By Barbara Tucker
The Tonawanda News
Helen Jordan loved Catholic education and wanted it sustained.
Jordan, a native of North Tonawanda, died in 1998 at age 95, the last member of her prominent family of five siblings, none of whom ever married.
In her will, she left a bequest of $63,000 to be used for assistance for students who wished to attend Ascension School, later North Tonawanda Catholic School.
Jordan also made a provision that if the school closed, the succeeding school would receive the money for tuition assistance.
Karen Kwandrans, whose children attended North Tonawanda Catholic School, knew of the bequest from the beginning.
“I was on the school board at NTC and the board tried to get the money when the school was up and running,” she said.
However, legal problems arose which kept the money from coming to the school, and by the time the funds were released, North Tonawanda Catholic School had closed.
“My daughter was in seventh-grade when the school closed and we were devastated,” Kwandrans said. “She and four other girls went to St. Francis as eighth-graders and adjusted very well. There were five girls already in the class and they did a good job welcoming the girls,” she added.
When the money was finally released, St. Francis of Assisi School in the City of Tonawanda was named the succeeding school and will now offer Jordan’s bequest to students from Niagara County.
“We learned that Miss Jordan was a life-long devoted member of Ascension Parish and attended Ascension School,” said the Rev. Michael Uebler, pastor of St. Francis.
“We’ve discovered that her family were devoted Catholics and life-long great believers of Catholic education,” Uebler noted.
He explained the reason children must be from Niagara County is that the Bison Scholarship Fund, a privately funded tuition assistance program for low-income children in the area, initially served only students from Erie County. That has now been changed to provide tuition assistance throughout the area.
“In the beginning, the Bison Fund left out children in Niagara County who needed help to attend a private school, which is why the Jordan Fund is specifically for Niagara County children,” he said.
“Surprised is the only word to describe how we felt when we learned the bequest would come to St. Francis,” Uebler said. “The tuition assistance definitely goes with (Jordan’s) wishes. We are using the money responsibly.”
The pastor explained that the bequest has been added to the church’s endowment fund and only the interest from the fund is used.
“The tradition of giving (to the fund) by parishioners and alumni adds to the spirit of the school,” Uebler said.
He noted that the school’s enrollment is at 180, up from 118 when he became pastor seven years ago.
The parish school board has determined that $400 will be given to each eligible family for tuition assistance. Tuition is $1,900 for one child, $2,600 for two and $3,300 for three.
“With the addition of assistance from the Bison Fund, families may be eligible for as much at $1,000 in assistance,” Uebler said.
The school will host an open house from noon to 2 p.m. March 4.
“I encourage people to come to the open house and to apply early as the first and second grades are nearly full for next year,” Uebler said.
Kwandrans, now a member of the St. Francis Educational Advisory Council, said she didn’t know Jordan nor the dynamics of her gift.
“But,” she said, “I knew the money was given for a specific use and I’m so glad Father Mike is using it for the purpose it was intended.”
Contact community editor Barbara Tucker at 693-1000, ext. 4110.