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Dr. Willy Lensch and Wes Innes

Aggie alums and College of Science advisory board members Wes Innes, left, and Willy Lensch meet for the first time at the Oct. 2016 USU vs. San Diego State football game at Utah State’s Maverick Stadium.

Giving Me the Gift of My Own Future

Science alum Willy Lensch ‘91 recounts the scholarship that turned his life around

Editor's Note: When College of Science advisory board member and Aggie alum Willy Lensch joined fellow board members at USU’s Maverick Stadium for the Oct. 28, 2016, Utah State vs. San Diego State football game, he had no idea he’d come face-to-face with a member of the family who’d provided a scholarship that made it possible for him to attend college. In 1985, when Lensch graduated from Utah’s Lehi High School, he received the Innes Family Scholarship. Following are excerpts from a letter Lensch wrote to fellow board member and alum Wes Innes, who he met at the game, recounting the phenomenal impact of that scholarship:

October 30, 2016

Dear Wes,

As long as I live, I will never attend a more memorable football game. In the years to come, I am certain that I will not recall whom the Aggies played, what the final score was or any other details save for one: meeting you.

In 1985, I was a different person than I am today. I was 17 years old, skinny, had never been on an airplane or on a date or seen the ocean, had no idea where I was headed in life or how I would possibly get there even if I figured it out. There were a few things I knew for certain. I loved ideas and people, was creative, fascinated by science, a born reader and saw learning as a refuge – a safe haven in a complicated and often painful world.

My father dropped out of school after the fifth grade; no doubt because his own father felt he’d had more than enough book learning and needed my dad’s arms and back more than his mind to help run the ranch. My dad later earned his GED during World War II (5th U.S. Army Air Corps, Pacific Theater) and much valued education, though he had little of the formal variety outside of the service, because he saw how it could turn a Colorado cow puncher into a skilled mechanic and welder.

When I was a sophomore at Lehi High School, my father died in the Salt Lake City VA Hospital from a rare blood cancer. If my father’s illness was the frying pan, his death would prove to be the moment that everything fell into the fire.

My family did not have much in the way of resources even before my father became sick, then saw what we had evaporate, while he was being treated for his disease. Once he died, my mother, brother and I (the rest were long gone with lives of their own) were left with practically nothing but the clothes on our backs, eight acres north of town and the mobile home in which we lived; a place that was meant to be temporary living, but would be the only home I ever knew in those days.

My mother worked at Deseret Industries in American Fork and we did our best to get by on a day-to-day basis. We often ate from the Bishop’s Storehouse and I grew up in other people’s discarded clothing – a time when a boy at school realized I was wearing his shirt and gave me a bad time about it stands out as a particularly hard-learned, but valuable, lesson for me.

I do not wish to focus only on what I did not have. Among the many riches in my life were fields and mountains, the gift of curiosity and the freedom to roam the pastures and sagebrush as I explored the natural world around me. I also had caring teachers, who were role models and mentors. They kept me afloat and cared for me in ways that, even today, I am certain I do not fully realize.

Lehi High School’s library contained books written by award-winning authors, its classrooms and teachers brimmed with and made available the same knowledge that put people on the moon. If there was one thing that kept me headed in the right direction, it was reading.

I was a good test taker and when I heard the ACT college admissions test was being offered, I signed up for it. I scored well enough that, somehow, I was accepted to USU. I do not remember applying, but I sure remember opening that acceptance letter. I suspect I had a few guardian angels at Lehi High, but I had not the slightest idea how I would pay my tuition and fees for as much as a single term.

During a spring assembly, the names of students who had won scholarships were read aloud to much fanfare. I was pleased to hear the names of friends, when an amazing thing happened – something entirely unexpected that changed my life forever: my name was called.

I was in a state of shock and disbelief. As I recall, the scholarship was a one-time sum of four or five hundred dollars. Though it was not enough to cover an entire degree, even though USU was quite affordable, it was more than enough to get me started. I was actually going to college! The scholarship was my start, my seed corn, the push that allowed my boat to leave the shore. Your family changed my life by giving to me the gift of my future.

I do not remember how or even if I thanked your folks back then. If I did not give appropriate thanks at the time, I hope that you and the memory of your parents might forgive me. I hope it was clear when you and I met during the game, and even more so after reading these lines, that despite my naïve nature as a much younger person, I recognized then, as well as now, the incredible value of what your family did for me. I have never forgotten it.

Your family’s gift is among those most cherished in my entire life. I take it with me wherever I go and share it with others at every opportunity. Thank you, so sincerely, for helping me. Whatever my life has been, whatever good I have achieved, is possible because of your family’s investment in me. Without the Innes Scholarship, I have no idea where or who I would be today.

Ability is insufficient for success. It must be paired with opportunity. Your family opened the door to my future. There will always be a place for you at my table.

Sincerely and with best wishes,

Willy

M. William Lensch, PhD
Chief of Staff, Harvard Medical School


Response from Wes Innes '78, USU alum, donor, College of Science advisory board member:

“When Willy Lensch told me the scholarship my mother, Phebe Weston Innes, and our family established to honor my late father enabled Willy to attend Utah State, I hoped my dad, Russell Innes, was smiling down on us and witnessed the incredible impact of his life and vision.

My dad was only six years old when he lost his own father, my grandfather. It was during the mid-1920s and times were especially hard for him, his mother and two siblings, who lived in Paris, Idaho. In his early teens, he went to work at a local print shop to help support his family and never had the opportunity to pursue college. Yet, he eventually managed to purchase a half interest in the Lehi Free Press, and later bought out his partner and purchased the American Fork Citizen. He and a partner formed AMOR Printing Services, which printed community newspapers throughout Utah. My father was posthumously named to the Utah Newspaper Hall of Fame.

My dad never forgot his humble roots, considered himself very blessed and always rooted for the underdog. He anonymously helped others throughout his life and we saw his compassion and charity in action daily. Meeting Willy and learning the scholarship made possible by my parents helped him realize his dreams is a joyful reminder of my father’s legacy.”

- Wes Innes

College of Science Advisory Board Member