Standing on Shoulders
Endowed Scholarships Link Generations of Excellence
By Jill Johnson Piper ’80 P’17
Behind every scholarship at Rhodes College lies a story. With more than 300 named gifts awarded to students every year, the list of donors or their namesake foundations reads like a Who’s Who of the American twentieth century: publisher William Randolph Hearst, U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver, hotel pioneer Kemmons Wilson, philanthropist Margaret Hyde, arts patron Hugo Dixon, and life trustee Paul Tudor Jones IV. Other gifts capture colorful nicknames: Harold “Chicken” High ’33, J. Thayer “Toto” Houts ’37, William “Razz” Rasberry ’30. The origins of others are more mysterious: an anonymous alumna created the Red Shoes Service Scholarship in 2006 for students committed to community leadership.
Giving a scholarship a name solidifies the bond between generations at Rhodes. “I think it’s important that the recipient have a sense of standing on the shoulders of those who came before him or her,” says J. Carey Thompson, dean of admission and vice president for enrollment and communications. In the highly competitive world of college admissions, the offer of scholarship funding is crucial. With more than 500 in their number, the class of 2017 shares almost $11 million in institutional grants.
“Rhodes awards scholarships to attract talented students who bring any number of qualities and characteristics that we think are important to have in the student body. We offer scholarships to talented, bright students from all walks of life and different backgrounds,” Thompson says. “It is incumbent upon us to offset the cost so outstanding students can find ways to pursue this kind of education.”
Named endowments come in many forms. Donors may establish a scholarship in memory of beloved classmates; others may honor faculty whose influence shaped the donor’s life or career; still other alumni and parents endow as a way of “paying it forward.” While different qualifiers earmark most of the named scholarships—hailing from Scotland or being a Presbyterian from Alabama or achieving proficiency in classical piano performance—behind all the scholarships resides a spirit of giving in perpetuity.
Few honors mean as much as a scholarship established in memory of a classmate. The Serena Crawford Scholarship for Women honors a class of ’75 alumna who broke new ground at Southwestern in the shifting social milieu of the early 1970s. Under Serena Crawford’s presidency in 1975, Alpha Omicron Pi became the first sorority chapter on campus to integrate, says Dr. Sallie Clark ’76 of Denver.
A Phi Beta Kappa designate and Rhodes Hall of Fame inductee, Crawford went on to law school at Duke. She and her husband were living in Atlanta and had two small children when a car crash took both of their lives in June 1990. Crawford’s friends, including Clark, Donna Kay Fisher ’71, Katherine Maddox McElroy ’77, Carol Ellis Morgan ’76, and Sara Jeannette Sims ’76, initiated the scholarship to assist women students with financial need.
For Shelby Monning Patterson ’06, the Serena Crawford Scholarship was the deciding factor in choosing Rhodes over other schools. Equipped with a major in English literature and a minor in anthropology and sociology, Patterson is putting in long days as a sixth-grade teacher in a Jubilee Catholic School in one of Memphis’ most economically challenged neighborhoods.
“I am now a proud alum,” Patterson says, “and this spring I plan to take my class to visit the Rhodes campus. All of my students come from low-income families and qualify for free and reduced-price lunch programs. One of my goals as their teacher is to communicate to them that, with hard work and dedication on their part, their college dreams can be within their academic reach. Because of the scholarship I had, I feel comfortable telling them that their choice of college can be financially attainable to them as well, thanks to the generosity of benefactors like mine.”
Married to alumnus Nick Patterson ’04 and still “best friends with my randomly assigned college roommate,” Patterson is already thinking about the next generation. “My husband and I always joke that if we win the lottery, the order would be, first, pay off the house. Second, endow a scholarship at Rhodes.”
In memory of their classmate Dr. Brian Sudderth ’77, multiple donors established the Dr. Brian F. Sudderth Memorial Scholarship within a year of his untimely death in April 2012. Sudderth distinguished himself in the late ’70s as president of the Social Regulations Council, codirector of the Kinney Program, varsity athlete, Sigma Alpha Epsilon president, Mr. Southwestern, and member of the Rhodes Hall of Fame. In Little Rock, he practiced medicine as a “people’s doctor,” serving both an active family practice and low-income, elderly, and disabled patients as a volunteer physician at a church-based clinic.
Bill Hulsey ’77, principal partner in an intellectual property law firm in Austin, TX, spearheaded the effort to found the Sudderth award. He says, “During our years at Rhodes, Brian Sudderth was not only the best of us but brought out the best in all of us. Like few people we encounter in life, being with Brian just made you feel good in your own skin because you knew that he was comfortable in his. His leadership, compassion and giving, achievement, and fun-loving nature tell a life story that all Rhodes students should know and seek to emulate.”
