A Scholarship Legacy with Rural Roots for Rural Physicians

Dr. and Mrs. Karleen (Photo submitted)

What began as a conversation between Ruth Valentine Karleen and her lawyer became a legacy that is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. Throughout those two decades, the Karleen Scholarship has been awarded to 37 students, while gifting more than $1.76 million. The recipients include 29 alumni and eight current students who hail from both the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses of the University of Minnesota Medical School. The scholarship for each student has grown over time to cover half of the tuition for all four years of medical school, with an emphasis on supporting those who are interested in primary care in rural communities or underserved areas. 

Ruth was the daughter of Dr. Walter H. Valentine, a 1900 graduate of the Medical School and a family physician in Tracy, Minnesota. After the death of Ruth’s father, Bob Struyk was retained by Ruth and her sister, Helen Valentine Perrin, as the family attorney. In the course of that representation, Bob became acquainted with the small community of Tracy, Minnesota, where Dr. Valentine had practiced medicine for many years. Bob recalls that he attended a number of meetings in Tracy dealing with the local hospital.

“And, I became familiar with the challenges of hospitals and the practice of medicine in rural communities. There were disputes about what should happen to the local hospital since communities like Tracy were struggling even to maintain basic medical care for members of the community,” he said.

Eventually, Bob was retained personally by Ruth and her husband, Dr. Conrad Karleen, who was a specialist with expertise in dentistry and plastic surgery and became well-known for his skill in the reconstruction of cleft palates and damaged oral structures. Dr. Karleen graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1938. Although his primary practice centered in the Twin Cities, for many years he traveled each month to Duluth, where he performed surgery on children. He was not only an expert surgeon, but also a dedicated humanitarian throughout his life. Bob was inspired by the Karleen’s spirit of generosity and their personal motto of giving back through time and finances. 

“It didn’t matter the time of day. If you needed something, they would drop everything to help. This meant holiday dinner interruptions with empty spaces at the table, but that is who they were through and through. Ruth was a supportive and hard working spouse. She and Con were great people. The Karleen and Valentine families began the Karleen Charitable Trust.” 

After Dr. Karleen’s death, Ruth provided for the establishment of the Karleen-Valentine Charitable Trust which was founded upon her death.

The Current Trustees

As the years advanced, a new set of trustees emerged. Although David V. Perrin, MSW ’76, who is the nephew of Ruth and the grandson of Dr. Valentine, was a trustee since the start, his wife, Margaret J. Hustad-Perrin, MD ’76, has served as a trustee for 12 years. And currently, Andrew Matysik who is a managing partner at Punch & Associates Investment Management, Inc. in Edina, Minnesota, has served for seven years. The fourth trustee is Andrea Hustad Benson, MD ’01, who is an anesthesiologist at St. Luke’s in Duluth, Minnesota, and works closely with her husband who owns the Frost River Company in the Twin Ports area. She joined as a trustee about two years ago and is the niece of Perrin. 

“The Karleens were incredibly dedicated,” Perrin said. “They were in it to help people. It was a life all about helping others. As trustees, we all agree that financial support opens the door for those who might not pursue rural care. Bigger cities attract physicians because they offer repayment or higher salaries that eventually help cover educational expenses. The Karleen Scholarship alleviates some of the burden.” 

At the same time, Dr. Hustad-Perrin notes that it was always important to the Karleens that the scholarship would support students who, in turn, give back after they have started their careers. 

“Before the pandemic, we met with the scholarship students every year. We would go to Duluth, and we would go to the Twin Cities. We really get to know them, and even now, we know where the first recipients practice and how they are doing. We encourage them to think about giving back — to continue the circle and continuity of giving. The Karleens emphasized and embodied that belief.” 

Celebrating a Scholarship Milestone

By offering these scholarships, the Karleen trustees encourage current students to consider how the generosity helps make their education possible, and how they, in turn, might pay that forward by giving back to their community and someday support the education of future physicians. 

According to a Duluth campus student recipient, “There were times I was hungry growing up, but my family mostly made it through. However, finances have always been a struggle, and I needed to work at least 20 hours a week during college and had two full-time jobs each summer. Even still, I had wondered if I would be able to achieve my dream of becoming a family doctor due to the ever-rising cost of medical school and the knowledge of the salary of a rural family physician. This scholarship relieved my financial stress considerably, and I will make sure to pass on the favor.” 

As the trustees and recipients celebrate this 20th anniversary, Dr. Hustad-Perrin acknowledges that the scholarship students are not the only ones who receive something of value through the Karleen Charitable Trust. 

“As trustees, we are rewarded by giving and by knowing that we are helping students who might not pursue rural medicine because of the financial strain. As trustees, we have the gift of connecting with students who become alumni. It’s a wonderful circle that we hope will inspire future scholarships from our recipients who go on to help and heal rural communities.”

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