Norma Hill Pays it Forward Through a Scholarship Fund

While growing up poor on a rural North Dakota farm, the last thing on Norma Hill’s mind was creating a scholarship fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

Norma and Loren Hill in 2015. Photo courtesy of Norma Hill
Norma and Loren Hill in 2015. Photo courtesy of Norma Hill

Yet, in 2020, she established The Loren and Norma Hill Scholarship Fund to support students of color, preferably those from Hampden County, in their college pursuits.

“Education became so important to me,” Norma explained, because she saw her mother, widowed in her forties, earn a college degree “little by little” to support Norma and her four siblings. Before her husband died, Norma’s mother had no means of income and their home lacked electricity, refrigeration, and indoor plumbing. They raised chickens and grew a lot of the food they ate.

As a girl, Norma wondered how she would ever be able to afford college. A scholarship from Consolidated Freightways “launched me,” she says, “and I’ll never forget it. It made such a difference in getting me started.”

She met her late husband, Loren, while attending North Dakota State University. He studied chemistry and she earned a degree in home economics. Forty-one years ago, they moved to Wilbraham, Massachusetts and raised a family.

Norma’s philanthropy reflected their values. “Giving back is part of our Midwestern upbringing,” she says. Loren volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and they were involved in scouts and their church.

The focus of her scholarship fund was influenced by her grandson, Zak.

Norma said, “Having an African American grandson has given me an understanding of racial injustices that I otherwise would not have had. I believe African Americans historically have had fewer opportunities in general and have been discriminated against in education and in other areas in life. I became aware of that and what my grandson has to deal with on a daily basis.”

That’s why she’s directed scholarships from her fund to be awarded to local students of color with financial needs and academic promise. She added, “I’ve long hoped that I could help students in financial situations similar to mine. Scholarships made such a difference in getting me started.”