JACKSON – Back in the ’40s, Carl Herrin depended on two things to get him to class at the University of Mississippi: an Ole Miss sticker and his thumb.
“When you don’t have a car, you just do the best you can,” said Herrin, who hitchhiked 115 miles from his home in Durant to Oxford, “so I’d stand by the road, and if you had an Ole Miss sticker on your suitcase, someone would pick you up.
“It was a different day and time,” said Herrin, co-owner of numerous Jackson-area auto dealerships. “The biggest thing some people have to worry about now is finding a parking place.”
Even so, he said, he and his wife Nancy relate to college students in need, which inspired them recently to create a scholarship endowment at their alma mater worth more than $1 million.
Across the state, alumni give to their colleges this way each year, for reasons more varied than their respective school colors.
“You ask 100 people why they give, you will get 100 different answers,” said John Rush, vice president for development and alumni at Mississippi State University.
“But the need to provide higher education in our state is so great and the need for assistance is so great, that no matter why a donor gives, it’s going to make an impact.”
One donation that made a significant impact in Mississippi came from someone who never went to college.
The late Oseola McCarty, a Hattiesburg woman with a sixth-grade education, made sure generations of minority students are able to get a college degree
In 1995, she donated to the University of Southern Mississippi $150,000 – money she earned by hand-washing and ironing clothes.
“There is, I believe, some personal and emotional benefit that comes from helping someone with absolutely no expectation of a return gift,” said Bob Pierce, USM’s vice president for advancement.
“But I believe the overriding reason is that people want to make a difference. Especially with an endowment, you can make an impact for generations to come.”
With an endowment, the school invests the total donation, and the annual interest funds the scholarship, theoretically, forevermore.
Some of these awards are, basically, perpetual monetary memorials, or tributes.
“When you endow one, you can name it anything you want; you can honor someone,” said Deborah Vaughn, senior executive director of development at Ole Miss.
“That’s the beauty of scholarships.”
For her part, Dr. Michelle Gibson has honored the name of her father, a retired public-school and college math instructor, with the Percy E. Gibson Jr. Scholarship at Jackson State University.
“I want to give back to the school,” said Michelle Gibson, who graduated from JSU in ’91 and received her medical degree four years later from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“I had such great instructors at Jackson State who really took me under their wing.”
She reserves the $2,000-per-semester awards for math, biology or chemistry majors with an “unmet financial need.”
Although she’s a pediatrician, she doesn’t require recipients to study medicine – but it would be nice if they did, she said. Just in case they do, there’s this: Awardees must commit to working 10 hours a week at her Kidz Care Klinic in Jackson, she said.
“When I was in medical school, unlike me, there were students whose parents were physicians, kids who grew up in that environment; I believe that gives you an advantage.
“This scholarship will give Jackson State students the benefit of hands-on experience. They can shadow me at the hospital or observe nurses on the job.”
Scholarships can prod students onto certain career paths, but many exist just to ensure that those in need can go to, and stay in, school.
The least restrictive donations are often the best kind, said Pierce at USM.
“Several months ago we received a bequest from a woman of about $280,000 for the USM Foundation.
“All she said was it should honor her mother, and left it up to us to determine what to do with the money.
“We decided to endow a competitive professorship.
USM alumnus Chuck Scianna and his company fund scholarships, but his most recent contribution – $5 million – spurred a new building project for his alma mater’s College of Business.
It was the school’s largest gift ever from an alumnus.
“I have a hard time understanding why anyone can’t realize the need to help out with education,” said Scianna, 58, a ’75 graduate who started his gas and oil pipe company, Sim-Tex L.P., 25 years ago in Texas.
“When you give to education, you see an investment return.
“Not one generation has let this country down, yet the reason each one has been successful is because the previous generation made an investment in them.”
Still, Scianna said, that as a donor he’s also motivated by pride.
“When I came to Texas, I was made fun of: ‘You’re from Southern Miss? What’s that?’
“Now those Harvard and Texas Aamp&M graduates work for me. I had the last laugh.”
Gary Pettus/The Clarion-Ledger