On this episode of Luginbilled, we are following the lack-of-money in the hunt for missing scholarship checks! Join us as we follow the story of two scholarship recipients, and discover just how much effort is required to get important people to answer questions. Cool & Unusual Punishment is a member of the Nerd & Tie Network! Find more shows from N&T at their website in the show notes.
Episode 3 Reference Materials
Joe [recorded]: “There needs to be accountability, not only to those parents and students…”
“You can't have fly by night operations that are basically operating like a business.”
Jodie: You're listening to cool and unusual punishment. This is episode three of our special, Luginbilled. Tonight we are focusing on the Andrew Cray Memorial Scholarship, and the lack of follow through on payment to a few scholarship recipients that I was actually able to chat with over this last week, and that's what we're going to be dealing with this week.
Before we get started on that ride, tell us exactly what the Andrew Cream Memorial Scholarship was in relationship to the Luginbill Children’s Foundation.
Tyler: This is from the Luginbill Children's Foundation website. “Founded in December 2016, the Luginbill Children's Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to ensuring that every child in the Chipper Valley grows up in a safe, kind and loving community. We receive, hold, utilize, administer and dispense gifts and grants, and act without profit as trustee of educational and charitable funds/programs.” That is from their website.
Jodie: Can you, before you put that aside, let the listeners know who serves on the board of directors for the Luginbill Children's Foundation?
Tyler: So the founder is Joe Luginbill. The board of directors is as follows. Anissa Luginbill is the secretary. Joe Luginbill is the president, Teresa Luginbill is the vice president. Dennis Luginbill, Joe's father, is the treasurer, Zachary Luginbill is a non voting member and Jenna Luginbill is a board member. And for what it's worth on the website, they're not coy about that the board is the Luginbill family. There's a photo of them all here.
December 2016 is when the foundation was founded. So in 2017, the Luginbill Children's Foundation announces the creation of the Andrew Cray Memorial Scholarship.
Jodie: Yeah, the Cray family, if you're from this area, would most certainly be familiar to you because Seymour Cray senior is the creator of the Cray supercomputer, which is, and has been in past decades, a very big deal around here. And that's kind of its own interesting story. If you're not familiar with it, this is the family that has Andrew Cray.
Tyler: From the foundation's website. “Our scholarship fund is named in honor of Andrew Crais, a Chippewa Valley native who passed away from complications of cancer in 2014 after transitioning while attending college at Northwestern University, Andrew found his calling after participating in fellowships for LGBT organizations in DC while pursuing his law degree. Among his many accomplishments, Andrew helped “launch out to enroll,” a project aimed at encouraging LGBT people to sign up for health insurance under the ACA. The White House honored Andrew posthumously as a quote champion of change for his work to connect LGBT Americans with comprehensive and affordable health insurance.”
Jodie: So, in any case, you can see where Andrew Cray had an impact on a community. That's why the scholarship was created. We're going to fast forward to 2018. This is a scholarship opportunity for kids in the area.
Tyler: And this is, 2018 is the second year of the Andrew Cray Scholarship?
Jodie: Yes. Jaden Davids is somebody who applied for the scholarship, a senior at North. She gets notified on May 4th of 2018 in an email that she has been selected as a winner, one of four that's going to get this scholarship. Do you happen to have that email that you could read?
Tyler: “Hello, Jaden. I'm very pleased to inform you that you have been selected to receive the Andrew Cray Memorial Scholarship. Congratulations. The scholarship was established to recognize outstanding dedicated students who are also a member of the LGBTQ+ community. After reading through your essay and application materials, our selection committee felt that you are a perfect fit for this recognition. Please confirm the below institution name and address for us to mail your scholarship check,” and the university was University of Minnesota Duluth.
Jodie: And that’s signed, I think, it's your friends at the Andrew Cream Memorial Scholarship.
Jodie: When I spoke with Eben, who is Jayden's father, he told me that the first red flag of sorts that came up when this all occurred was when it came to inviting Jaden to the donor dinner where the scholarship recipients were to come and, you know-
Tyler: Get giant checks.
