May 17, 2023


FERGUS FALLS, Minn. (June 16, 2021) — A Sri Lanka native who attended Minnesota State Community and Technical College at Fergus Falls has established a scholarship for local students in memory of his “American parents.”

The scholarship funding donor, Patrick Mendis, Ph.D., attended Perham High School (PHS) and MSCTC, formally known as the Fergus Falls Community College, in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the first American Field Service high school exchange scholar from Sri Lanka to Minnesota.

Mendis would go on to graduate from the University of Minnesota with a doctorate in geography and applied economics, and continue teaching at the university for nearly 10 years. He also served as staff for the late Edward Burdick, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff of U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, R-MN, along with other federal agencies during the Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations — most recently as an American commissioner to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State until the Trump White House withdraw from the UN agency.

“Patrick is an embodiment of the American dream and the spirit of Minnesota, who believes in public education and government service,” said Chad Miller, president of the Fergus Area College Foundation. “He developed his philanthropic mindset of giving back to education as a tradition of his cultural belief and social upbringing in Minnesota and Sri Lanka.”

Patrick Mendis, Ph.D., center, at his 1986 graduation ceremony at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minneapolis, with his American parents, Bill and Dorothy Johnson, left, and friends Joyce and John Haverland, right, of Perham. (Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota)

Mendis was the alumni speaker at the 2020 MSCTC commencement. The guest speaker was his friend U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN.

While attending PHS and FFCC, Mendis stayed with Wilfred “Bill” and Dorothy Johnson, whom he called his American “Dad and Mom.” The late Bill Johnson was the longest-serving biology teacher at PHS, and Dorothy Johnson served as a public nurse in Otter Tail County.

Dorothy Johnson passed away in May at age 89 in Perham. Bill Johnson passed away in August 2006.

“My AFS Mom and Dad represent the best of America and Christian values,” Mendis said. “I am eternally grateful for their kindness, love, and friendship all these years.”

Mendis married a former AFS high school exchange student from Willmar, Minnesota to Japan. They have two grown children who also called the Johnsons, “Grandpa Bill” and “Grandma Dorothy,” Mendis said.
Mendis considers Perham his “birthplace” in America. He visits friends and family in Perham and his in-laws in Willmar annually.
“The Johnson family and friends in Perham made me part of their vibrant and entrepreneurial community,” Mendis said. 

Mendis said the Johnson-Mendis Scholarship is a way to memorialize the AFS family and the circle of Perham families, which include the Haverland, Hammers, Huebsch, Nelson, Thomas and others who have helped his education and American journey.

Mendis said his own philanthropic work was also an effort to “make a small difference in the lives of next generation in Perham and Fergus Falls. You never know what impact a grant recipient could have — it could be greater than you imagine.”

“This is my way of saying ‘thank you’ for investing in my education,” said Mendis, who received scholarships and fellowships at the University of Minnesota and Harvard University. He also established the Edward Burdick Legislative Award at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Millennials Award for Outstanding Leadership and Service at Harvard University.

The Johnson-Mendis Scholarship will be awarded to an MSCTC student annually. The preference will first be given to students who have recently graduated from PHS; the second priority is given to Fergus Falls High School. Those who would like to contribute to the scholarship fund are invited to contact Ms. Lori Larson, executive director of FACF, at 218-736-1514.

Students who are interested in attending MSCTC at Fergus Falls should apply through the FACF. The selection committee will announce the recipient of the Johnson-Mendis Scholarship award in June every year.

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