- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

WHEELOCK, Vt. - At first glance, it seems as though Dartmouth College’s gift to this tiny town cannot be true: Any child from the hardscrabble community of 623 admitted to the Ivy League university can attend tuition-free.

There appears to be little to connect the rural town in one of Vermont’s poorest counties with the university 70 miles south in Hanover, N.H.

But Dartmouth owes its existence to Wheelock. In gratitude, Dartmouth continues to honor a 175-year-old commitment made when it was a struggling college desperate to feed its students and pay its bills.

“We had no clue,” said George Hill, a 20-year-old Dartmouth junior whose family moved to Wheelock seven years ago from Montana without being aware of the gift.

Area real estate agents use Dartmouth’s gift as a selling point for property in the community, and educators at the area high school, the Lyndon Institute, dream of Wheelock students bright enough to be admitted.

But throughout the generations, only eight children of Wheelock have taken up Dartmouth on the offer. It’s not that Dartmouth is turning away Wheelock applicants every year. Fewer than 10 Wheelock children graduate from high school every spring.

“A lot of the kids just look at it as an impossibility,” Mr. Hill said.

He didn’t.

“Once I found out I could go tuition-free to Dartmouth, I molded my high school [studies] to Dartmouth,” said Mr. Hill. He played sports, racked up the extracurricular activities, took advanced-placement courses and kept his nose in his books.

This year alone, his family’s choice of homes is saving him $28,965. Total fees are more than $40,000 a year.

“I’m still pinching myself,” said Mr. Hill’s mother, Linda Torrey, a real estate agent in Lyndonville.

Wheelock is named for Eleazar Wheelock, who founded Dartmouth College in 1769 on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River.

After Eleazar Wheelock died in 1779, his son, John, the second president of Dartmouth, was desperate to find a way to keep the school afloat. He asked the Vermont legislature for help, and in 1785, Vermont granted Dartmouth 23,000 acres of land in a town it named Wheelock.

Over the years, Dartmouth collected rents in money and kind from farmers in the town. The story goes that the offer of free tuition was made in the 1830s when Dartmouth President Nathan Lord was in Wheelock collecting rent.

No one knows for sure why or under what circumstances, Lord is said to have quipped, “‘Anytime anybody wants to go to Dartmouth, send him down,’” said Philip Mathewson, 91, of Lyndonville. His father, Ozias D. Mathewson, Dartmouth class of 1890, was the first to hold Dartmouth to the pledge.

In 1930, O.D. Mathewson, then the headmaster of the Lyndon Institute, the private high school in Lyndonville that has prepared all eight Wheelock children for Dartmouth, asked Dartmouth President Ernest Hopkins to put the gift in writing.

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