Belcher pledge to support scholarships inspires another $1M commitment

Among the students receiving financial assistance through the Brinson Annual Scholarship Fund are (from left) Ally Bevers, Burgin Mackey and Joy Johnston.

A husband and wife who divide their time between Highlands in the Western North Carolina mountains and Hilton Head Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry recently announced a $1 million commitment to fund scholarships for students in the Honors College at Western Carolina University.

Jack and Judy Brinson, who already were longtime contributors to WCU, say they were inspired to increase their philanthropic support for the university to seven figures by an October announcement by Chancellor David O. Belcher and wife Susan. That’s when the Belchers pledged $1.23 million for WCU’s ongoing efforts to increase scholarship support for students.

In announcing their pledge, the Belchers said they hoped to inspire others who are willing to make transformational gifts as the Lead the Way comprehensive fundraising campaign, with a focus on endowed scholarships, nears the public phase.

The Brinsons, who are among dozens of friends of the university who have been moved to do just that, decided to increase their original gifts of $350,000 to the $1 million level, said Judy Brinson. “We were inspired by Chancellor Belcher and Susan and their gift to the Lead the Way campaign,” she said. “He and Susan have a dedication to WCU that is infectious.”

Jack and Judy Brinson

The Brinsons are co-owners of Apparel Brands Inc., an international uniform manufacturing business. Although they are not WCU alumni, they say they have come to embrace the university and its commitment to providing higher education opportunities to the people of WNC.

“Our original contributions were brought about by my involvement on the Honors College Advisory Board and Jack’s involvement with the Foundation Board,” Judy Brinson said. “We had the opportunity to learn about WCU’s commitment and importance to Western North Carolina. While neither of us graduated from Western, we love this area and understand the need for quality, affordable higher education.”

That is why, after learning of the Belchers’ leadership gift in the Lead the Way campaign, they decided the time was right to increase their support for Honors College scholarships. They also are directing some of their gifts to Honors College programming, general scholarship support and the Catamount Club.

“We have been so impressed by Honors College Dean Jill Granger and the Honors College students and staff. We have met many of the students, and know that they are hardworking and deserving,” Judy Brinson said. “We also know that scholarships are necessary to continue to attract the best students. For some students, scholarships provide a lifeline just to allow them to even attend college.”

Twenty-eight students to date have received financial support to attend WCU through the Brinson Annual Scholarship Fund. Among them is Joy Johnston, a senior from Mills River majoring in English.

“This scholarship has helped immensely by taking some of the financial stress off my shoulders. College is stressful as is, and when you add in the money situation, it makes it even worse. Every bit of help matters,” said Johnston.

“This scholarship allowed me to be able to save more money to put toward my loans and save for my wedding that is two weeks after graduation, so that was very helpful,” she said. “I think that scholarships are one of the only reasons some students get to come to college. Because of this, there should be more scholarships available and they should be easily accessible.”

Burgin Mackey, a sophomore from Mars Hill majoring in environmental health and Japanese studies, is also continuing his pursuit of a college degree with financial assistance made possible by the Brinsons’ gifts.

“The Brinson Scholarship has made it possible for me to complete my second year at Western. Coming from a background where money is tight, I rely on scholarships to help me pay for my education. My career goals require me to attain a formal education so there is no other way for me to go to achieve my dreams,” Mackey said. “I am very grateful to the scholarship committee for helping me to accomplish my goals.”

And for Ally Bevers, a junior from Mount Airy, Georgia, the support provided through the Brinson Scholarship Fund is helping her pay the higher cost of tuition for students who are not from North Carolina.

“This scholarship has majorly helped me work toward earning my degrees. I am paying for college on my own, and I am an out-of-state student,” said Bevers, who is majoring in management and finance. “Each year, I take out the maximum amount of loans possible from the government. Without the Brinson Annual Scholarship, I would have to come up with the extra money on my own or take out a loan with a higher interest rate. The scholarship relieves a lot of that pressure.”

For more information on how to help deserving students at WCU, visit the website give.wcu.edu.