Another alum who has been memorialized just this academic year with a named scholarship is Virgil Starks III ’85.
Focused on Faculty
Rhodes students graduate with strong, often lifelong bonds with their professors. The scholar-mentor relationships developed in the classroom often inspire alums to honor professors through scholarships. Such was the case for two physics majors from the 1960s, both of whom have gone on to make notable contributions to their field.
From the post-war era on into the 1990s, Professor Jack Taylor ’44 steered the physics department toward an emphasis on optical physics, and his research program in infrared spectroscopy of the sun allowed students unprecedented access to experimentation and laboratory experience. One of those students was Louisiana native Dr. Harry Swinney ’61, who came to Rhodes at the suggestion of his family doctor, Dr. John Gladney ’38, who was one of the first recipients of the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Mesmerized by Taylor’s classroom experiments, Swinney soon turned from engineering to physics.
“It was Jack Taylor’s guidance that turned me on to the idea of a life in research,” says Swinney, professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2000, he established the Jack H. Taylor Scholarship in honor of his mentor for students majoring in the physical and biological sciences. Swinney himself received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Rhodes in 2002 and the Distinguished Alumni Award during convocation at Rhodes Homecoming/Reunion Weekend in October 2013. At convocation, he succinctly credited Rhodes with teaching him three enduring skills that have served him throughout his university career.
“First, under the guidance of Prof. Jack Taylor, I learned how to do physics—from his classes and especially from research projects conducted under his direction,” Swinney said. “Second, I learned how to write essays in courses I took on literature, history, and philosophy. In my teaching I have found that students may learn physics theory very well but, lacking a broad education like that provided at Rhodes, they often don’t learn to write well.
“Finally, at Southwestern I first became involved in community service, and that has subsequently become an important and rewarding part of my life.” Every year Swinney codirects the UNESCO-sponsored Hands-On Research Schools in which students from more than 30 developing countries perform scientific experiments and develop their writing and public speaking skills with the coaching of volunteer faculty.
Although Alec Lindman ’14 of Niskayuna, NY, never worked with Prof. Taylor, he will graduate this spring with a bachelor of science degree in physics as the recipient of the Jack H. Taylor Scholarship in Physics, the second award to honor Taylor. Charles W. Robertson, Jr. ’65, and his wife, Patricia, established the scholarship in 2005 for a student majoring in physics. Robertson was the recipient of the college’s Distinguished Service Medal in 2008, and is the founder of NanoDrop Technologies, which pioneered microvolume instrumentation techniques that allow scientists to quickly and easily quantify and assess purity of small-volume liquid samples such as solutions of proteins and nucleic acids. In addition to the Taylor scholarship, Robertson endowed the Dr. Charles W. Robertson, Jr. Endowment for Student Research and Engagement in Physics at Rhodes.
Lindman is now on the “other side” of the recipient screening process, interviewing prospective incoming students as potential candidates for the Taylor scholarship. “It gives you an interesting perspective on where you were at that point,” Lindman says.
Rhodes came to Lindman’s attention as a school with a strong physics program and comprehensive liberal arts tradition. “The strength of Rhodes’ physics program and liberal arts is kind of a rarity,” he says. Lindman’s latest accomplishment continues the legacy of scientific achievement in the study of light. He earned a coveted summer research position at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, last year. “The project involves measuring cosmic microwave background radiation, which is the earliest light we can see in the universe,” he explains.
The Anna and Jack D. Farris Scholarship honors a beloved faculty couple and was established by an alumni couple, Mark ’82 and Elizabeth Sheppard ’84 Hurley. “Jack and Anna were important to both of us in college,” says Mark Hurley of Chicago and New York, now a financial consultant to businesses in Tanzania. A history major, Mark was editor of The Sou’wester. Elizabeth is vice president of development and public affairs at the Juilliard School of Music.
In his trademark cowboy boots, the lanky, pipe-smoking Farris, a novelist, poet, and playwright, was a professor of English from 1961 to 1984. He was equally at home with the Romantic English poets or his own Western-style prose, as in his 1987 novel The Abiding Gospel of Claude Dee Moran, Jr. Mark recalls: “We loved his courses, but we were all captivated by Jack himself—the gruff demeanor, dry sense of humor, the hint of menace that masked a sincere interest in his students.”
Anna understood young people and brought fairness, humor, and good judgment to her posts in the Dean of Students office and British Studies at Oxford programs, he says. “Together they captured the best of Southwestern in all respects,” Mark recalls. “Jack, as an accomplished writer and great professor, represented the best of the faculty, and Anna the best of the staff. Both of them connected with students in a way that made us feel they were personally invested in our success and growth as individuals.”
