MARSHALL (KMHL) – The Southwest Minnesota State University Foundation has received a $1.5 million dollar gift by an alumnus of the 1971 Charter Class.

The late Mike Bjerkesett, gifted the foundation to endow a scholarship program for students majoring in SMSU’s Business programs. It is the largest single gift by an SMSU alum in the history of the institution.

Bjerkesett, known as a pioneer of handicap accessible housing, died in January of 2017 at the age of 69.

“Mike wanted to leave a legacy that invested in young people who were willing to use their initiative, determination and hard work to grow and prosper,” said SMSU President Kumara Jayasuriya. “His hope was that with a little financial support he could help future Mustangs achieve their goals.”

He was involved in a car accident following his sophomore year at Bemidji State that left him a paraplegic. Bjerkessett heard the new college in Marshall was built to be fully accessible for students with disabilities, so he transferred, graduating with a Business major.

In 1975, he and several partners founded the National Handicap Housing Institute, because they saw a need for accessible housing available for people with mobility impairments.

The nonprofit designed and built more than 50 apartment buildings totaling more than 15,000 accessible units across the country. He remained the group’s executive director until he retired in 2014.

Bjerkesett was a2001 Alumni Achievement Award recipient at SMSU. He also received the Courage Award from the Courage Center.

“Alumni like Mike Bjerkesett are shining examples of what it means to ‘do well by doing good.’ He dedicated his life to providing opportunities for others,” said Jayauriya. “His gift to SMSU will support our students and help them reach their goals.”