The career of Saint John's University alumnus Jim McKeown ('53) does not align neatly with the stereotype of the corporate success story. He was not the child prodigy who caught the eye of some insightful teacher, nor did the experience of his early years favor him. What emerged, however, was a life that few might have imagined, least of all Jim himself.
Among the events that shaped his early years was the death of his father in an industrial accident. That took place when Jim was in the second grade. Third grade brought serious health issues, and Jim contended with pneumonia and tonsillitis. On top of that, Jim struggled with high energy and the need to stay focused and on task. Consequently, school officials kept him back for another round of third grade.
The next years must have been equally difficult, and Jim's high school counselor offered this bit of advice: "Don't bother to go to college, because you'll never make it." Fortunately, that's when "attention deficit" paid off big-time for Jim. He ignored the warning, and he applied and was accepted at Saint John's.
In college everything seemed to come together. Jim was able to concentrate, and he developed study habits that served him well. In 1953 he graduated with a triple major in chemistry, mathematics and physics. Next he earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry while studying at Iowa State University. Then it was on to the corporate world. After a brief stint at Procter & Gamble, Jim enjoyed a long career at 3M. There he rose through the company and eventually retired as Vice-President: Industrial Specialties Division.
Despite his unpromising start, and despite being held back a year in grade school, Jim never considered himself incapable. Instead, he figured that he was more of a late bloomer. With that in mind, in 1995 Jim and his wife, Marlene, made the first of many contributions to a fund at Saint John's University that they named The Late Bloomers Scholarship. The purpose of the fund is evident in the label they chose, and today the fund has grown into a very substantial scholarship. Jim and Marlene intended that it support a student who had done average work in high school but who had tested well and shown initiative. This is how Jim felt others viewed him at the end of high school; and it's students like himself whom he and Marlene wanted to give a chance to blossom.
The scholarship covers the cost of tuition, room and board, and fees and books -- minus any financial aid for which the student is eligible. Recipients must maintain a "B" average or better while attending Saint John's and the College of Saint Benedict. This past year's recipient was a junior from St. Louis Park, MN, majoring in natural science.
Jim recently passed away, and many of his colleagues, friends and family have made contributions to his fund. It's a fitting tribute to a very successful late bloomer.