The Honorable Governor Byrnes Nurtured Honorable Citizens
by Aïda Rogers
Reprinted with permission © 1998 Sandlapper
by Richard Durlach: Jean Elton, former Executive Secretary of the James
F. Byrnes Foundation, reviews scholarship applications.
It's repeated over and over: The Byrnes scholarship is a gift. Jimmy
Byrnes, like many parents, wanted to send his children to college.
The only thing he expected in return was a responsible citizen who
wouldn't bring shame on the Byrnes name. "You don't have to be
a doctor or engineer or split atoms," notes Carol Ann Green of
Batesburg-Leesville, a 1950 scholar and board member. "You can
just be a good neighbor. That's what he meant by that."
They've done very well. At last count, there were 18 lawyers, 20-plus
doctors, 14 ministers, 40-some engineers and more than 100 teachers.
Two of the better-known scholars are Paula Harper Bethea, an Estill
native and national director of the United Way, and writer/singer Ron
Daise, creator and star of
"Gullah Gullah Island," a children's TV show. Johann Mishoe
McCrackin of Myrtle Beach was named South Carolina Mother of the Year
and penned the song
"South Carolina, Strong and Great."
After Byrnes established the foundation in 1948, he was able to send
80 high school seniors to college in 1949. The scholarship was for
$500 a year, enough for half the tuition of a state-supported school.
Byrnes believed a worthy student could find a way to pay the rest.
Today, a Byrnes scholarship of $4,500 doesn't cover half the costs
of a state-supported school; in fact, in 1991 it covered only 26 percent.
The board of directors - all former scholars - are trying to raise
money to once again cover half. Its "Living Memorial" campaign,
named after Byrnes' desire not to be remembered in brick and stone,
has garnered more than $200,000 from alumni scholars. Soon, corporations
will be asked to contribute to the cause. Its goal: $5 million by 2004,
which would keep 100 students in college at a time. As it is now, about
18 high school seniors receive a Byrnes scholarship each year. Currently,
an average of 70 Byrnes scholars are in college, mostly in South Carolina.
"Each of these kids that come through, we feel towards them like
Gov. Byrnes felt toward us: 'Here is a young boy or young girl whom
we want to do everything we can to help,'" says Dr. Bill Rowe,
"And it's very painful for us not to be able to give scholarships
to all of them."
About 200 students apply for the scholarship each year, with 40-some
making it to the interview, which is conducted by the board. Winners
are chosen based on scholarship, need, work experience, leadership
and motivation. Recipients almost always are grateful. "These
people make you want to be a better person," says Firouzei Flordelis,
a College of Charleston sophomore.
"They make you aware of your actions. You always try to be on
Alumni still recall the jubilation of winning the scholarship. "I
got it, I got it, I got it!" shouted Alanna Turner Bair of Blackville,
jumping up and down at the mailbox that summer day in 1969. Parents
"Dal getting the scholarship meant everything to us," remembers
Grace Poston, 79, whose husband died when her son was 14. "It
was an answer to our prayer."
For information about the James F. Byrnes Foundation or to make a
donation, contact Kenya D. White, Executive Secretary, P.O. Box 6781,
Columbia, SC 29260-6781; 803-254-9825, fax 803-254-9354.