In the 1950’s John Spencer, a tanker Captain for the Standard Oil Company in Richmond (now Chevron), and his wife Jesse decided that, although they had no children of their own, they wanted to do something to help future generations of youths in the area. John was a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (known more commonly as the Elks Club), which at the time was a prominent part of the business and civic community. He expressed his idea to fellow Elk Edward M. Downer Jr., President of Mechanics Bank and son of the Bank’s founder, and together they enlisted the help of some prominent attorneys in town. The result of their efforts is the Spencer Scholarship.
The Spencer Scholarship is available to students who live in the city limits of either Richmond or El Cerrito and attend either Stanford University or a University of California campus. Students must complete a rigorous application process, which includes high school transcripts, SAT scores, teacher recommendations, a parent financial report, evidence of community service, and an essay describing the applicant’s educational and career goals. After the paper screening, applicants are interviewed by the Trustees, who choose to whom the scholarships are awarded.
The Spencer Scholarship is unique in several ways. It is a 4-year program serving roughly 30 or so students at any given time, including freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Distribution of funds is done on a monthly basis during the 9-month school year. Students are required to submit an official transcript and a “request for funds” form for each quarter or semester of enrollment. They must have a 2.0 GPA and carry a full load of units to maintain their scholarship eligibility.
As with any program involving people, sometimes issues (such as accident, illness, or studying abroad) arise that affect a student’s ability to stay on track. When this occurs, the Trustees, Scholarship Administrator, and Bank representatives meet to decide how to work with the student so that he/she can stay in the program.
The management of the Spencer Trust Fund is handled by a financial officer of Mechanics Bank. He/she provides the Trustees with a complete portfolio and a recommendation of how much money can be allotted for scholarships each year. He/she advises the Trustees about any investment changes he/she thinks should be made. The Trustees make the final decision as to what changes will be made, as well as how much money will be allotted to each student.
The Spencer Trust awarded its first scholarships in June of 1957. The Trustees at that time consisted of the President of Mechanics Bank, the Exalted Ruler of the Elks, and a local attorney. Over the years the makeup of the Trustees has changed to become a representative of the Bank, a representative of the Elks and a local attorney, either practicing or retired.
One of the current Trustees was, in her youth, a Spencer Scholarship recipient.