Longtime Sylva-Webster classmates establish endowed scholarship

For 15 years, members of the Sylva-Webster High School class of 1964 have given scholarships in the class’s name to worthy students in Jackson County who attend Western Carolina University. It has been a labor of love for Linda Hooper, the unofficial administrator of the scholarship, who, with the help of Annie Ruth Taylor, 1967 WCU graduate Jo Wolffer and others, has ensured the paper work, leg work and administrative work needed to get the money to students was completed.

But last summer, Hooper, a retired teacher, and her old friend and fellow classmate Bruce Clayton,decided it was time for a change. At the group’s annual Thanksgiving get-together, Clayton made an announcement: “Guys, we’re not getting any younger. We’re losing quite a few classmates. I’m 71 years old and if we want something to go on in perpetuity, we need to endow our scholarship.”

Their classmates responded, and the WCU Foundation’s Sylva-Webster High School Class of 1964 Endowed Scholarship was born. It’s closing in on $22,000 of the $27,000 goal, said Clayton, who retired as senior vice president of human resources for Genuine Parts Co.

Members of the Sylva-Webster High class of 1964 are close to fully funding an endowed scholarship at WCU.

By handing the scholarship off to WCU, Hooper can step away knowing it’s in good hands, said Lori Lewis, vice chancellor for advancement. “Allowing WCU’s scholarship team to take ownership of securing the best and brightest students in Jackson County to represent the scholarship is an honor for us,” Lewis said. “The Sylva-Webster class of 1964 has set a wonderful example, not only by investing in the community and university that gave them so much, but also in their personal relationships with each other that extend virtually back to elementary school.”

Hooper, who earned her bachelor’s degree in education from WCU in 1977 and her master’s in education in 1982, is hoping that other classes will take notice and do the same. “It’s our way of giving back just a little bit,” she said. “We had a wonderful childhood growing up here. We so encourage other classes to do this. Establishing an endowed scholarship is the easiest thing to do.”

Clayton, who graduated from WCU in 1971, appreciates the opportunity his alma mater gave a group of rural kids back in the 1960s when they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. “It changed so many of our lives and started us in a direction that we would have never had growing up in Jackson County. It got us a degree, great jobs. I think that’s why so many of us wanted to give back to Western Carolina,” he said.

The push to endow the Sylva-Webster High School Class of 1964 Scholarship comes as WCU’s “Lead the Way” comprehensive fundraising campaign is in full swing.  The “Lead the Way” campaign held its public launch on March 1, with a goal of raising a minimum of $60 million in contributions by the spring of 2019. WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher announced as his 2012 installation address that increasing the number of endowed scholarships would be the No. 1 philanthropic priority of his administration. More than 200 new endowed scholarship funds have been established at WCU since then.

In addition to increasing financial support of WCU students through endowed scholarships, the fundraising effort also will seek funding for experiential learning opportunities such as travel grants, paid internships, undergraduate and graduate research activities, and attendance at professional conferences. A third prong of the campaign will emphasize programmatic support to bolster the work of WCU’s colleges, schools, departments and programs.

For more information on how to contribute, visit LeadTheWay.wcu.edu or call 828-227-7124.