Jodie: Get giant checks. It's a place where people looking to give money for future scholarships can see, “Oh, look, this is the good work that the foundation is doing. These are the recipients, we can see them in person. This is wonderful. Yes, I will write a check for X amount of dollars so that this can continue.”
I don't know the date of that dinner. But I've been told me that it was hours before the dinner was to happen and-
Tyler: That they were invited to it.
Jodie: Yes, and she couldn't attend. It was too short of notice. There was something about that that struck him as just a little bit strange. She applied for the scholarship. Everything is on the up and up at this point with the scholarship. And then it's like an afterthought to invite her to the…
Well, fast forward just a couple of weeks.
Tyler: May 31st 2018, Jayden gets an email from the Andrew Cray Scholarship. “A check in the amount of $1000 has been sent this week to the University of Minnesota Duluth towards your fall semester. The check has been made out from our fiscal agent. Luginbill Children's Foundation incorporated. The memo line reads Andrew Cray Memorial Scholarship, Jaden David's Tuition. Please plan to contact our committee after your first semester regarding future scholarship opportunities, we send an essay prompt and short application to former recipients who are in good academic standing. We look forward to supporting you throughout your education, best wishes and again, congratulations.”
Jodie: As far as Jayden is concerned at this point, she got a scholarship. It's being sent to UMD and that's that. Well, what happens next is that the money doesn't arrive. Her family, her dad, Eben, takes note and recognizes that $1000 isn't like a million dollars. But still, it was budgeted.
Tyler: You spoke to him. For the record, yo're not speculating like this is-
Jodie: I did. Right. Eben is wanting to find out what's going on with my daughter's scholarship money. He calls Joe and leaves a voicemail. He gets a call back and they speak. Joe was happy to hear from him, and he knows who he is. And then, once Eben says, “My daughter's scholarship money hasn't been received. What's what's going on with that?” Joe starts to have issues with this phone, and he can't hear him, and the phone call goes dead.
So after that, Eben continues to try and reach Joe on the phone again, leaves him voicemails and doesn't get an answer back. At some point after this, Eben calls Joe from his office and leaves a pretty generic message, something to the effect of him being interested in the foundation. Whatever he said exactly, he didn't leave his name. And again, Joe responded pretty promptly. The receptionist in the office picked up the phone, and they were trying to figure out who this call belonged to, since there hadn't been a name left. Eventually, the call makes its way to Eben, and again, there is no resolution at the end of that phone call.
Tyler: Do you think it was frustrating for him to be a father old enough to have a daughter going to college-
Jodie: -To be dodged by similar 20 something?
Tyler: -To have to have a 25 year old like, dipping and dodging over a $1000 check?
Jodie: That's the last time he speaks to Joe Luginbill.
Tyler: So on September 7th, this would have been shortly after, like, classes start, Jayden emails the Andrew Cray Memorial Scholarship. Just being very forthright, “I received the scholarship. I got an email on May 31st saying this check was going to be sent to the college. I have contacted admissions and they have not received it.” That is, on September 7th. She receives a reply from Joe on September 21st that reads “Hello, Jayden. I apologize as I do not check this inbox frequently, I will double check with our accountant to see when and where the check was sent to. If there was an error on our end, I will make sure that it is reissued. Sorry for the inconvenience. I hope that your first semester of college is going splendidly. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, you can also reach me via my cell.” And he gives his number.
That's September 21st. But it's around the same time that Eben is making these phone calls, because you would be, at the start of the semester when it's noticed that this check hasn't arrived, and they're both in good faith, wondering what the mix up was.
Tyler: I think it's important to keep mentioning that because they will maintain a level of restraint throughout this that I think is very admirable.
Jodie: They sure do. After his exchanges with Joe, Eben starts reaching out to the foundation. And really, at this point, especially, reaching out to the Eau Claire area school district. You might be wondering, why would he reach out to the Eau Claire area school district? Well, that's because Joe Luginbill at this time was the president of the Eau Claire school board. And so he had an email address with the school board.
