Even back when a loaf of bread cost a couple of cents, it must have seemed like a bargain: Contribute $100, and your sons, your grandsons, your great-grandsons and so on in perpetuity would get free tuition at Indiana University.
Sixty-eight people took the school up on its offer back in 1856, and a descendant of one of them is trying to get the school to make good on the deal.Scott Raper is the first descendant of state Rep. Elias Abel, one of the purchasers, to try to benefit from his great-great-great-great-grandfather's investment.
However, Indiana residents now pay about $1,100 a semester, not $8 as in 1856, and the university is studying how it will handle the family's claim.
University counsel Cliff K. Travis says he will review the request when he gets copies of wills and documents that establish a line of succession for the scholarship.
Raper, a 1988 graduate of Owen Valley High School in Spencer, is majoring in business at Indiana, a state university founded in 1820.
His mother, Nancy Raper, said last week she has the documents Travis says he needs, and he threatened to sue the university if the scholarship is not honored.
Mrs. Raper said she has known about the scholarship since she was a girl but considered the piece of paper a curiosity until a year ago. Previous generations of Abel's descendants either didn't go to the school or included no sons. The scholarship specifies male descendants because women were not admitted to the school when it was created.
Mrs. Raper said when her mother died a year ago and her son was making plans to attend Indiana, the significance of the scholarship hit her. She consulted a lawyer and decided to follow up on it.
"It's something that my great-great-great grandfather purchased in the belief that his heirs would be taken care of," she said. "He was a supporter of the university, and I'm sure $100 helped tremendously at that time."
If the validity of the scholarship has to be decided in court, Travis says, it would be the first time.
He said similar requests have come up a few times over the decades. But for at least 40 years they have been rejected for in-state residents on the basis of a university ruling that technically, nobody from Indiana pays tuition, only "fees." Out-of-state residents are eligible for partial scholarships - the difference between in-state "fees" and the total charged to out-of-state residents, the ruling stated.
University officials are trying to decide whether that definition will be applied in Raper's case to disqualify him.
But Mrs. Raper said her great-great-great grandfather would not have purchased a perpetual scholarship if it were intended to pay only out-of-state tuition.
"I just can't understand why he'd purchase something that would be no good to him," she said.