UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls

Mary Ella Jerome Story

Supporting annual scholarships for music, education, and agriculture

On first sight, Mary Ella Jerome, ’74, exudes the presence of a wise, strong woman with a crescendo of convictions, talents and gifts.

Now it’s time for a reprise.

So, she’s making it possible for five UW-River Falls students each year to receive music, agriculture, or education scholarships that honor her family and strong women who have attended UWRF. 

As one of five children of the late Wallace and Marion Jerome, who founded Jerome Foods, an international company that put turkey on dinner tables for more than just Thanksgiving, Mary Ella’s Midwestern upbringing and family roots have shaped her unpretentious philosophies and philanthropy.

“God gives you gifts and you need to use them,” says Jerome. “It could be the gift of music or teaching. I’m in a position now to have financial gifts. When I taught high school, nothing disappointed me more than to see students who had gifts but didn’t use them.”

Jerome says her family and UW-RF are forever connected.

“The history of my family is the history of UW-River Falls,” she says. “My mother was the first in the family to attend River Falls State Teachers College.” 

Mother Marion was one of the most important figures in her life, says Jerome.

“She was beautiful and intelligent, but she didn’t flaunt it. She was my best friend. She was my dad’s confidante, very smart in the business and about people.”

While her family has close ties with the university, Jerome also notes that she felt like the university was a part of her family. 

“Those people were very special in my life,” she recalls. “When I was on campus, everybody knew everybody. It’s really important to come back and express appreciation to those who helped you.”

“Years ago I made a list of things I’d do if I ever could,” she says. “I found the list a year ago. I’m pretty much checking things off. The way we were raised is that you give back to your church, community, schools, and university. You aren’t just a taker, and you don’t expect something for what you do all the time.”

Mary Ella Jerome

Mary Ella Jerome, '74

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