Thanks to the generosity of a childless, blue-collar Columbus couple who never attended college but were smart enough to save money and thoughtful enough to bequeath it to help students they never met, a ninth Muscogee County high school senior will receive significant financial aid to earn a degree.
Donald Williams Jr. of Columbus High School is the 2016 recipient of the James Henry Smith and Gladys Manning Smith Scholarship, the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley announced Tuesday.
Donald will receive as much as $7,200 annually to help pay for four years of college, as long as he maintains a grade-point average of at least 2.0. That shouldn’t be a problem for Donald; he has a 4.2 GPA at Columbus High.
The scholarship comes through an estate gift from James and Gladys Smith. Their endowed fund has supported the selection of a new Smith Scholar each year since 2008.
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Henry was a firefighter. Gladys was a mill worker. Neither could afford college, but frugal living and wise investing -- especially in Aflac stock – enabled them to save more than $1 million. Part of that sum funds this scholarship, boosting Columbus youth to obtain the college education the Smiths could not.
Foundation staff and board members, along with Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis and Columbus High principal Marvin Crumbs, surprised Donald with the good news during a presentation in Ken Broda’s Advanced Placement macroeconomics class.
“Every day is a good day at the community foundation, because we enable and promote philanthropy in this community that helps make a difference,” Betsy Covington, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer, told the students. “But today is extra special, because we get to do something to help somebody else in honor and in memory of special people who trusted us to help them do that.”
In addition to academic achievement, applicants also must demonstrate high character and financial need to receive the Smith Scholarship.
Donald’s school activities include speech and debate team, drama and theater, International Thespian Society and, as a sophomore, serving as lieutenant governor adviser for the Georgia Superintendent Advisory Council.
His community activities include coaching in the Columbus Urban Debate League and volunteering at the Columbus Community Center and in the Victim-Witness Assistance Program.
Among the comments from adults who recommended Donald for the scholarship were:
▪ “Mr. Williams is definitely destined to be a great leader and has outstanding intellectual promise.”
▪ “Donald’s reputation is one without flaw. Teachers and peers at Columbus High School have nothing but positive statements to say about Donald.”
▪ “He is courteous, respectful and friendly to students and teachers. His character and integrity further exemplify his unique maturity for his age.”
▪ “Mr. Williams is an outstanding example of a dedicated, loyal, smart and dependable person.”
“Anyone who doubts the quality of young people in our community should serve on this committee,” Covington told the students. “You guys are fabulous, What a great generation. Yet, today, we have chosen one student. That’s Donald Williams.”
Covington then explained why the committee selected Donald.
“Your interest in improving yourself so that you can help the world be better really resonated with our committee,” she told Donald. “You have very intentionally challenged yourself in ways that will put you in a position to make our world, our state and, we hope, Columbus better -- so this will be the first pitch in our recruitment to get you to come back to Columbus one day, the first of many, I’m afraid.
“But we are excited for you. We feel like we’re making a super investment in you. And we can’t wait to see what you’re going to do.”
Ellen Brooks, the foundation’s operations manager, suggested the first task. She told Donald, “You’ve going to have to call your mama.”
In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer after the announcement, Donald described his reaction.
“I saw Dr. Crumbs come in, and I thought he was going to give us a speech or something about senioritis,” Donald said with a smile. “But I saw everyone else come in, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, the community foundation! It was just heart-pounding excitement after that. I’m just really grateful.”
He wants to major in international business and minor in marketing or business information systems. His dream job, he said, it to work with Marvel Comics’ movie business and to become an entrepreneur.
This scholarship will help him reach that goal.
“I don’t have to take out as many loans,” Donald said. “That’s the biggest thing. It just means I have a better chance at going to college and coming out debt free and being able to give myself back to the community.”
This is the ninth year the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley has awarded the James Henry Smith and Gladys Manning Smith Scholarship. The recipients have been:
- 2008: Turkeisha Fogle of the Teenage Parenting Center graduated from Columbus State University.
- 2009: Laketa Lewis of Kendrick High School graduated from Savannah State University.
- 2010: Brandy Pierce of Brookstone School graduated from Valdosta State University.
- 2011: BreAuna Delpesche of Columbus High School chose Columbus State University.
- 2012: Sam Shields of Columbus High Schools attends Presbyterian College.
- 2013: Sam James of Northside High School attends the University of Georgia.
- 2014: Anna Laura Davenport of Hardaway High School attends Georgia Tech.
- 2015: Taylor Casey of Jordan Vocational High School attends Columbus State University.
- 2016: Donald Williams Jr. of Columbus High School plans to attend Mercer University.
To learn more about the scholarship, call the foundation at 706-320-0027 or see www.cfcv.com.