St. Olaf College | News

Still helping future educators: Elaine Tracy ’39

Professor Emerita Elaine Tracy '39
Professor Emerita Elaine Tracy ’39 educated Oles for over four decades and five St. Olaf presidencies. In 1989, she established an endowed scholarship that helps future educators afford a St. Olaf education.

There weren’t many students that Professor Emerita Elaine Tracy ’39 didn’t impact during her 42 years at St. Olaf College. In 1989, she created something that is helping Oles forever.

Tracy first came to St. Olaf for an admissions visit in 1935. It was a swim in the first indoor pool she had ever seen, in what is now Haugen Theater, that made her stay. As an Ole, Tracy was busy from the start. She engaged in women’s athletics (a club activity pre-Title IX), other organizations, student government, and as a hall counselor in Mellby and Mohn halls. 

Education was a passion. So was St. Olaf — she came back to the Hill in 1942 to instruct physical education. She then advanced, serving in student life, and, during World War II, directing the Cadet Nurse Corps. Later she directed student teaching, earned a doctorate in education, and joined St. Olaf’s tenured faculty. As a professor, she chaired the Education Department from 1966-1979. Tracy also established a Christian Education major and was the first woman to be a member of the Religion Department.

In all, it was a career that spanned four decades and five St. Olaf presidents – nearly her whole adult life – and thousands of Oles. And she looked ahead, considering how to best ready students for the rest of their lives.

In 1984, St. Olaf student Jill Sundby Van Alstyne ’86 profiled Tracy upon her retirement for the Manitou Messenger. In the article Tracy shared: 

“St. Olaf is my family. People say they get sick of hearing about the St. Olaf family—I don’t.”

“The present is very important. We can’t be living back in the days when the lights went out at 11:00, and freshmen couldn’t have radios. We must live in the here and now and have some optimism for the future.”

In 1989, as part of her class’s 50th Reunion gift to the college, Tracy established an endowed scholarship for students in St. Olaf’s teacher education program. She included a gift to the scholarship in her will. Upon her death, others added memorial gifts to the scholarship.

It was a thoughtful gift. At St. Olaf, nearly a third of education majors and concentrators are eligible for Pell grants, compared to 20% of students overall. Nationally, educators earn less after graduation than their peers. Scholarships like the Elaine M. Tracy Endowed Scholarship and other forms of aid help Ole educators access and afford their St. Olaf education. The amount of loan students have taken out has held steady for the past years while the cost of education has grown, thanks to the aid provided.

Tracy’s gift lasts as an example of what a planned gift can do for Oles well into the future. An Ole each year, all future educators, is now supported by the fund she created. Forever.