Our story begins with James M. John (1849-1914). Born near Morgantown, West Virginia, he moved to Chicago in the early 1870s to attend law school.
Just as he was to begin the practice of law, he contracted tuberculosis. After his doctor told him that he would die within a year if he didn’t move to a warmer, drier climate, Mr. John headed west, taking the stage coach along the Santa Fe Trail to Las Animas County. Many years later – speaking at the dedication of Kit Carson Park – he fondly recalled that “beautiful moonlight night in October” of 1876 when he first looked down upon the “quaint little adobe hamlet” of Trinidad.
Shortly after he arrived in Las Animas County, James John’s health improved sufficiently for him to become active in cattle ranching and to begin a law practice. Described by the Chronicle-News as a “natural lawyer of rare endowments,” Mr. John represented a number of prominent clients, including the Maxwell Land Grant Company, before his declining health caused him to retire from the practice of law in 1895.
His cattle ranching business eventually encompassed several properties in Colorado and New Mexico, including the summer pasture land on Fisher’s Peak Mesa that is now known as the James M. John State Wildlife Area.
In addition, while his health permitted it, James John became a forceful figure in public affairs in southern Colorado. In 1879, Mr. John was elected to the State Senate for a four-year term representing Las Animas and Bent counties. During the 1890s, Mr. John served two terms as mayor of Trinidad. According to the Chronicle-News, “Wise common sense, faithfulness to his trust and high efficiency marked his administrations.”
Mr. John’s most enduring contribution to Las Animas County was the development of irrigable land for farming and grazing. According to one author, Mr. John “built or was directly responsible for the building of nearly every irrigation project in Las Animas County…” In its obituary, the Chronicle-News noted that ”[Mr. John] daringly and with wise forethought invested his money in lands and in irrigation development when others hesitated…Hundreds of productive acres in the vicinity of Hoehne…are part of the work of his useful life.” Even today, there’s a New John Flood Ditch Company that bears his name.
In 1878, James John married Charlotte Amanda Mestrezat, a young woman from a Pennsylvania town just a few miles north of where he was born.
The couple had their first child, Mary Elizabeth John, in 1879.
In 1888, they welcomed a son, William Mestrezat John.
William John graduated from Trinidad High School. Inspired by two older cousins who were alumni, he decided to attend Princeton University, graduating in 1910. Most students at Princeton in those days were from the East Coast – in fact, Mr. John was one of only six students from west of the Mississippi.
Later in his life, William John became a respected novelist and short-story writer. Most notably, his short story, “Neither Jew nor Greek,” received the prestigious O. Henry Award as the best American short story written in 1930. Many of Mr. John’s literary works were set in a fictional locale known as the “Tumbleweed Valley” that bears a striking resemblance to Las Animas County. Indeed, some have speculated that the “Tumbleweed Valley” was a take-off on the “Sunflower Valley” in Las Animas County as it was set between a larger and a smaller town much as the “Sunflower Valley” lies between Trinidad and Hoehne.
Our Sister Scholarship
William John’s sister, Mary John Goree, died in 1944. As he contemplated a suitable memorial for her, Mr. John remembered with gratitude that his father had managed to live for nearly forty years in Las Animas County after being given less than a year to live and that his family had prospered greatly during that time. He also recalled with fondness his years at Princeton and the experiences inside and outside the classroom that had opened up his world. This led him to conclude that the best way to memorialize his sister would be to create a scholarship that would enable future Las Animas County students to share his experience of attending Princeton University.
In 1947, William John and Princeton reached agreed upon a scholarship for Las Animas County students at Princeton that would take effect upon Mr. John’s death.
William John saw the Goree Scholarship at Princeton not simply as a source of financial aid, but as a prize that would reward excellence and thereby motivate Las Animas County students to put forth their best efforts regardless of whether they ultimately received the Scholarship. Consistent with Mr. John’s conception of the Princeton Goree Scholarship as a prize, it carries a guaranteed award of tuition and fees regardless of a student’s financial circumstances with the possibility of the award of additional funds based upon financial need. In designing the new Mary John Goree Las Animas County Scholarship program, we have perpetuated Mr. John’s vision of the Goree Scholarship as a prize that rewards excellence and, accordingly, the Las Animas County Goree Scholarships will also carry a guaranteed award that equals or exceeds tuition and fees regardless of a student’s financial circumstances with the possibility of an additional award based upon need.
The Mary John Goree Scholarship at Princeton University went into effect upon William John’s death in 1962. Since then, 29 Las Animas County recipients of the Scholarship have received degrees from Princeton and one is currently attending Princeton. No recipient of the Scholarship has ever failed to receive a degree from Princeton. To date, the Goree Scholarship has awarded more $2 million in scholarships for Las Animas County students at Princeton.
William John’s descendants have been actively involved in the Goree Scholarship at Princeton since he was first negotiating with Princeton for its establishment. Indeed, it was his daughter, Alice John Vandermeulen, who urged him to include language in the trust agreement with Princeton making it clear that should Princeton ever admit women (Princeton was an all-male school until 1970), the Goree Scholarship would be available to women on the same terms as it was available to men. Following her father’s death in 1962, Mrs. Vandermeulen worked tirelessly to ensure that her father’s vision for the Goree Scholarship became a reality. From 1979 to 1982, Mrs. Vandermeulen was one of the initial members of the Princeton Goree Scholarship Advisory Board. In 1982, Mrs. Vandermeulen appointed her son and Mr. John’s grandson, David John Vandermeulen, to succeed her on Princeton Goree Scholarship Advisory Board. Mr. Vandermeulen continues to serve in that capacity and has played a leading role in the creation of the new Mary John Goree Las Animas County Scholarship program.