Seymour Class of 1971 establishes scholarship fund

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To Doug Richardson, the Seymour High School Class of 1971 was a special group.

He said they not only received a really good education in the classroom and had influential teachers, they also were successful in sports and had coaches who made an impact on their lives.

After graduation, the pride in their alma mater has lived on, and many of the class members have stayed in touch with each other over the years.

For the 50th class reunion this year, their loyalty to each other and their alma mater shined bright.

In a matter of three months, more than $55,000 was raised to start a scholarship fund through the Greater Seymour Trust Fund administered by JCB. That means for years to come, a scholarship will be awarded to one SHS graduating senior on an annual basis.

“It’s satisfying,” Richardson said of the response from his classmates. “When we started this, I had no idea where it would go.”

The fund is the result of conversations earlier this year between Richardson, class President Mark Emkes, Trish Whitcomb and class Secretary-Treasurer Wendy Hunt Shadrix.

Their task was to get as many of the 312 members of the class involved as possible.

“We didn’t want it to feel like it was just some top-down idea,” Richardson said. “We tried to get everyone we’ve been contacting engaged and involved in it, and the response has been great.”

While a group of classmates was in charge of logistics for the reunion Aug. 28 at The Pines Evergreen Room, the foursome wound up coming together on establishing the Seymour High School Class of 1971 Scholarship Fund.

In March, Richardson, who now lives in Washington, D.C., called Seymour Community School Corp. Superintendent Brandon Harpe to brainstorm what the class could do as a gift to mark the occasion.

“They were initially thinking of a gift, like a tree,” Harpe said. “As we talked through it, they decided to pivot toward something that would directly benefit students. The scholarship is a great choice and will benefit students for many years to come.”

Richardson learned Whitcomb and some of their classmates had talked about a scholarship.

“She brought that back to us and we thought, ‘Yeah, that makes sense,’” Richardson said. “It’s something that’s not just a one-time deal, a plaque on a wall. It could continue over time.”

Richardson and Emkes then researched scholarship funds and found the Greater Seymour Trust Fund, which was established by Elbert S. Welch in 1969 to serve the charitable, cultural, scientific, religious, literary and educational needs of the community. According to greaterseymourtrustfund.com, it receives funds from public-spirited citizens as gifts or bequests to be held by the trustee, JCB.

The fund has bank management and trust safeguards, and contributions to the trust qualify as charitable contributions, which may result in income tax and estate tax savings.

“When we talked to the folks at Jackson County Bank, we were impressed that they have a lot of these types of funds that they already manage,” Richardson said. “Then on the investment side, they actually have outside investment advisers who manage the dollars that are giving them advice on how to invest the money. We saw the returns over recent years and they were solid, so we were comfortable with that.”

The day after talking to JCB, Richardson saw one of the funds was named after his former basketball coach, Lloyd E. “Barney” Scott, and homeroom teacher, Marguerite Scott. He called their daughter, Alice, and asked if the family was happy with how their fund is run and received positive feedback.

“That was enough for us because Mark and I were both Barney boys. We’re good with that,” Richardson said as Emkes was a basketball teammate.

“We just embraced that 100% because a scholarship is something that everybody can relate to,” said Emkes, who lives in Brentwood, Tennessee. “Without a scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college, and so it just is a wonderful feeling that now, we can create this scholarship and we’re giving back and giving others a chance to go on to college or vocational school or community college.”

After the account opened in May, Richardson said they immediately started receiving donations. They initially set out to raise $50,000 by their 50th reunion.

At the reunion, it was announced that more than $54,000 had been raised, and Harpe accepted the donation on behalf of the corporation’s students and staff. Since then, money has continued to come in.

“I was shocked at the amount of money they were able to generate so quickly and graciously,” Harpe said. “It just says a lot about the people from that class and how much their high school experience meant to them.”

Harpe said the class has a lot of really good and successful people, and he enjoyed getting to know them better and helping them shape the direction of their donation.

“We are really working on our culture, school spirit and things like that in our schools,” he said. “There is no better embodiment of school pride than what the Class of ‘71 is doing for the next generation.”

Harpe invited the class members to come back to the schools to attend a show, a concert or a sporting event.

“This is what we need from all of our alumni — support the kids today in any way you can,” Harpe said. “Like I told them, you have been out of school for 50 years, but you are still and will always be Seymour Owls.”

Emkes said his classmates’ response exceeded his expectations.

“Like everything in life, you’ve got expenses and you’ve got obligations and you’ve got commitments, but they saw that this was something really, really good, and they had the courage to give and they made it happen,” he said.

In terms of deciding who will qualify for the scholarship, the class didn’t want to limit it. They thought it should go to a graduating senior seeking any kind of postsecondary training, whether that’s a two- or four-year college or a certification program.

“As we talked to classmates and friends, they immediately got that because they’ve all had kids or grandkids or friends of kids and grandkids who just the traditional graduate high school, go to college hasn’t worked for all of them,” Richardson said. “We didn’t want to swat people and say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be doing this or you’ve got to be doing that.’ If you want to go on and get more training to improve your lot in life, we’re for it.”

Since the fund is endowed, an SHS senior will receive a scholarship each year, and the principal will be invested and it will grow.

“Based on what we have now, the first year is a little different because there’s no investment record, so it will probably be a little lower,” Richardson said. “But in a typical year after that, if the principal is $50,000 and above, the winner would get about a $2,200, $2,300 scholarship. That can grow over time as the principal grows through investment.”

Whitcomb said reaching the goal of $50,000 for the 50th reunion was set to show the class it could create an endowed scholarship that pays a meaningful amount for a scholarship.

“Now, the important message is that everyone in our class becomes invested in the educational advancement of SHS graduates,” she said. “Gifts of any amount, now or over time, will make an important difference.”

Emkes said he likes how it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

“We never touch the principal, so it’s always going to pay out at about 4½%, so this scholarship will go on forever,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”