Trust funds Wilcox scholarships

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 10, 2003

Too good to be true &045; a scholarship program that provides a scholarship to virtually every high school graduate in a Black Belt county who needs it, for as many years as the student remains in school and performs satisfactorily?

Thanks to the Allyrae P. Wallace Educational Trust established in 1995, just such a program exists in Wilcox County, adjoining Dallas County on its southern border. And there’s not just one such trust but two &045; the Martha Patton Simpson Trust &045; which preceded and inspired the Wallace trust.

According to materials provided by the trust, the Allyrae Wallace Educational Trust, a 501(c)3 entity, was established upon the death of Wallace on Aug. 5, 1994, with the first scholarships granted for the 1995-96 scholarship year. The trust offers scholarships to students who want to continue their education in colleges or universities and vocational or technical schools. Requirements include a high school diploma or passing the high school equivalency test, meeting the trust’s Wilcox residency requirements, a demonstrated need for financial assistance and the submission of a completed application form. Students attending high school outside of Wilcox County are eligible, if they otherwise meet the residency requirements.

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Applications are received beginning in January, with a March 15 deadline, according to J. Haas Strother, president of Town-Country National Bank, located in Camden. The other trustee is R.J. Browder, president of Browder

Veneer Corp., who was also appointed by the terms of Mrs. Wallace’s will. Strother, a Wilcox native, has been in banking for 42 years, the last 25 in Camden at Town-Country which he organized.

According to Strother, counselors of the two high schools in Wilcox &045; Wilcox Central

(public) and Wilcox Academy (private) &045; are notified of the program and its procedures and notice given in the local paper, the Wilcox Progressive Era. Applications are received beginning in January, with a March 15 deadline. In April applicants are invited to meet for several hours with representatives of the trust for orientation and interviews. Decisions are then made by the trust’s evaluation committee, some of whose members are former recipients of scholarships.

Strother said that about 90 new applications are received annually, of which about 80 are approved, and about 75 attend the school of their choice. At any given time there are about 225 students in school being supported by the trust, most of them attending schools in the Southeast. Strother said that 60 percent of the scholarship recipients complete their educational program. The majority of Wilcox residents are African-American as is the majority receiving scholarships &045; approximately two-thirds.

In order to stay in the program a 2.0 grade point average is required. The grants are paid directly to the school the student is attending.

One of Strother’s greatest joys is seeing students who have received scholarships coming back to Wilcox County, some of whom assist the trust in the selection process and in other ways. The trust has three full- and one part-time staff members.

According to Strother, the holdings of the trust include timberland, securities and other investments, which are managed by a support team consisting of a forester, an investment advisor, a CPA and an attorney. Despite the downturn in the economy, Strother said that the overall financial position of the trust has not been adversely affected. And asked if interested individuals may contribute to the educational fund, Strother said that the terms of the trust do not allow further contributions, but that there are sufficient funds to enable the program to continue indefinitely.

How important is this trust? Strother said that he had been told again and again by parents and students that a college education would not have been possible without it.

Strother said this program is one of the most rewarding activities in which he has ever been involved.

Mrs. Allyrae Palmer Wallace has been described by former friends and family members as having &uot;made an impact on everyone who knew her.&uot;