Minnesota State Community and Technical College Fergus Falls campus has a new scholarship available for lakes area students funded by Dr. Patrick Mendis, an alumnus of Perham High School and Minnesota State, formally known as the Fergus Falls Community College.

"Patrick is an embodiment of the American dream and the spirit of Minnesota, who believes in public education and government service," President Chad Miller of the Fergus Area College Foundation said. "He developed his philanthropic mindset of giving back to education as a tradition of his cultural belief and social upbringing in Minnesota and Sri Lanka."

He is the first American Field Service high school exchange scholar from Sri Lanka to Minnesota and later graduated from the University of Minnesota with a PhD and taught there almost ten years. He also served in the Minnesota House of Representatives under the late Honorable Edward Burdick, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff of Senator Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) and several federal government agencies during the Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump administrations — and most recently as an American commissioner to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State until the Trump White House withdrew from the UN agency.

While attending Perham High School and Minnesota State, Mendis stayed with Wilfred “Bill” and Dorothy Johnson, whom he called his American “dad” and “mom.” The late Bill Johnson was the longest-served biology teacher at Perham High School. Dorothy Johnson also served as a public nurse in Otter Tail County. She passed away May 2021 at 89 in Perham.

"My AFS mom and dad represent the best of America and Christian values. I am eternally grateful for their kindness, love and friendship all these years," said Mendis. "My wife (a former AFS high school exchange student from Willmar, M.N. to Japan) and our two grown-up children called them ‘Grandpa Bill’ and ‘Grandma Dorothy.’ The Johnson family and friends in Perham made me part of their vibrant and entrepreneurial community."

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Visiting his friends and family in Perham and his in-laws in Willmar every year, Mendis considers Perham his “birthplace” in America. Last year, Mendis was a commencement speaker along with his friend, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) at M State.

With the Johnson-Mendis Scholarship, he intends to memorialize his AFS family and the circle of Perham families — like the Haverland, Hammers, Huebsch, Nelson and Thomas families — and other who have helped his education and American journey.

Mendis describes his philanthropic work as an effort to “make a small difference in the lives of next generation in Perham and Fergus Falls. You never know what impact a grant recipient could have — it could be greater than you imagine.”

“This is my way of saying ‘thank you’ for investing in my education,” said Mendis, who received scholarships and fellowships at the University of Minnesota and Harvard University. He also established the Edward Burdick Legislative Award at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Millennials Award for Outstanding Leadership and Service at Harvard University.

The Johnson-Mendis Scholarship will be awarded annually to a Minnesota State student attending at the Fergus Falls campus. The preference will first be given to students who have recently graduated from Perham High School; the second priority is given to Fergus Falls High School graduates. Those who would like to contribute with a tax deductible gift to this scholarship fund can contact Lori Larson, executive director of FACF, at 218-736-1514.

Students who are interested in attending Minnesota State at Fergus Falls should apply through the FACF. The selection committee will announce the recipient of the Johnson-Mendis Scholarship award each year.

This article was submitted by Lori Larson of Fergus Area College Foundation