Scholarships sometimes come from unlikely sources


Scholarships open doors to higher education for thousands of students who would otherwise be locked out.

If students give any thought at all to the donors who made their financial aid possible, they probably assume that their benefactors are prestigious, wealthy alumni.

It's doubtful that they think of people like Oseola McCarty, a lifelong laundress who gave $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi, or Karl Winsness, a plumber who set up a scholarship fund for children of inmates upon his release from Utah State Prison.

McCarty was an obscure Mississippi resident until she gave the majority of her life savings to USM in 1995. 

"I wanted to share my wealth with the children," she told The New York Times. "I never minded work, but I was always so busy, busy, busy. Maybe I can make it so the children don't have to work like I did."

McCarty's own education was cut short in sixth grade when her aunt fell ill and she quit school to earn money for the household, which included McCarty's grandmother in addition to her aunt and herself.

McCarty worked until she was 86, lived frugally and put most of her earnings in a bank. Employees helped her make some investments that helped her nest egg grow to $280,000 by the time of her retirement.

The vice president of the bank set up a trust that provided for her living expenses and allotted 10 percent to her church, 30 percent to three cousins and 60 percent to USM.

McCarty chose the university because it was located in her hometown of Hattiesburg, though she had never set foot on the campus.

She stipulated that scholarships be given to black students who had a financial need. The first recipient of a $1,000 McCarty scholarship was Stephanie Bullock. 

McCarty told The New York Times that she didn't want a building named in her honor, but she would like to live long enough to see Bullock graduate. She died in September 1999, four months after Bullock earned her undergraduate degree.

Years later, McCarty's generosity continues to inspire.

In 2014, students at a middle school in California gave a $135 donation to the McCarty Scholarship fund.

At that time, school officials announced that 45 students had received scholarship totaling $370,000 since the fund had been established.

“Everybody can be a philanthropist," USM President Rodney Bennett told the middle school students via Skype. "You don’t have to have millions of dollars to make a difference. I want to thank you all for honoring the memory and generosity of Miss McCarty.”  

Winsness did not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in a trust when he was released from Utah State Prison after serving 17 years for  attempted criminal homicide of a police officer.

However, he did have a desire to help children of inmates, whom he refers to as "the forgotten victims of crime."

He started the Willy the Plumber scholarship fund with his own money and donations from local businesses and inmates.

According to the website, the fund is intended to provide "a seed to succeed" as well as direction for children of inmates.

"Too often, too little is expected of these kids (and thus the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree)," the website states.

Winsness reportedly makes approximately $30,000 a year as a plumber and gives about $3,000 annually to the fund, which is managed by The Community Foundation of Utah.

In interviews, Winsness has seemed uncomfortable with being called a philanthropist, noting that the term is usually associated with names like Rockefeller instead of someone who had a five-digit inmate number for two decades of his life.

“These kids just need a hand up to do better in life than their parents did," he told PEOPLE in 2015. "I’m not a philanthropist, but I look at it this way: When you see somebody broke down on the side of the road, you don’t keep on driving. You get out to help.”

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.