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Paying it Forward

Jerry Wilson
Jerry Wilson

At least once a week, you can head over to Montague's or The Mill House in Greenwood for an early lunch and find retired Lander University professors Jerry Wilson and Bruce White dining together. It's a tradition between the two academicians that is rarely broken.

Wilson and White have many things in common: they both taught at Lander, they both share a fascination for German culture (even traveling to Germany together), and they are both examples of Lander faculty who have made the generous decision to give back to the university.

For them, it's a way of "paying it forward."

"Education was only financially possible for me because someone gave me a scholarship," said Wilson, professor emeritus of physics. The generosity he saw firsthand as a student is what inspired Wilson and his wife, Sandy, to establish the Jerry D. Wilson Scholarship for Excellence in Science, which provides tuition scholarships for students in the Department of Biology, the Department of Physical Science, and the Department of Mathematics and Computing.

Though retired, Wilson still writes the weekly Curiosity Corner (originally known as the Science Corner), a question-and-answer column he started in 1982, as another way to give back to the community. It is now carried by five area newspapers, and is distributed by Lander's Office of University Relations and Publications.

Bruce White
Bruce White

And while White taught mathematics at Lander, he has several other interests, including foreign language (he speaks German and some Italian), history, classical music and jazz. "I was not a mathematician who happened to teach," he likes to say. "I was a teacher, who happened to teach mathematics."

White's love of music led him to establish the Nat F. White Instrumental Music Scholarship at Lander, which is named in memory of his father, who was a professional musician. "He instilled a love of music in me," said White, who played flute and piano for several years, himself. It's awarded annually to several members of the Lander University Wind Ensemble or Jazz Ensemble based on the performer's ability, regardless of whether their major is music.

Also seeing a need for talented special educators, White established the Carolyn Sue White Scholarship, which was named in honor of his beloved sister, who was born with Down Syndrome. The scholarship is awarded annually to one or more students pursuing a degree in special education.

Along with Wilson and White, many other members of Lander's faculty have also honored Lander with their generosity, including Professors Emeriti Meredith Uttley and Larry Vereen. Each have reinvested in Lander University in some way, from establishing scholarships for students studying various disciplines, to creating travel grants that make it possible for students to attend research conferences.

Larry Vereen
Larry Vereen

"Lander is unique in that the people who have served here remain heavily involved with our institution in retirement," said Mike Worley, vice president for advancement, who also pointed out that Lander's faculty are among the most generous donors to the university. In fact, Wilson, White and Vereen are three of Lander's top 15 all-time living donors. "For them, Lander is their community. We are fortunate that they've made the decision to remain active in this community," Worley said.

Like Wilson, Vereen reflected on the impact that scholarships had on his education. "I know what it's like to struggle financially when going to college," Vereen said, recognizing that it was the kind-ness of others that inspired him to do the same. "Had it not been for one particular initial scholarship to what was then Coastal Carolina Junior College, I don't know what I would have ended up doing."

In 1997, Vereen established a scholarship of his own, which is awarded annually to students majoring in biology. And, he admits that the idea to establish the scholarship came from the desire to pay it forward - a way of showing gratitude to those who made education possible for him. "I can appreciate students needing financial assistance," Vereen said, "because I've been there, done that."

Meredith Uttley
Meredith Uttley

Uttley, professor emeritas of anthropology and sociology, agreed with her colleagues. "I, too, received scholarship help when I was going to college," she said, which is part of what motivated her to return the generosity. According to Uttley, her contributions started as small payroll deductions to the foundation that were put into an account to help her buy supplies for her anthropology classes. But as the account grew, she was able to do more.

More recently, her generosity has led to the establishment of a new scholarship for students studying criminology. "A variety of things have come my way that expanded my view
of the world," she said, "and that's what I'm trying to do with this scholarship." She hopes its recipients will not only emulate a high standard of ethics, which she believes is vital for today's students, but also "give them the opportunity to spend less time working and more time enjoying their education."

These members of the Lander community also want their contributions to serve as inspirations for their recipients, as well as other members of the faculty, to consider how they may do the same. "From those to whom much has been given, much is expected," Uttley said, recalling an old adage her husband often recited. "That's just another way of saying 'pay it forward.' It's important that students now start to think about how they, too, can pay it forward."


This story is featured in the Fall 2019 edition of Lander Magazine. Read more at