Tyler: Yeah, there’s some Venn diagram circles that overlap here that I needed you to explain to me, that Joe Luginbill is managing at least three emails, one for the Children's Foundation, one for the Andrew Cray Scholarship, and also his Eau Claire area School District School Board president email. And Eben is reaching tendrils out to all these places trying to get-
Jodie: -him to respond.
Tyler: Because yeah, because he's not getting his phone calls answered or emails, responded to.
Jodie: So he emails Joe at his Eau Claire area school district email and gets no response.
Tyler: For him to be such a prominent part of all these different things. And to feel like he's a ghost must be frustrating, to say the least.
Jodie: Starting in November on the eighth, he thinks “I'm going to email some other people at the Eau Claire school district and figure out if they get my emails.”
Tyler: There's a series of emails here that are just him-
Jodie: Yeah, read one of the emails he sends to a school board member.
Tyler: “Does this method of contact through the ECASD website work? I've tried for quite a while to contact a different board member, but have been unsuccessful in getting a response. Not sure if this method is working. Please reply or call if you receive this.”
The person he sends this to replies Thank you for sending us a message. It has been sent to the specified person.
“I've been trying to contact Joe Luginbill through this and other ways, but have been unsuccessful in getting a reply. I'm checking to see if other board members are having the same issue. Or if it's just Mr Luginbill. Please let me know if you receive this.”
“Yes, your message came through just fine.”
“You're the third other board member I've emailed through here and they've all gone through fine. I have some questions for Joe about a scholarship that was awarded to my daughter from his foundation. To date, the funds haven't been received, and we're trying to figure out what happened. For some reason, he's not replying to any of my emails or phone calls. Maybe they're not going through. If you have time to give him my contact information, I would appreciate it.”
Jodie: Up until this point, Eben and his daughter are operating in a sort of vacuum of, just maybe not being fully aware that anybody else was having problems getting paid. But there is a message on November 29th of 2018, there is another scholarship recipient that indicates to the Davids family that they, too, are having a problem getting their scholarship money and addition. What do they say?
Tyler: They also point out that a third person who got the scholarship last year also hasn't gotten her second year one.
Jodie: So this is not just the Davids family having a problem.
Tyler: And it speaks to what I'm sure, the level of confusion and frustration at this point that Jayden and her father are speaking with other scholarship recipients to be like, “Did you get the check?”
Jodie: Well, there's a bit of a shift that happens at some point, and Eben takes a closer look at the Luginbill Children's Foundation website. He starts to read the bylaws for the foundation, and there's a piece in there that's of particular interest to him because of the amount of money his daughter’s scholarship check was. Would you mind reading that by law?
Tyler: So these were the Luginbill Children's Foundation bylaws, adopted in 2016 under Section five. This is describing different roles in the foundation. Section five deals with the treasurer. Section five c reads, quote “He/She shall also sign all checks, drafts, notes and orders for the payment of money, which shall be duly authorized by the board of directors and shall be countersigned by another authorized individual when exceeding the amount of $500.”
Jodie: Eben reads that, sees that his daughter's check is certainly over $500.
Tyler: Eben finds us in the bylaws, decides the treasure is the person he needs to take this up with because he's not getting in touch with Joe. So he reaches out to the treasure who happens to be-
Jodie: Dennis Luginbill, Joe Luginbill's father. So he reaches out. And this is Joe's father's response.
Tyler: “Hi Mr. Davids. My son, Joe Luginbill, is in charge of the scholarship. I generally help out by playing music at the event. Thanks, Dennis.”
Eben replies an hour later. “Thanks for the reply. I've been trying to contact him for a long time without any luck. My daughter Jayden David's was awarded the scholarship last May, but the funds from the foundation have not shown up at her school yet. Is there any way you could possibly forward this to Joe so he can contact me to try and figure out where the money went? Another student is also having the same issue.” That's on December 4th.
Jodie: Without response-
Tyler: Eben didn't get a reply to that email-
Jodie: Because that's the full chain.
