A lasting legacy

Unexpected gift touching generations

Gary Jon Isakson, ’81, has donated $1.325 million to the UWL Foundation to create scholarships in the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities.

Posted 11:51 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2000

He was quiet and private. Friends valued his intelligence, keen insights and lacerating wit. Now, he’s known as the alum helping students get through college without loads of debt.

History major Gary Jon Isakson, ’81, has left $1.325 million to the UWL Foundation to create scholarships in the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. Awards of more than $50,000 will be given annually to students in CASSH and the Self-Sufficiency Program, along with those in study abroad programs.

“He really wanted to help our students in the liberal arts,” says Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Greg Reichert. “It’s easy to see how he thought a broad education was key for students to find success.”

Reichert says the generous estate funding was unexpected. It was Isakson’s court-appointed special administrator who found his will on the floor in the back of Isakson’s vehicle. Isakson had outlined specifics about how the UWL Foundation should utilize his estate more than 20 years ago. It was key that he named the UWL Foundation, not UWL, to receive the funds. 

“The generous gift came as a complete surprise to us and we are very grateful,” notes Reichert. “It’s really a wonderful, touching way to help a countless number of students in perpetuity.”

Isakson’s half-sister, Anita R. Lebakken, a 1959 School of Education graduate who lived in Stoughton, was also in UWL Foundation’s Legacy Society. 

Isakson died unexpectantly April 24, 2020, in his Cass Street apartment in La Crosse. He graduated from West Salem High School in 1971 and served four years in the U.S. Air Force. 


It’s easy to see how he thought a broad education was key for students to find success.”


When Isakson returned to the Coulee Region and following college, he was a financial administrator at Maple Grove Country Club before earning a certified nursing assistant degree. He worked the night shift at Hillview Health Care Center from 1996 until his death. Hillview co-workers remember him as a tireless worker and who was always willing to help.

Isakson touched many lives at Hillview. Through his generous donation, he will continue touching others for generations to come.


The Gary Isakson Scholarship Program

Awards will be given to CASSH majors and minors based on financial need and an essay about diversity. Annual allocations include:

  • Up to $10,000 for two $5,000 scholarships for Self-Sufficiency Program participants. The program helps single parents and other adults prepare for college success.
  • Up to $12,000 for four $3,000 scholarships for students participating in study-abroad programs.
  • Up to $30,000 for $7,500 scholarships that can be renewed for four years.