1956 FHS graduate gives away scholarships

Ariana Papcun, Editor

FHS 1956 Alumnus Donald Shepherd has dedicated 44 years of his life to donating scholarships to Fenton students who plan to attend University of Michigan (U of M). On Sept. 22, he came to Fenton High to see how the school community is doing. 

“I’m having lunch with a classmate to catch up and see how she is doing and I’m in Ann Arbor doing other things,” Shepherd said. “It was easy to say ‘okay I want to stop at Fenton High School,’” Shepherd said. 

Shepherd also came back to Michigan to stay in touch with the past students who have received the scholarships. 

“I used to come back and stay 10 days to see two football games in Ann Arbor and I spend a lot of time with the women’s tennis program,” Shepard said. “We’ve got five of them coming to join me at the football game and I like to stay in touch with them.” 

The women’s tennis program is not the only program Shepherd has helped through the years. Additional programs he has contributed to include: other women’s sports, the marching band and he gets invited to help out at different schools. 

“I’m involved with the School of Music Theater and Dance and the last time I was here the contact person over the school reached out to me and asked if I’d like to audit a class and I said that would be terrific. And they asked me again and that is this afternoon,” Shepherd said. “Usually when I come back to Michigan I like to watch the marching band rehearse for a couple hours. I go over to the gymnastics facility that I financed and go and watch them.”

Shepherd’s first scholarship was donated to a Michigan Marching band student in 1978. He has been doing these scholarships for all sorts of students every year since then. 

“I guess after you each appoint where you’ve got enough income or assets to do what you want to do, then you look to what else you can do. I just found great gratitude in it. I don’t have family, I don’t have any brothers or sisters to support or my parents— they’re gone. So looking for ways to be functional,” Shepherd said. 

As part of Shepherd’s selection process for the scholarships, U of M reaches out to FHS to see who would be good candidates, and then U of M sends the list to Shepherd. From there he decides which students he would like to pick. 

“I go through all the applications and go through them bit by bit and look for somebody who has a passion for doing something and a ‘feel’ that I care about so I have somebody interested in something that I really am not too interested in. I typically favor medicine, engineering and business as ones that I like,” Shepherd said. “Obviously grade point average is important but it’s not the only thing. Some do amazing things at a very early age that touches your eyes.”

Shepherd donates around 80-100 scholarships each year, both at U of M and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). 

“The most expensive ones are $15,000 per recipient for graduate people going into medical school or any of the major programs,” Shepherd said. For undergraduate, the most I would do would be $10,000 or $12,000. Occasionally at Michigan or Fenton, we’ve done that. But that’s as high as I’ve done; I haven’t done a full ride for anyone.” 

According to his biography on the U of M website, Shepherd became a private investor after retiring. He has also had many different careers in the past that have provided him the money and opportunity to give it to students. 

Shepherd takes time out of his busy schedule to meet with the students who have received the scholarships. He hopes these students follow their dreams and listen to their hearts.

“Once a year I meet with these students at UCLA who I have scholarships with and some of them are in classes or in a field of study that they are not really interested in but their parents are interested in,” Shepherd said. “I believe in serendipity and if you don’t really want to do this, don’t be driven to do it just because your parents want to do it. Follow your passion.”

Currently, Shepherd still plans to give scholarships to students who catch his eye. Even at 86 years old.