SJR State Foundation celebrates 50 years, Palatka Senior High School Class of 1961 creates permanent legacy of support for SJR State students
The St. Johns River State College Foundation, founded in 1970, is celebrating its 50th anniversary and reflecting on its rich history of community support that has kept the Foundation thriving and providing scholarships for students.
“Private support of our Foundation is essential to maintain access to quality and affordable education within our communities,” said SJR State Vice President for Development and External Affairs Caroline Tingle. “Our donors are a gift to SJR State, and supporting our Foundation is an investment in our community and our future. We are dedicated to raising money to create scholarships for our students to begin or complete their degrees,” Tingle continued. “I have seen the impact that scholarships can make on one’s life. Huge financial burdens can be lifted. I love helping students with the process and making them feel better.”
Understanding that an endowment scholarship would create a permanent legacy of financial support for local students who study at SJR State, members of the Palatka Senior High School Class of 1961 established the Putnam County Scholars endowed scholarship at the College. “Endowments are the hallmark of St. Johns River State College Foundation and the cornerstone of our lasting impact on the communities we serve,” said Tingle. “When you establish an endowment fund, you create a permanent legacy of support for SJR State.”
The endowment idea surfaced for the Class of ‘61 as classmates planned for their 50th class reunion in 2011. They brainstormed about the best way they could collectively contribute to Putnam County and decided that would be to help local students begin college at their local college. Students with significant financial need who were motivated to turn their lives around and do better than they did in high school were the ones the class had in mind.
Beginning with three members from the Class of ‘61 each contributing $5,000 to the endowment, four Putnam County students were able to receive this scholarship. Palatka resident Steven Middlebrook, 31, was one of them.
Along with his Associate in Arts degree, Middlebrook, who currently works as a clinic paramedic, also received his Associate in Science in Emergency Medical Services and Bachelor of Applied Science in Organizational Management with a specialty in Healthcare Administration from SJR State. He is now awaiting acceptance into the Physician Assistant program at the University of Florida School of Medicine.
In a letter Middlebrook wrote to donors of the scholarships he received at SJR State, he said, “I’m a firm believer that our actions tend to make a full circle in this life. I promise you that your kind actions in helping me will manifest themselves through me providing health care to sick people in Putnam County as a physician assistant.”
The generosity of the Class of ’61 continues to impact students such as Middlebrook. The PCS fund currently totals $122,000.00. To date, a total of 28 traditional and non-traditional students have benefitted from it, and even the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the Class of ’61 from providing scholarships for the fall 2020 semester. Classmates rallied together to raise funds outside of the endowment and awarded $1,000 each to eight students. SJR State nursing student Sheba Woolard, 41, who works as a patient care technician, was one of the recent recipients.
“Grateful to the point of tears, Woolard said that receiving this scholarship was a huge “sigh of relief.” A single mom to a son in college and a two-year-old daughter, as well as a full-time employee and student, Woolard said, “Getting that scholarship money helped me out; I could at least get a laptop and things I needed to continue my education.” Woolard, who relocated from New York to Putnam County in search of an improved life, including a lower cost of living, continued, “That’s why this scholarship was such a big help to me; I moved out here with no family. It’s literally just me and my daughter, so I have no one to depend on but me.”
Although many of the Class of ’61 members now reside throughout the United States, they continue to hold Putnam County near and dear to their hearts and enjoy meeting up in Palatka for class reunions. One alumna who relocated from Putnam County after studying at PSHS said that although she has had no ties with SJR State as a student, it was just as important to her to be instrumental with the PCS endowed scholarship from the start. “It helps students who may not otherwise have been able to get an education,” she said. “I want to help them have that opportunity, and I am very happy that this scholarship is in the community, because it has clearly offered people opportunities to go beyond high school and their learning. SJR State is an excellent next step for some students in high school,” she stated.
While the endowment fund is growing well, members of the Class of ’61 continue to ponder that initial question they asked when planning their 50th class reunion: “What can be done to help Putnam County?” Their goal is to continue expanding the principal of the endowment to be able to offer more scholarships to more Putnam County students, or larger scholarships to fewer students. Based on the premise that higher education leads to better lives, the class would also like to partner with the community to help increase their endowment efforts. "We would like to work with civic leaders in the county to expand opportunities, particularly higher-skilled, higher-paid jobs,” one class member stated. “We would like to work with the administration of the county with this goal in mind.”
To former, current and future SJR State students, the PSHS Class of ’61 encourages you to “get whatever education is necessary and then help build the economic engine of Putnam County. That would be our fondest hope for success – to see you come back to the county, create jobs and hire other people. And then you can even set up your own scholarships."
In addition to the Putnam County Scholars endowment scholarship, the SJR State Foundation offers numerous additional scholarships to students who meet the criteria established by the scholarship donors. These scholarships are funded by the contributions of businesses, non-profit entities and individuals. “We invite you to share in and support our commitment to help SJR State continue its growth,” said Tingle. “Education and success go hand-in-hand.”
For more information, visit contact the SJR State Foundation at (386) 312-4100 or visit SJRstate.edu/foundation.html.
Director of Public Relations and Publications