee. “And while they lived very interesting lives, neither did her parents. My mother was set to attend the University of Wisconsin, but that was about the time of World War II, and so instead she helped in the war office in the secretarial pool. She had the ability and capacity to succeed in college, but she did not have the means.”
Now the Engel Family Foundation has made a $2 million gift to the University of the South that recalls Ruth’s deferred dream and helps to establish a scholarship program for rural students within 40 miles of Sewanee. “I literally employed a map and a compass and drew a circle with Sewanee at its center to see where eligible people might live,” says Engel.
Engel is on the board of the foundation and advocated for this gift as part of the family’s good works. The Engel Family Foundation has long been an important part of the philanthropic community in Birmingham, Alabama. The impact of Posse Scholars on the life of the University was not lost on the foundation, and Engel wondered if a focus on local students might have a positive effect on local academic achievement. Engel’s daughter, Zoe, was previously employed by the Posse Foundation before going into nonprofit management in Los Angeles.
The family has asked the University to develop programming in connection with recipients of the scholarship so that they may have an ongoing support network. The scholarship will be restricted to first-generation college students.
Professor Engel teaches literature and has published scholarship in the memory arts. His book The Memory Arts in Renaissance England: A Critical Anthology explores writing on memory and how ideas about memory had an influence on English thought in the Renaissance.
“This gift is really a remembrance for my mom’s early experiences, to raise them up as a kind of guide to current aspirations of young people who may want to attend Sewanee and for the institution itself. She is effervescent and charming, and we are so fortunate to be in the position of honoring her with this scholarship.”
Mrs. Engel contributes generously to many charitable organizations, including the St. Vincent Foundation, the EyeSight Foundation, and the Community Foundation. She is a member of Temple Emanu-El and the Birmingham Jewish Foundation and longtime supporter of the Alabama Symphony and Alabama Shakespeare Festival.