Robert Edwards, who is stepping down in December as Western Carolina University’s vice chancellor for administration and finance after 37 years of service to the university, has turned around the age-old notion of “retirement gift.” Instead of merely accepting a gold watch or a rocking chair, Edwards has made a gift of his own to establish a scholarship fund honoring his parents and his high school band director.
Through contributions totaling more than $10,000, Edwards has created the Roy and Hazel Edwards Endowed Scholarship Fund, which will provide annual support to members of WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band who are from one of the 17 westernmost counties of North Carolina.
Edwards, a 1977 graduate of WCU, said he named the scholarship in honor of his parents, Roy and Hazel Edwards of Sylva, because he wanted to publicly thank them for enabling him and his brother, Wayne Edwards of Waynesville, to attend and graduate from the university. Wayne Edwards, a 1979 graduate of WCU, is a Haywood County insurance executive.
“I know that my mother and father sacrificed quite a bit financially and in other ways so that Wayne and I were able to go to Western Carolina University,” he said. “Without their sacrifices and support, neither of us would have been able to have obtained a college education, and I felt it was important to recognize that fact by naming this scholarship fund in their honor.”
Edwards said there are two main reasons why he stipulated that the scholarships supported by the endowed fund should benefit students who are part of WCU’s marching band program.
“First, I truly believe that the marching band is one of the best things we have going at Western Carolina,” he said. “With its growth in size and quality, it has become a significant part of recruiting students to come to Cullowhee, and I wanted to do what I could to help with that.”
In directing his gifts to support the marching band program, Edwards also wanted to pay homage to his former band director at Sylva-Webster (now Smoky Mountain) High School, Bob Buckner, who would go on to assume the reins of WCU’s marching band program and help it grow from fewer than 90 members to more than 400 when he retired. The band, now directed by David Starnes, has more than 500 members this year.
“Bob is truly the mastermind of what we have going on today in our marching band program. The program is thriving because of the strong foundation that Bob left when he retired. Besides my mom and dad, Bob Buckner is the individual who has had the most influence in my life,” Edwards said.
“He taught me that perfection is only obtained through hard dedicated work. I learned how to be a winner with humility and modesty and I learned how to accept losing with dignity and grace,” he said. “Bob always had a special talent of getting more out of us than 100 percent. He taught all of us to do more than what we thought we were capable of doing. Throughout my life, there have been numerous times when I found myself digging deep within myself, remembering these life lessons from Bob.”
Buckner, a 1967 graduate of Western Carolina, became director of WCU’s marching band in 1991. During his tenure, the band received the 2009 John Philip Sousa Foundation’s prestigious Sudler Trophy, the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands. Capping his career was a 2011 New Year’s Day appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade by the Pride of the Mountains, which was named “best band” in the parade in an online poll conducted by KTLA-TV of Los Angeles. Buckner retired in the summer of 2011 after 20 years as director.
This year, the band will be participating in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Edwards became vice chancellor for administration and finance on July 1, 2011, after serving in the role in an interim capacity. He had previously worked as the university’s internal auditor for 27 years. Born and raised in Jackson County, he graduated from Sylva-Webster High School in 1973.
The Roy and Hazel Edwards Endowed Scholarship is expected to be awarded for the first time next year, with preference given to a graduate of Smoky Mountain High School who is a member of the WCU marching band. Recipients must demonstrate financial need, and may be either new or continuing WCU students who are in good academic standing.
The gift from Edwards is the latest in a series of new endowed scholarships created at WCU since the installation of Chancellor David O. Belcher in March 2012. During his installation address, Belcher identified raising funds for endowed scholarships as the top philanthropic priority for WCU.
For more information about supporting or creating a scholarship, contact the WCU Office of Development at 828-227-7124 or visit the website give.wcu.edu.