When longtime Valley grower and philanthropist Rodger Jensen was a business major at Fresno State College in the 1940s -- the major was then called "commerce" -- he needed to work to pay his way through college.
It was a struggle, Jensen said Wednesday, recalling jobs at service stations, a men's clothing store and a cotton oil producer.
To help today's struggling students, Jensen and his wife, Margaret, have given $1.5 million to the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at California State University, Fresno, to fund seven scholarships yearly for agricultural business or plant science students.
"Fresno State's been an important part of our lives. We wanted to help students attend who couldn't afford it any other way," said Jensen, who graduated in 1941. "I struggled and of course today it's much more expensive."
Recipients will be known as Jensen Scholars. Each scholarship will cover in-state annual tuition of approximately $6,000.
The Jensens' endowment joins other major gifts to the Jordan College, the largest of which was $29.4 million from the charitable trust of the late brothers Lowell and Hanabul Jordan in 2009. The money will pay for a new research building, which is in the planning stages, said Fresno State spokeswoman Kathleen Schock. The agriculture department was renamed to honor the Jordan brothers.
Other large gifts include $2 million from the late Joyce Mae Gibson in 2008 for equine studies and for the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market, named for her parents, and $2 million from the Bronco Wine Co. between 2006 and 2011 to endow two faculty chairs in viticulture.
Rodger and Margaret Jensen's connection with Fresno State has been strong over the years.
As students, they were introduced by a friend in front of the library at Fresno State, on what is now the Fresno City College campus.
Rodger Jensen graduated from Fresno State in 1941; he and Margaret were married that December. Margaret Jensen brought some local farming history to the marriage: her parents, W. Ed and Clarice Roberts, helped develop Fresno's fig industry.
Rodger Jensen became a decorated Army Air Force pilot during World War II. He returned to Fresno after the war and established S&J Ranch in Madera County in 1950. He was instrumental in developing the pistachio and citrus industries in Madera County and also farmed almonds and olives.
The Jensens sold S&J Ranch in 1970, but Rodger Jensen continued to manage the operation for many years. He now grows citrus and pistachios on his ranch, Jenco Farms, in Fresno and Madera counties. Jensen was the founder and first president of the Pistachio Association in the 1960s, now the American Pistachio Association.
Jensen also was a founding member of Ag One at Fresno State. He served on the university's board of governors and as an industry adviser to the Jordan College.
In 2009, the Jensens were awarded honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees by Fresno State.
Selection of the first Jensen Scholars will begin this spring for the 2012-13 academic year, Schock said.
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