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Court Approves Expansion of Virginia Smith Trust for Students Across Merced County


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Court Approves Expansion of Virginia Smith Trust for Students Across Merced County

On Friday, the Merced County Superior Court granted a petition to modify the Virginia Smith Trust to expand the trust’s ability to serve more students countywide with grants and scholarships. 

Previously, the trust served students only at high schools in the city of Merced.

“This is a tremendous milestone for the Virginia Smith Trust and one that will benefit students across Merced County for generations to come,” said Merced County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Tietjen.

The trust’s namesake, Virginia, was a Merced native whose family settled in Merced in the 1850s. In her will, Virginia declared that the land that sustained her family for almost a century be used to fund scholarships for “worthy, deserving and needy” students in the city of Merced. Part of this land was donated to the University of California Regents, which was used to establish the tenth University of California campus, UC Merced.

The Merced County Office of Education Board of Trustees serve as trustees for the VST, which has awarded nearly $6 million to 3,700 students from the city of Merced since its inception.  

“Because Virginia’s initial thought was to create a trust that would last only 30 years, she could have never imagined the benefits to students countywide,” said Tietjen. “This petition allows us to further her charitable intent by expanding the scope of students eligible to receive grants and scholarships.”

Currently, money for grants and scholarships is generated through land leased to local farmers. The land, which is located off Lake Road near UC Merced, has long been planned as a university community, with housing, shopping, restaurants and schools, among other amenities.

To generate enough income to support qualified high school seniors countywide, the land must be annexed into the city of Merced after the county’s environmental review process.

“The growth of the Trust will depend on the development of the remaining VST property adjacent to the University; entitlement by the Merced County Board of Supervisors and annexation by the city of Merced will grow the value of the trust to tens of millions of dollars,” said Tietjen. “The fund has the potential to change the lives of so many and we will forever be in Virginia Smith’s debt. Every student that attends high school in Merced County and qualifies for a four year college has a ‘Great Aunt Virginia’ that is making college possible.”

About the Virginia Smith Trust
The Virginia Smith Trust (VST) was established with the goal of assisting future generations of Merced students achieve academic excellence. The scholarship’s namesake, Virginia, spent her life traveling and in the service of others. She left Merced as a young teen but retained strong ties to her hometown. When Smith died in 1971, she noted in her will that the land that supported her family for almost a century would be used to fund scholarships for “worthy, deserving and needy students.”

The trust committed to a land exchange of 5,000 acres with the University of California and played a major role in bringing the tenth University of California campus to Merced.
The decision to bring the campus to Merced was a community-wide effort acting on behalf of the best interest of Merced people. The VST has served nearly 3,700 students, distributing nearly $6 million in scholarships awarded to students.

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