Tyler: So two days later, Eben sends another email. “I haven't heard back from anyone yet. As the treasurer of the foundation, could you possibly get back to me regarding the status of a scholarship check? My daughter Jayden Davids received an email back in May saying it was sent to her school, but the school has yet to see it. Any information would be greatly appreciated.”
Jodie: I think, I'm just taking a short detour from what I had mapped out, because on January 28th of 2020, Theresa and Dennis, Joe Luginbill’s parents, released a statement after the shit hits the fan in Eau Claire with the State Theater Project, giving the boot to an organization that is renting. They're not paying the bills. His parents make the statement:
“In recent months, we became worried that Joe had taken on too many things. His passion to support children in need, to advocate for better living conditions for young adults, to fight for a fairer and more just society for the LGBTQ+ community had become unsustainable. As the months slipped by, and now, in hindsight, it is clear he was withdrawing in the face of being overwhelmed. Unfortunately, Joe was not communicating these challenges with his closest friends, his work and professional colleagues, or his family. Many were blindsided.”
I just want to read that because I think it's important to understand that on December 4th of 2018, Dennis Luginbill was made aware that his son was not paying a scholarship. To see a statement in 2020 that they were blindsided-
Tyler: He's also been made aware that other recipients of the scholarship have not received money.
Jodie: His response was that his son was in charge and that he plays music. He's the treasurer. He agreed to be the treasurer of what has become a corrupt foundation.
Tyler: Regardless of what his role practically was, he was not not aware of this, two years before he would make a statement that says-
Jodie: -They were blindsided.
Jodie: After that happens, Eben, bless his heart, continues to email the Eau Claire area school district. On December 5th, on December 11th of 2018. Really, at this point, I'm sure it's very much a principled thing you've got going on.
Tyler: I’m going to make sure the email is not the problem. I'm going to look at the by laws. I'm gonna make sure I'm talking to--like, he's very systematically going through and eliminating any possibility. And he's doing it with an incredible amount of polite restraint.
Jodie: Yes, at some point in these conversations with the Eau Claire Area School District, there is somebody-- I don't have the name of who that is-- indicates to him something to the effect of “Wow, this is nuts.” You know, “we are not going to encourage students to apply for the scholarship next year. If this is such a challenge for students to get the money, we don't want to make this an option for students in the future, so we're just not going to advertise it.”
That is echoed to me both by Eben, who tells me that, and to the second scholarship recipient, which will make sense to you why that was the case. When we get to her story.
Tyler: It is notable that he's told that because I imagine this happens in the world of scholarships, where he might be told, this scholarship foundation you're dealing with, it sounds really bad. We're not going to offer this to other students just because it looks like this is more of a headache than it's worth. The foundation that person is referring to is not an unknown third party. It is the one that's run by the president of the school board in Eau Claire.
Jodie: And the band plays on.
Well, at this point, it's clear that he's not going to get anywhere dealing with trying to work through the school district, trying to work through the foundation, trying to get to Joe directly. So he has a friend who's a lawyer, and he talks to him about the situation. Thankfully, this lawyer agrees to just help him out as a friend. It takes the help of two lawyers, and a judge, and some sort of advising capacity, to encourage the Luginbill Children's Foundation to make good on this scholarship. And it's on January 3rd of 2019 that Joe Luginbill emails Jayden Davids about a replacement check.
Tyler: That email reads, “Good morning, thank you for being in touch regarding your receipt of the Andrew Cray Memorial Scholarship. A replacement scholarship check in the amount of $1000 has been mailed to U of M Duluth. It will be delivered by tomorrow at noon through Priority Mail Express. I personally called the University of Minnesota Duluth one stop services to verify that I was using the correct address, to avoid a lost check, and confirm that the payment could be applied for the second semester.” I believe that was something Eben had been asking about, because so much time had passed that he was now wondering if he could use this for the second semester. “The scholarship program is volunteer run and only maintained a few times a year. Your understanding is appreciated.”
Tyler: This is a very dry email. It comes from the Andrew Cray Scholarship email. It is very disconnected and professional, as if this-
Jodie: Does not acknowledge the fact that this was triggered by, um, the encouragement of lawyers getting involved.
