Who should get the Nicol money?

Lindsay Core with her fellow Nicol Scholars from her graduating year

Tim Hummel says in the last 10 years the Nicol Scholarships have not been doing what was originally intended.
And the advisor to the foundation is asking Petrolia Council to help turn that around.
For decades, students at LCCVI in Petrolia have been receiving the prestigious award set up by former resident Robert Nicol. For 25 year, 10 students would receive the $10,000 US scholarship if they kept their grades up, were active in their community and in the school.
Hummel, who was the principal at LCCVI, says that created a culture where students naturally participated in extra curriculars and volunteered outside the school and, he says, it made LCCVI and Petrolia a better place.
But when the 25 years was coming to a close, the foundation realized it had enough money to continue on. It went to the courts to see if the will could be changed. It could, with the permission of the groups set to benefit when it was closed – the local Catholic church and the Town of Petrolia.
The will said the church was to get an air conditioning system and the town would get the balance. The church, says Hummel, agreed to take the money for the air conditioning unit and sign off. The town – which was set to get a $1.6 million winfall – agreed to accept two $10,000 payments a year instead – to go for repairs to Victoria Hall and the local library.
For decades the formula worked as a booming stock market and smart investments grew the fund so much, for a time up to 15 scholarships were handed out.
But Hummel told councillors Monday the group took a big hit in the 2008 recession; a bank took over the investing after the Nicol’s original broker died and has placed the money in more conservative portfolios.
That means this year, there was just $37,000 interest to payout and $20,000 of that was going to the town.
Two students shared one $10,000 US scholarship in 2019. Hummel says the award which was supposed to stimulate community now is considered “elitist” with the “obvious” people winning the awards.
In 2019, only 10 people applied compared to 60 in the scholarship’s heyday.
Hummel says the foundation doesn’t want to “invade the principal” of the scholarship because it’s “a slippery slope” leading to the demise of the scholarship.
So, he asked council to consider what should be done.
“Right now, you are getting 50 to 60 per cent of the money…and it is going to be like that for the foreseeable future.”
Hummel says council has to consider if that’s what it wants for the community. In previous years, Hummel added, the council decided to donate $10,000 so more students would receive scholarships.
During the 2019 budget, council decided to keep the cash.
Mayor Brad Loosley and several councillors spoke against the idea. Councillor Grant Purdy says council’s donation of its share of the scholarship money was “not intended to be a long term solution” and voiced concerns that the fund was “mismanaged” when more than 10 scholarships were given out.
Councillor Ross O’Hara added he could see the town returning some of the Nicol money again but only if other actions were taken. He suggested scholarships be put on hold for up to five years, that the $600 stipend for the judges of the award – the mayor, the principal and two local clergy – be eliminated and the foundation stop paying for representatives to come to Petrolia for the award presentation.
Loosely asked Hummel and current principal Greg Nemcek, to come back to council with another plan which would put the scholarship fund in better financial position before the town council considers what it will do with the Nicol money during 2020 budget deliberations.
But Councillor Joel Field wanted to see the town donate some of the cash back to scholarships.
“I think it did really impact our community. It made people strive to be better,” he says.
“I would really hate to see it be delay for five years…someone going into Grade 9, it’s there and it would the opportunity for their future.
“I really believe strongly it should continue to go forward and I believe this small amount now from a council perspective, could help it go on and could impact this community.”