Susan Parrott Ward ’76 came to Western Carolina University in 1973 with a deep passion for the arts and a burning desire to make things with her hands, but without sufficient financial resources after having dropped out from another university a few years earlier. But, working with WCU’s admissions and financial aid offices, Ward was able to weave together enough dollars through a small scholarship – along with grants, loans and a work-study position – to be able to enroll, succeed and graduate with honors in two-and-a-half years.

From left, Heather Mae Erickson, assistant professor of art, works in the ceramics studio with MFA student Jordan Krutsch and Olivia Collins, the inaugural Joan Byrd Endowed Scholarship recipient.

From left, Heather Mae Erickson, assistant professor of art, works in the ceramics studio with MFA student Jordan Krutsch and Olivia Collins, the inaugural Joan Byrd Endowed Scholarship recipient.

Now, 40 years later, Ward and her husband, retired Raleigh businessman Randall Ward, are continuing a tradition of giving back to WCU by making an estate gift of $1 million to create an endowment fund to provide scholarships to deserving students in the School of Art and Design, with preference to ceramics majors. “This lets me say ‘thank you’ to the university and to the people who took a chance on me when I was a student,” she said. “While it is intended to repay the trust that Western extended to me years ago, it also says that we trust Western to continue to excel and grow its mission. It says that we trust in the university’s leadership to successfully navigate the political and economic challenges facing higher education. Since we will not be here to see the gift realized, our gift is definitely a matter of trust.”

The estate gift marks the latest in a long list of contributions from the Wards to WCU’s School of Art and Design. In 2006, they gave $150,000 for an endowment to support its arts programs and another $35,000 for the purchase of a large kiln. The ceramics studio in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center is now named in their honor. With an initial contribution of $10,000 in 2014, the Wards created the Joan Byrd Endowed Scholarship as a retirement gift to honor Byrd, Susan’s ceramics mentor who hired her as a student lab assistant. “The responsibilities I was given and the confidence I gained from my accomplishments at Western gave me the belief I could succeed in the real world,” Ward said. Olivia Collins, a senior art major from Sylva, became the first recipient of the Byrd Scholarship this past fall.

The Wards’ gifts are having a transformative impact on the arts at WCU, said Heather Mae Erickson, assistant professor of art, who curated a three-month ceramics exhibit and hosted a two-day symposium last fall bringing ceramicists from across the nation to campus. “It was truly exciting to see such a stellar group of ceramic artists and sculptors on campus,” Erickson said. “It is exciting to think of how it affected students, faculty, staff and visitors. Graduate students met with visiting artists one-on-one in their studios and received critical feedback on their work. And it would not have been possible without the support of Susan and Randall Ward.”

In addition to the Wards’ estate gift, 15 new endowed scholarships and two new endowments to provide programmatic support have been added to the books recently at Western Carolina University as alumni and friends continue to answer the call from Chancellor David O. Belcher for increased private financial support for deserving students.

Artist Kevin Snipes, creator of the piece Nappy Head (inset), demonstrates his technique at a ceramics symposium on campus last fall.

Artist Kevin Snipes demonstrates his technique at a ceramics symposium on campus last fall.

Belcher identified pursuing additional endowed scholarships as the university’s top philanthropic priority during his installation in March 2012, and a total of 171 new scholarship funds have been added since then. Through endowments of at least $25,000, scholarship assistance can be awarded on an annual and ongoing basis. New endowed scholarship funds established between June and October 2016:

Janet B. Wilson Endowed Scholarship in Memory of Frances B. Gilmore, for College of Fine and Performing Arts students, preference to students from the eight westernmost counties of North Carolina; donor Janet B. Wilson.

Brenda and David Warlick Basketball Endowed Scholarship, for student-athletes on the intercollegiate men’s or women’s basketball teams, with preference to College of Education and Allied Professions students; donors Brenda Warlick ’76 and David Warlick ’76.

William R. Higgins – Dennis J. McKevlin Endowed Scholarship, for upperclassmen majoring in English; donors John Davis ’87 and Melanie Davis.

Free and Clear Debt-Free Endowed Scholarship, for rising sophomores or above with no outstanding student loan debt; donor representatives Ed Cody ’79 and Andrea Cody ’80.

Frances and Tony Johnson Endowed Scholarship, for North Carolina students in the School of Teaching and Learning who demonstrate financial need; donors Frances Johnson and Tony Johnson ’70.

Frances Farlinger Memorial Endowed Scholarship, for North Carolina students majoring in inclusive/special education who demonstrate financial need; donor estate of Frances Farlinger MAEd ’58.

Jim Moore and Mallory Hetzel Endowed Golf Scholarship, for student-athletes on the women’s golf team; donor Jim Moore.

Myrtle Olivia Whitmire Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Education, for students majoring in the undergraduate birth-kindergarten or elementary education programs, with preference to students wishing to teach in early education levels; donor estate of Blanton J. Whitmire and Margaret S. Whitmire.

Blanton J. and Margaret S. Whitmire Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Natural Resources and Geosciences, for natural resources and geosciences students; donor estate of Blanton J. Whitmire and Margaret S. Whitmire.

Gene and Blanche Warshawsky Memorial Athletic Scholarship, for student-athletes with financial need; donor representative Bruce Warshawsky ’75.

Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise Endowed Scholarship, for students who are children of a Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and/or Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Resort employee, preference to students demonstrating financial need; donor Tribal Gaming Enterprise.

Dale and Debbie Sims Political Science Endowed Scholarship, for graduate students in the Master of Public Affairs Program or undergraduate students in political science; donors Dale Sims ’78 and Debbie Sims.

Lena Mayberry Engstrom Endowed Scholarship, for students majoring in middle grades education or secondary education, with preference to undergraduate students majoring in secondary education; donors Joan Humphries ’65, Carroll Humphries MAEd ’69 and Dale Engstrom.

Katherine and C. Mark Whitehead Jr. Honors College Music Endowed Scholarship, for Honors College students in the School of Music; donors Katherine Whitehead and C. Mark Whitehead Jr.

David M. and Lisa Long Hill Endowed Scholarship, for student-athletes on the intercollegiate men’s baseball team; donors David Hill ’83 and Lisa Hill.

Susan Parrott Ward ’76 (left) and husband Randall Ward (third from left) meet with Olivia Collins (second from left), recipient of a new scholarship honoring Joan Byrd (right).

Susan Parrott Ward ’76 (left) and husband Randall Ward (third from left) meet with Olivia Collins (second from left), recipient of a new scholarship honoring Joan Byrd (right).

The two programmatic endowments are:

Educational Leadership Program Endowment, providing support for graduate research or travel related to research dissemination or professional development to students enrolled in the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, the Master of School Administration or the Principal Licensure graduate programs; donor Kathleen Topolka Jorissen.

Diane and Ray McPhail Honors College Study Abroad Program Endowment, providing support for study abroad-related expenses including travel, fees, room and board to Honors College students; donors Diane C. McPhail and H. Ray McPhail.