Gift creates scholarships for students in music, art

A $10,000 contribution from Robbinsville native Elaine Howell, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, will provide scholarship assistance to students from the far western counties of North Carolina majoring in music, fine arts or industrial arts at Western Carolina University.

Announcement of the Lt. Col. Elaine Howell Endowed Scholarship Fund came Friday, Oct. 5, as part of Homecoming 2012 activities at WCU.

Howell, who earned her bachelor’s degree in music education at WCU in 1968, taught band in the N.C. public school system for more than six years before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. A 1964 graduate of Robbinsville High School, she currently lives in San Antonio, where she was stationed for a portion of her military career.

“I chose music for the obvious reason that it was my field of study, but also because I remember as a student worrying about the extra things that I had to purchase each quarter,” said Howell, who fondly remembers attending classes with Bob Buckner, the legendary director of WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band who retired last year.

“I want to help ease the financial pain for a music student, which I believe is the most difficult major there is because of the huge amount of time required. They have enough to worry about without worrying about the cost of education,” she said.

In addition to the initial contribution of $10,000 to establish the endowed fund, Howell said she intends to make additional gifts to the fund during her lifetime and through a provision in her estate plan.

Students from Graham County will receive priority consideration for the scholarship, with students from other Western North Carolina counties also eligible. Scholarship recipients must be majoring in music, fine arts or industrial arts, must have a demonstrated financial need, and must have and maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.

During her tenure in the public school system, Howell taught band students in Robbinsville and at Anson Junior High School in Wadesboro and West Wilkes High School in North Wilkesboro.

She began to study for a master’s degree in music education though a special Air Force program called Bookstrap before returning to duty and spending 1976 as a member the 590th Air Force Band from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, including performances during the bicentennial celebration. She was selected for officer training in 1977. “I left music as a career, but not as a passion,” she said.

Although WCU students majoring in music will have top priority for scholarship awards from the fund, students majoring in fine or industrial arts also will be eligible. Howell said she included those areas of study in honor of her parents.

Her mother, Mary L. Howell, taught art in Robbinsville for more than 20 years and her father, John F. Howell, was well-known as an inventor and a mechanic whose drawing of the first moon mission is part of the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

Securing additional funding for endowed scholarships in order to ensure access to higher education for all capable students was among the top institutional priorities outlined by WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher during his installation address in March. Belcher announced that he and his wife, Susan, have established an endowed scholarship, and challenged others to do likewise.

“Elaine, better known as Lainey to her friends, is among the alumni and friends of Western Carolina University who have not only heard Dr. Belcher’s call for scholarship support but also have answered that call,” said Meg White, director of development. “It is only through the support of people such as Lainey Howell that the university can live up to its commitment both to student access to education and to student success.”

Howell said she urges other alumni to also answer the call for support. “I would like to challenge the class of 1968 to match my gift, become a member of the Madison Society or the newly established Friends of the Arts, or give to the Bob Buckner Foundation in support of the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band.”

For more information about providing support to Western Carolina University, call the Office of Development at 828-227-7124 (toll-free at 800-492-8496) or visit the website