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When the Galax Foundation for Excellence in Education scholarship organization begun in 1987, it awarded two scholarships, worth $500 each, to Galax High School students.
Today, 23 years since its inception, the foundation reached a milestone of awarding more than $1 million in scholarships on June 7 during an awards ceremony at GHS.
“It has been a community effort supported by businesses and locals,” said Susie Dixon Garner, secretary of the foundation. “It shows that people here think something of their community and education. It makes you proud of the community.”
Funds have been contributed by mostly local individuals and businesses. Some are donated by those who grew up in Galax and moved away from home, with donations coming from Ohio, Georgia, Maryland and the Shenandoah Valley.
Some donations result from the foundation being named as a beneficiary in wills; and others are named in memory of donors' loved ones, said Garner.
The foundation started as a way to encourage more students to continue their education. In 1987, the Galax School Board — made up of Ed Barker, Maurice Vaughan, Kathleen Hillman, Cathy Payne and Mike Spivey — realized that only 12 percent of Galax students attended college, said Vaughan, who stepped down from the education foundation's board a couple of years ago. After conducting a survey with students, board members found that most students were not attending college simply because they lacked the funds.
That's when the board created the non-profit scholarship foundation that included the school board members, as well as John Vaughan, John Bassett, Press Turbyfill, Jim Nuckolls and Ron Catron.
“Providing scholarships was one way that would allow students to attend college,” said Garner, who has been performing administrative duties for the organization since 1994. “It has been going strong for over 20 years and is a good solid organization.”
This year, 86 percent of GHS graduates plan to attend college, according to the GHS guidance office.
Among the success stories is a 1990 winner of the Robert V. & Ethel R. Morris Scholarship — the only four-year scholarship — who now works as a lawyer in Galax. Another winner of the Robert Morris Scholarship graduated from New York University this spring to work in media production, and another worked alongside TV journalist Jane Pauley.
Others recipients have gone on to become business owners, medical professionals and executives.
“There have been lots of success stories,” said Garner. “We started out with just a few scholarships, but the foundation gradually grew with more and more as time went by.
“People understand the importance of education and necessity of education. I told students during the scholarship awards ceremony that they are just starting their educational journey, and they are living in an age of ongoing education."
At the scholarship awards ceremony this year, the Galax Foundation for Excellence in Education awarded $69,700 in 73 different scholarships.
“Some students send thank you notes and say they wouldn't be able to attend college if they didn't have scholarship money,” Garner said. “They really appreciate it.”
When the foundation begun, Vaughan said he envisioned it “snowballing and being such a huge asset it could offer a scholarship to every graduate at Galax High School... We think the best years are ahead of us.
“We can say to students that you can afford a college education because there is no limit to what you can achieve... because the community supports your good work through donations made to the Galax Education in Excellence Foundation. Lives have been changed because they are eligible for scholarships and funding.”
Every student who applied received a scholarship this year, either through the foundation or by other means, according to Jessica Justice of the GHS guidance department
When funds are donated to the foundation, they are invested. Awards come from the interest that is earned from those funds, explained Vaughan.
Some donors have chosen to contribute $5,000 to endow a scholarship.
The foundation has reached $1.8 million in investments.
Vaughan said schools from all over the country seek advice from GFEE to begin a similar scholarship fund in their locality, due to the foundation's success.
In addition to Garner, Catron and Nuckolls, today's GFEE board also includes chair Linda Lastinger, Lee Houston, Jon Applebaum, Danny Cockerham, Bill Davis, Doug Bryant, Ed Hanks, Raquel Lyons, Kim Messner, Tony Truitt, Alison Bolen, Nancy Luague and GHS Principal Bill Sturgill.
• For more information, call 236-4301. To make a donation, make checks payable to the Galax Foundation for Excellence in Education, P.O. Box 487, Galax, Va. 24333.