The James & Jeanne Arneson Memorial Scholarship Fund awards scholarships to graduates of Wilmot High School in Wilmot, South Dakota, who display an aptitude in creative writing by authoring a short story.

The fund was created in memory of my parents, Jim and Jeanne Arneson, who were relentlessly encouraging to me and my three sisters. Mom and Dad were also voracious readers, particularly of fiction.

The connection to Wilmot is that Dad’s grandparents (my great-grandparents), Oscar and Caroline Olson, moved to the United States from Norway and spent many years in Wilmot. They’re buried in Wilmot Cemetery.*

The goal of the James & Jeanne Arneson Memorial Scholarship is to encourage students from Wilmot to continue writing fiction well beyond high school, to tell the stories that only they can tell. Powerful stories and funny stories and magical stories — stories that the world is waiting for, even if it doesn’t realize it just yet.


If you’d like to make a tax-deductible (at least in the U.S.) contribution to the James & Jeanne Arneson Memorial Scholarship Fund, the South Dakota Community Foundation makes it easy.

You can contribute with a credit card online. (If you contribute online, SDCF covers all transaction fees. There’s no cost to you or the fund.)

Or you can contribute by sending a check made payable to “James & Jeanne Arneson Memorial Scholarship Fund” to:

South Dakota Community Foundation
P.O. Box 296
Pierre, SD 57501

Thank you!


In 2021, Hailey Madsen won a $250 scholarship for her story “The Thread.” Novelist Owen Laukkanen, author of The Wild, Gale Force, Deception Cove and many other outstanding novels, was this year’s guest judge. “THE THREAD was an outstanding story in every way,” Owen said. “I feel like the very best writers combine technical proficiency with the ability to tell a captivating tale, and Hailey Madsen’s entry ticked all of the boxes. It was a really well-written piece with great pacing and rising tension, which are key to holding a reader’s interest. The piece had a complete arc and an absolutely wonderful twist/reveal at the end that paid off the rest of the story really well. It’s hard to tell a captivating story in six pages; many authors work their whole lives to hone that kind of skill, and Hailey clearly has a great handle on what makes a story tick, and the writing chops to tell the story she wants to tell. I really enjoyed THE THREAD and I’m certain it’s just the start of wonderful things for this promising young writer.”

In 2020, Maci Kasuske won a $250 scholarship for her story “The Product.” Guest judge James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor and other great novels, called Maci’s story “masterful” and said, “My hope is this is the start of many more stories and eventually novels.”

In 2019, Antonia Block won a $250 scholarship for her story “A Life of Tumaini – A Life of Hope.” Novelist Joe Clifford, this year’s guest judge, had this to say about Antonia’s story: “Simply put, people this age shouldn’t be able to write this well. There’s a maturity in the prose that you won’t find in writers three times as old. The juxtaposition of hope and doubt, gain and loss is masterful; and the conclusion of learning to live with, to quote the Boss, what you can’t rise above is downright inspiring. And the syntax flat-out rocks.”

In 2018, Gabrielle Renelt won a $250 scholarship for her story “The Town of Acton.” Novelist Jen Conley served as this year’s guest judge.

In 2017, Baylee Shultz won a $250 scholarship for her story “The Market.” Novelist Merry Jones served as this year’s guest judge.

Jessica ZempelIn 2016, Wilmot High School senior Jessica Zempel won a $250 scholarship for her short story “Love, Lust, and Death.” Novelist Jon McGoran was our first-ever guest judge.

Beth and I were thrilled to be able to travel to Wilmot to present the first annual scholarship. We were also able to meet Jessica’s parents, her English teacher Danielle DeGreef, high school principal Larry Hulscher, and many other wonderful people. Wilmot’s a great community.


The ongoing Scholarship Selection Committee, established pursuant to the rules of the South Dakota Community Foundation, includes me, Beth, and authors Jen Conley, Merry Jones, and Jon McGoran.


My great-grandfather Oscar Olson was a tailor. According to his obituary in the December 5, 1940, edition of the Wilmot Enterprise, he moved to Wilmot with his family in 1914 and worked for the Peterson Clothing Company. The obituary also said, “He later went into the clothing and tailoring business for himself, and served a term or two on the city council.”

When the 1920 U.S. Census was taken, Oscar, Caroline, and their daughter (my grandmother) Solveig all lived on Fourth Street in Wilmot. Oscar was listed as the manager of Gents Furnishing Store, which sold men’s clothing.

Solveig was born in 1905, so in 1920 she was a 15-year-old student in the Wilmot school. Her son (my father), Jim, said she later earned a teaching certificate from Northern Normal and Industrial School (now known as Northern State University) in Aberdeen, South Dakota. I’m trying to locate information regarding where she may have held a teaching position.