Jack died in 1998 and Anna retired to Arkadelphia, AR, but the impression the couple made on Rhodes students continues to thrive through the Hurleys’ scholarship, awarded each year to an English major.
In the Spirit of Giving
A trademark quality of the Rhodes education is engaging the student body in community, whether those bonds take place among campus groups or out in the greater Memphis area where students develop lifelong connections. The ties that bind often inspire alums to give back to the place where their community-mindedness matured. Other supporters endow scholarships designed to allow Rhodes to continue attracting the best and the brightest.
Trustee Susan Brown, P’10, P’16, created the Brown Scholarship in 2006. The scholarship is awarded to Shelby County residents with a willingness to be engaged in activities at Rhodes and who demonstrate high academic standards. More recently, William and Tricia Shiland, P’15, created the Shiland/Park Scholarship to benefit middle-income students who show an entrepreneurial spirit.
Since 2004, Barry ’83, P’17 and Susanna Johnson P’17 of Arlington, TX, have endowed three separate scholarships: two in memory of friends and family, and a third to further the couple’s “passion for making ministers,” Barry Johnson explains. First was the Johnson Family Scholarship, earmarked for students majoring in religious studies or entering full-time Christian ministry upon graduation. Next came the George R. Johnson Scholarship in memory of Barry’s father, established in 2004 as a Christmas gift to Barry from Susanna, now a P’17 with daughter Allie Johnson ’17 a first-year student.
In 2007, the Johnsons dedicated the John Colby Service Scholarship in the memory of the Memphian with whom the Johnsons traveled and studied theology. The couple endowed the award following Colby’s sudden death.
As recipient of the John Colby Service Scholarship, Brian Tchang ’14 of Memphis, who is also part of the Bonner program, puts in as many as 280 hours of service work per academic year. “That’s 10 hours a week each semester and then eight hours a day during the summers for about seven weeks,” Tchang says. A commerce and business major with a focus in accounting, he believes in blending academic work and professional opportunity.
At Rhodes, Tchang has raised money for GlobeMed, which installs clean water filtration systems in remote villages in Nicaragua. He has taught English to the children of migrant workers through the Amity Foundation in Nanjing, China; volunteered at an orphanage for mentally disabled children in Woju, South Korea; and rebuilt homes in New Orleans with a student group called Rhodes Rebuilds. His recent project is the sale of a bumper sticker that supports struggling nonprofits in the city of Memphis; it reads “I AM A MEMPHIAN,” echoing the powerful “I AM A MAN” slogan of the Civil Rights Era.
Tchang might be said to view his 10 volunteer hours a week as an asset allocation portfolio: “I’ve been given 10 hours a week to make a difference, and it makes sense to give them to places that are struggling. I like to look for places that have a tremendous amount of brokenness to them because I’m given an opportunity to make more substantial changes there.” Occasionally he encounters cynics. “If someone tells me ‘you’re really young,’ or ‘it’s probably pointless’ to try to change this place, that’s okay. If I fail, I’ve learned something from it.”
In the 10 years since the inception of the Johnson Family Scholarships, Barry and Susanna have shepherded eight students through Rhodes College. Personal contact with students is one of the most gratifying aspects of the giving experience, Barry Johnson says.
“Benefactors are kept in the loop in a personal, vibrant way,” he explains. “The person who gives a named scholarship to Rhodes College will receive a letter announcing the recipient of the award, and then you get a letter in February or March from the student, which is extremely wonderful. You know someone is benefiting from the gift that year. I make it a point to sit down and visit with each of the kids and let them know they have a friend in Dallas.”
Barry thinks often of his father’s deferred college dream. George Johnson completed his first year at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, then had to go to work full time. “The scholarship that honestly means the most to me is the one Susanna set up for my dad, who was unable to go to college. As my brother and I got towards college age, what my dad told us was ‘I don’t care where you want to go, I will find a way to pay for it. I want you to go to college and not have to worry about money.’ I have come to understand what an incredible blessing it was for me to attend college and not have to worry about whether I could make my September tuition.”
“What makes it special to me is that it was my father’s dream for me, and now I can offer my child the same thing. The idea that, for Allie and everyone else who has these scholarships, that now that dream is coming true because of my dad, is the most touching part of it.”
It is said that giving is its own reward. In its 166-year history, the place known now as Rhodes College has given many students more than just an education. As the scholastic fruits of the college’s endowed awards reflect, its supporters—whether alumni or parents, faculty or staff, classmates or trustees, foundations or individuals—recognize the student experience as life-changing, and they want to make that experience accessible to any qualified student willing to tackle the challenges and opportunities available here.