Students encounter a lot of firsts their freshman year of college. In 1967, when 18-year-old Grady Porter went to register at what was then Bismarck Junior College (BJC), he secured a truly historic first: He took out the first federally-insured student loan in the United States.
BJC registrar Herb Schimmelpfenig knew of the brand new federal program, and sent Porter down to the Bank of North Dakota (BND) to see if he could find the funding he needed to go to college. Porter left the bank with a loan of $350 – enough to cover tuition, books and fees for the year. The note was signed by BND employee Marvin Stenehjem.
BND recently invited Grady and his wife Jeanette to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of that loan. During the event, Stenehjem’s son, BSC alumnus and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, noted that his dad was very proud of that particular loan, and the other student loans that followed.
Porter had an athletic scholarship to BJC, but knew it wouldn’t pay all the bills. The oldest of five, he says the loan made it possible to go to college. After graduating from BJC, he went on to Valley City State University graduating with a little over $4,000 in student loan debt. The average student loan debt today is $30,000.
“Dad said that North Dakota students shouldn’t be denied education for a lack of money. The Bank of North Dakota should be proud of this work.”
“I made 99 payments of $45 to pay it off,” he says.
BND President and CEO Eric Hardmeyer says that while BND still provides student loans, changes in federal regulation mean that the focus is on BND student loans during college and refinancing student loans after college, including those from the federal government. “We couldn’t make that federal student loan to you today,” he told Porter during the celebration.
But they could in 1967. And, by helping that first student, BND helped hundreds. Thanks to his student loans, Porter was able to go on to a long career in counseling and human services making a difference for troubled youth at the State Industrial School (now Youth Correctional Center) and later through state agencies in North Dakota and Nebraska. He recently retired.