Tyler: But it has the tone of like a secretary sending this email. But it signs off, “Thank you, Joe Luginbill.”
Jodie: The check arrives, she gets the check. That's the end of that. Well, that's in January of 2019, and the scholarship is annual. So that means that in May-
Tyler: It's time for another round of scholarships.
Jodie: It’s time for another round of scholarships.
Emily Otto is a senior at North High School in 2019. May 10th, she gets a Facebook message from Joe Luginbill,
Tyler: It starts with Joe Luginbill waving, Facebook Messenger wave. Just, I've never seen it deployed in a way that's not a red flag. He then says, “Hi, Emily. Hope you're doing well. I sent an email to your school account, but I'm not sure if it reached you. What are your plans for this evening? I would like for my foundation to give you an Andrew Cray Memorial scholarship this year. This is a scholarship that goes to LGBTQ students who are proven leaders in their school and community. We're having a scholarship perception this evening from 5:30 until 7 p.m. At the State Theater, and I would love for you to come if you are able.”
Jodie: What time was that sent at?
Tyler: 1:42 PM, about three hours before the reception.
Jodie: She’s unable to come because she's en route to go visit her girlfriend at UMD. Her girlfriend is Jayden Davids.
She looked over her school email account very closely. She had never gotten an email from Joe Luginbill. Also, she didn't apply for the scholarship. She gets an email on May 10th completely out of the blue.
Tyler: A Facebook message.
Jodie: Facebook message.
Tyler: This is because, I just read that final email from the Andrew Craze Scholarship. The professional, emotionally detached tone of it. Uh, This is four months later.
Jodie: Four months later, sent us a Facebook message on the day of the dinner-
Tyler: For a scholarship she didn't apply for.
Jodie: For a scholarship she didn't apply for.
She indicated to me that she had understood it to be not something that was being offered anymore, you know, or advertised, because of what had happened. She was familiar with the problems, because her girlfriend is Jayden Davids. She just got chosen randomly from North High School. The only recipient in 2019.
Tyler: Getting a scholarship you didn't apply to would be unusual already, but one that specifically for LGBQ members, like, it seems a very personal thing to offer in a Facebook message to somebody who didn't ask for it.
Jodie: You would need to know a little something about the person before you’d be able to offer it.
Tyler: Right. So she replies, “Hi, I would be more than happy to accept. However, I'm actually on my way to UMD right now and won't be back in time for the dinner. Would I still be eligible to receive it if I cannot make the dinner?” Joe replies, “No worries. You will still be a recipient this year. The scholarship amount is $1000. I will get the check to you next week. It will be made out to UM Duluth.
Jodie: And on top of that, he asks her to make a short video. If you could read that request-
Tyler: “Would you mind sending a one minute phone video saying, “Thank you, what you plan to do during/after college, and anything about LGBT representation? I can put it on the screen for the event tonight.”
Jodie: Not only does she not apply, does he need to know something about her life in order to give her the scholarship, he also knows where she's going to school. I only know that it might be assumed she might be going to UMD because that's where her girlfriend goes to school.
Tyler: She says, “Yes, I will. I will do it when I can. I was also wondering where I can pick up the check next week. Thanks. I hope tonight goes great.”
He says “I could bring it to you. Or you can come to the State Theater sometime after school.”
Jodie: He wants to hand deliver the check to her. The previous year, that check was mailed directly to UMD, to the financial aid office. Well, it was supposed to be.
This time he shows up to North High School in a suit, with a check in an envelope. She was in a position where she felt it best to have a teacher come with her to get the check.
Tyler: You spoke to her as well.
Jodie: Yep, to Emily. Yeah. She meets him. He gives her the check. After he leaves, they check to make sure there's a check in the envelope because she's known what's happened in the past, right?
There's a check. She keeps it because it's made out to, UMD. It's not anything that she can cash on her own. When she goes to school, she goes to the financial aid office. She said she had a few other scholarships as well, I think two others.
Tyler: Ones she applied for? Just out of curiosity.
