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Southpaws, Redheads, Teetotalers All Eligible for Off-Beat Aid

July 8, 1996

Growing up in Michigan, Michele Schimento’s right-handed brothers loved to tease their kid sister about her squiggly, upside-down writing and the funny way she clutched a baseball bat.

But ``little lefty″ sis had the last laugh when her scorned hand turned golden.

It won her a scholarship to a private Pennsylvania college she could never have afforded as a run-of-the-mill ``righty″ and pointed the way to a post-graduate degree and career.

``It’s my biggest asset,″ said the 24-year-old school social worker, who discovered the obscure scholarship for left-handed people at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., after checking out dozens of other grants and scholarships.

Juniata’s gem is one of thousands of oddball endowments scattered around the country. Many of these billions of dollars in private funds go untapped because people simply don’t know the money is there _ for the right candidate.

No wonder. The right candidate for one scholarship could be an overweight high school senior from New England, for another a teetotaling, non-smoker from Pennsylvania who loathes sports.

For a time, it was a ``lady of the night ″ from Seattle. That short-lived educational adventure stemmed from a judge’s efforts to clear Seattle’s streets by providing prostitutes with the financial incentive to trade night work for college courses.

To be eligible, however, the women had to have been convicted and acknowledge it on their application _ one likely reason the scholarship bombed.

But other weird and wonderful routes to higher education abound.

Whether you plan to study wild apes or loons, funerals or fungus, sex, Esperanto or pipe organs, someone somewhere is willing to pay.

``Private endowments total about $9 billion a year,″ said David Cassidy, president of the National Scholarship Research Service, which compiles an annual ``Top 10″ list of wacky scholarships. ``There is a scholarship for everyone and every interest.″

Of course, to get the money you must abide by the rules, which can be specific.

Take the Gertrude J. Deppen scholarship at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., awarded each year to a student from Mt. Carmel, a town some 30 miles distant, who ``shall not be a habitual user of tobacco, intoxicating liquor and narcotics and shall not participate in strenuous athletic contests.″

The scholarship was founded by Joseph H. Deppen, a millionaire bachelor lawyer known for his frugality and abstemiousness, who graduated from Bucknell in 1900. It is named for his sister.

``We don’t act like Deppen police and go into the rooms and see if they are drinking beer,″ said Bucknell spokeswoman Kathie Dibell, recalling one student who worried about losing his funding after he admitted to downing a weekend suds. ``And, while they can’t be on the football team, we tell them a little weekend golfing is OK.″

To win a much-coveted United Daughters of the Confederacy scholarship, a student must prove direct descent from a ``worthy″ Confederate soldier and write an essay on the ancestor’s exploits.

``It’s heartbreaking trying to pick,″ said Janice Langford of the UDC, who wrote 86 rejection letters last month, including one to a descendant of Gen. Robert E. Lee. The student just wasn’t considered needy enough.

Others that have made the ``Top 10″ include:

_ The Francis Ouimet Caddie Scholarship Fund: $500-$5,000 to a student who has caddied three years for a Massachusetts golf club.

_ The International Boar Semen Scholarship: $500 to Future Farmers of America who want to study swine management.

_ The New England chapter of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance: $500 to college-bound high school seniors who are fat.

_ The John Gatling Scholarship, named for the inventor of the Gatling gun, an early machine gun: full scholarship to North Carolina State University to students named Gatling or Gatlin.

_ The Joseph Bulova School in the New York City borough of Queens offers a $15,000 scholarship to disabled foreign students who want to study watchmaking.

_ The Billy Barty Foundation, established by the 3-foot, 9-inch actor whose movie credits include ``Willow″ and ``Rumpelstiltskin,″ gives $2,000 scholarships to ``students of short stature.″

The stories behind the scholarships are often as intriguing as the grants themselves.

In Juniata, the left-handed scholarship was set up by a couple of southpaw freshmen unceremoniously dumped from the tennis team in 1919 because of their ``handicap.″

They started playing together and, over the net, fell in love. Years later, when Frederick and Mary Francis Beckley were drawing up their will, they left Juniata a monetary tribute to left-handedness and romance.

Theirs is not the only romance-inspired college endownment. In 1957 the late Will Judy, publisher of Dog World magazine, paid the college to decorate a dormitory room in honor of his ``titian-tressed″ wife, Ruth, a Juniata graduate. To this day, the room is reserved for red-headed women.

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