Woodsi King was the first person I met on the St. Labre campus in the fall of 1990. Woodsi went on to graduate as salutatorian of his class. He may be the best student I’ve ever had in terms of connecting and synthesizing ideas from great works of literature and moments of history.
Joel Martinez was in my sophomore honor’s English class. Joel was a top student who excelled in wrestling and participated in student council, wrote for the school paper, and undertook other leadership roles in the high school. He was an articulate speaker who had a calm way of sharing his ideas and point of view in discussions, and he encouraged others to do the same.
Woodsi graduated in 1992 and Joel the following year. It would be almost ten years before the Mentoring Program began in 2001. In the intervening time, I lost all track of them — except for one common piece of information. I heard they spent time in prison.
Five years ago, I traveled to visit both of them, Woodsi in Pablo and Joel in Great Falls. They were both in the beginning stages of contemplating a college education. I helped them outline their goals, formulate a plan, and apply for the St. Labre Scholarship Program. Over the next five years, I traveled to visit them on a regular basis.
This past spring, over 20 years since their high school graduations, they both earned college degrees. Their graduations were two weeks apart, and due to other commitments, I had to miss Joel’s. When I notified him, he replied, in typical gracious fashion, “That’s fine, Dave. You have done so much for me. You gave me my love for reading.”
Joel earned two Associate of Science degrees concurrently in micro computer support and network support. Joel received the St. Labre Scholarship throughout his time at the Great Falls College. He was very grateful for the financial support he received. “The scholarship really helps a person from the reservation, who is already fighting obstacles and bad odds. There is enough stress with school. Not worrying as much about how you will pay for it reduces the stress of the financial burden,” he told me.
Woodsi’s graduation was the first Saturday in June in Pablo, Montana, ten miles south of Flathead Lake, over 600 miles from St. Labre. Woodsi excelled in his college classes, first in his social work studies, and then in his forestry coursework when he changed majors. His GPA each semester neared the 4.0 mark.
“If not for St. Labre, I wouldn’t have finished school. I learned how to write at St. Labre, and without this writing skill, I never would have made it through college.”
Woodsi earned an Associate of Science degree in forestry. He is returning to school this fall to pursue his Bachelor of Science in forestry, which he will earn next spring, along with another associate degree in native resources.