Jodie: Yes, ones she applied for. So she brings her scholarship checks to the financial aid office. A week later, she gets a call from the financial aid office and they say, “Hey, uh, there's a problem with one of your checks.” They're like, “Yeah, we have tried to reach the people at the foundation for this check. We can't get any call back. This check has bounced.”
And it was the check from Joe Luginbill. They told her, quite reassuringly, and as people with great experience-
Tyler: These are bureaucrats in the financial office system of UMD.
Jodie: Yeah, they say “You've probably been scammed. This happens sometimes and, you know, we tried to call on it. There's no answer. The check has bounced and we're sorry, but.”
You know. Emily told me that she was very emotional when she got this news. It was shocking, and especially considering the history of her girlfriend having a great deal of difficulty getting her check in the first place, even having physically a check, knowing that Joe certainly must have known that these two young women were dating. Also, there's the larger issue of a foundation, which has gotten quite a bit of press, had quite a bit of fund fundraisers. They don't have a $1000 to cover her check.
On September 12 of 2019, Emily's mom knows somebody who was involved in the fundraiser for the Andrew Cream Memorial Scholarship, and her mom, on her behalf, sends a message saying, “Hey, Emily hasn't gotten this money. It has bounced insufficient funds. Is there anything that you can do to see what's going on?”
And this person says “Yes, I know people higher up than me who are involved in some ways in this effort, and I will send them a message.” That exchange happened at what time on September 12?
Tyler: This is at 12:10 p.m. on September 12th. About two hours later, 1:47 PM Joe messages Emily and her mother in a group message with the three of them to say, “Hi, Emily and Sarah. I just wanted to let you know that I got a voicemail from UM Duluth that the scholarship check did not go through. I was able to talk, uh, to Dana today. A 1020-”
Jodie: Dana is at UM Duluth.
Tyler: “A $1020 replacement check will be mailed out this week to include the return fee. I believe it tried to draw from a different fund. At any rate, I apologize for any inconvenience this caused, and it should be taken care of in short order. Thanks again. And Emily, I hope your first classes have gone well.”
Jodie: Clearly, this does not involve months and months and months and months of pursuing, but also the people that were reached out to are influential members of the Chippewa Falls community-
Tyler: And specifically are outside the bubble of the Joe Luginbill Family Foundation, where this is probably the first they heard that something was going wrong.
Jodie: Yeah, and as far as they knew, probably it was “Oh, no, something weird happened. Well, we'll make a call and make sure it's OK.”
Tyler: In any case, within two hours of somebody reaching out to outside players, Joe out of the blue messages both of them to tell them that something went wrong with the check, I am handling it right now.
Jodie: Makes no mention of what prompted him to send a message like that. And the check was cut and sent and cleared. And that's the end of that.
It's a hell of a ride to follow the tale of these scholarships. We must remember that these were not the only people who had struggles with scholarships. These are the people we talked to.
Tyler: It’s more, it’s more than the $1000. The people they’re reaching out to are supposed to be reliable foundations of,--they’re the kind of people who can award scholarships. For students trying to yell up the wall at the castle like, “I think I'm supposed to be getting $1000” and to just get either ignored or when you get a response, it's a response that refuses to acknowledge everything you've been through.
Jodie: Yeah, and as somebody who identified as part of the community of scholarships he was offering, just seems especially cruel.
Tyler: Yeah, it's worth pointing out again that the scholarship was to-
Jodie: LGBTQ+ students.
Tyler: Who may have trouble securing financial aid because of the LGBT status. “We are here to acknowledge and reward you.”
Jodie: But not.
Luginbilled is presented by cool and unusual punishment. Research and fact checking by me, Jodie Arnold. This episode was edited and mixed by Tyler Haas. Music by Rick Dickert, Harley Poe, and AG Music. Special thanks this week to Jayden and Eben Davids, and Emily Otto for speaking with us. Our website, where you can listen to past episodes and find links to the material and documents we referenced is cool and unusual punishment dot com.
Tyler: Do you need a beer?
Jodie: Yes. Do you need a cigarette?