Students join to say thank you to donors

Joe Lord

Hughes-Kirkpatrick High School in Beechmont, Ky., became an elementary school in 1990. Although the students who attend the school now are much younger, Betty Steele and her husband, Cecil, know many of those students will want to attend college someday.

That’s where they come in.

The couple began the Hughes-Kirkpatrick High School Alumni Scholarship at Western about 10 years ago using their own money. Their donation now provides financial aid to Western students who attended the former high school.

The couple said they didn’t set up the scholarship fund to receive notoriety. But, last night, they got it anyway.

For the second year in a row, Western hosted its Scholarship Celebration Tuesday night at Van Meter Auditorium. The event brought together scholarship recipients and donors like the Steeles during an hour-long ceremony.

Tom Hiles, vice president for Institutional Advancement, the brainchild of the event, said he wanted donors to see how their gifts have affected students’ lives.

“I can’t think of anything more tangible than matching our donors with the recipients to see how it’s impacting them,” Hiles said to the 150 donors, recipients and university officials Tuesday night.

Greenville sophomore Zane Dempsey couldn’t have agreed with Hiles more. He was happy to shake Betty and Cecil Steele’s hands Tuesday night and put a face to those helping him pursue his education on the Hill.

He received the Hughes-Kirkpatrick scholarship this year. He said attending the ceremony was his way of saying “thanks” to the Steeles, who looked on at him Tuesday the way proud grandparents might a grandson.

“I feel it takes a weight off my shoulders,” Dempsey said of the scholarship. “It lets me worry more about getting the grades than getting through college.”

Although Dempsey hasn’t yet chosen a major, he said he is considering pre-pharmacy.

That’s what the Steeles want to hear – big dreams and bang for their buck. They want their benefactors to do great things.

Alliance Corporation president Tommy Gumm said last night’s scholarship recipients, like Dempsey, should make good on their gift.

“You will be successful in life, give back,” he told the audience with a sentimental tone.

Gumm, an alumnus, heads the Alliance Corporation Leadership Scholarship. The gift is benefiting six students on the Hill.

Tuesday night, students received Gumm’s message.

Sentiments of thanks flooded into the Van Meter lobby as rain poured outside. The room’s stained-glass ceiling protected the donors and recipients from the drenching downpour, and they mingled among themselves.

A table behind one of the building’s pillars bore brochures titled “Naming Opportunities for Media and Technology Hall” and “Investing in the Spirit.” Many at the event had already done the latter and a Western connection was common among them.

Young, old, students and professionals.

They were all at Van Meter to take part.

There were donors like Helen Brown who understands financial struggle.

She married Leonard Brown in 1950 and supported him as an office worker at BG Wholesale while he attended classes on the Hill.

Leonard Brown later graduated from Western and attended graduate school at Kentucky and Michigan State. He became a Western faculty member in 1967 and was eventually the agriculture department head.

The agriculture department established a scholarship in Brown’s honor after he died in 1982. The scholarship fund now serves as the vehicle for Helen Brown’s support, and she is still supporting students, a half-century after she helped her husband through school.

“He had no financial aid, so he knew what it meant,” she said.

This year, the student was Nashville freshman Bethany Pastorial.

“It helps that someone else outside my family wants to send me to college,” Pastorial said.

Pastorial is majoring in pre-veternarian medicine and would someday like to work with horses.

“She’s going to do well,” said Brown, who later went to Western and became a nursing instructor on the Hill.

Tuesday night’s program ended with scholarship recipient Amanda Biggs singing “Climb Every Mountain.”

“Follow every river ’til you find your dream,” she sang.

It was dusk when the donors, recipients and university officials filed out of the auditorium.

Donors and alumni left with nostalgia.

Students left inspired.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]