Janet Setter Dryer ’83 channels business success into scholarships for first-generation students from Minneapolis’ Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.
Janet Setter Dryer ’83 says she owes everything good that has happened in her life to the College of Saint Benedict. Her husband (Dan ’80) went to Saint John’s University and she met him as the brother of one of her good friends, Kitty Dryer, at the latter’s wedding shower (for another Bennie-Johnnie union). Without that connection, Janet wouldn’t have gone on to have her three beautiful children.
Her Bennie friend group remains in close contact. In almost 40 years, they’ve stuck together through weddings and births and deaths and never missed a Christmas party together.
Then there’s Janet’s career, which grew out of a relationship with her roommate and one of her best friends, Julie Gerlach Hanowski (who also married a Johnnie). Julie hired Janet as a sales representative at HelpSystems, a small start-up software company, in 1985. She rose to become president in 1998 – growing revenues from $19 million to more than $115 million – and eventually CEO of the HelpSystems family of companies from 2007-14. Janet later repeated similar success with Perforce Software, a private equity company that moved from California to Minnesota precisely to take advantage of her leadership. After COVID, she reduced her role to serving as chair of the board and finds her passion now in mentoring young women – including managers, first-time CEOs and others who have started businesses.
Janet and Dan have long given back to their communities, but increasingly they felt a desire to focus most of their philanthropy on one large priority. They created four annual scholarships – two at Saint Ben’s and two at Saint John’s – to be given to graduates of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis. Average annual family income there is less than $45,000, putting the world-class education at CSB and SJU out of reach without some help. The scholarships, launched in 2020, are worth about $20,000 each year per student – for a total of nearly $80,000 en route to their degrees. That’s typically what’s required to cover the gap left after Minnesota State grants and federal grants like Pell. With a new cohort in the fall of 2023, there will be 16 first-generation Dryer Scholars on the two campuses. So far it’s been a very successful group, and the first cohort will graduate in 2024.
“A door was opened for me and my husband,” said Janet, who majored in business. “There was never any thought about whether we were going to college. These kids come from a different culture. Their parents are dependent on them to drive them places or to interpret documents and conversations because they don’t speak English. So, we’ve decided to open the door for them. But they should get the credit because they’ve done the work, taken the opportunity and run with it.
“It’s so rewarding to hear their stories about studying abroad, interning in Washington D.C., and how they’ve become ingrained in the Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s community and they’re trying to make a difference for good,” she added. “It’s a God thing the way they’ve turned out to be unbelievable choices to represent our scholarship and the college. They’re making the most of it and turning into wonderful adults.”
The scholarships will continue to turn over going forward. The goal is to send more than 100 students to CSB and SJU.
“I feel blessed and honored to be able to do it,” Janet said. “Because when I rewind everything, it all started for me at Saint Ben’s.”