(pictured above: new queen Rhonda Johnson gets prepared to be crowned.)
Members of the Brown Alumni Chapter of Winston-Salem State University celebrated the organization’s 63rd anniversary by making an investment in the institution’s future students.
Leaders of the chapter, which is home to roughly 75 members, announced at their March 21 Founders Day Celebration and banquet that proceeds from raffle tickets, program advertisements and monetary donations had amassed nearly $10,000 in scholarship funds to support incoming WSSU students. Alumni and supporters gathered to celebrate a successful year of giving and pay homage to founders of the chapter – which was established as The Woodland Avenue Club in 1951 by alumni of WSSU (then Winston-Salem Teachers College), at Woodland Elementary School and led by the late Velma Jackson – during the banquet, held at the Ramada Plaza Inn (formerly Sundance Plaza) Friday evening.
Three chapter members competed for the title of Miss Brown Alumni Chapter, rallying support in the name of donations and advertisements in the banquet program in hopes of winning the coveted crown. City native Rhonda Johnson, a 1978 alumna, won the competition, amassing a grand total of $3,529.50 in donations.
“You don’t know how much this really means,” Johnson told the audience. “My goal was to be able to help one student go to WSSU, and this year we have been able to help maybe two or three, so thank you all.”
Together, the three queen contestants brought in close to $7000.
More than $4000 was raised this year to support a one-time scholarship in memory of Anniversary Coordinator Vera Hillian’s daughter, WSSU alumna and former Brown Chapter member Karyn Elizabeth Anne Hillian, who passed away last year. Hillan conspired with her daughter’s family and friends to surprise her fellow Brown Alumni by unveiling the scholarship during the banquet. Karyn Hillian’s childhood friend, Stephanie Grier Simon, announced the scholarship in honor of Hillian, a proud Ram whom Simon credits with teaching her the power of resiliency and positive thinking.
“Despite her challenges, and they were significant, she persevered. She did not let setbacks keep her from achieving her goals,” Simon, who was inducted as an honorary member of the chapter during the celebration, said of Hillian, who battled liver disease for nearly two decades. “…She was the epitome of resiliency – always smiling. Even in the hospital bed, you never heard her complain.”
Two 2013 scholarship recipients were on hand to thank chapter members for their support. Juniors Jasmine Robbson and Christian McCrae briefly addressed the audience during the banquet.
“We just want to let you know that when we sell you raffle tickets, it’s for real,” Hillian, a 1956 graduate of WSSU, quipped before introducing the students.
“I want to say how grateful I am,” said Robbson, a nursing major. “I really appreciate everything that the Brown Alumni Chapter has given to me. It was a big honor.”
“I must say that I was very thankful to receive it,” McCrae, a psychology major, said of her scholarship. “It has benefitted me a lot. It has helped me to get through school and helped me to get a lot that I needed, so thank you.”
McCrae’s mother, Sharon McCrae, said the scholarship helped to ease the financial burden she shouldered in working to put her only child through college.
“It was very important to me because I am a single parent and it helped me out in a big way,” said the elder McCrae, who is also a graduate of WSSU. “I didn’t have an opportunity like that, and I was very proud that she was able to get that help.”
Marie Matthews, a former educator and 1948 “TC” grad, praised the work of the chapter and Chancellor Donald Reaves, who announced recently that he would be relinquishing his post as chancellor to return to the classroom.
“I can’t believe everything that’s happened over there, but it’s great,” said Matthews, who taught for over 40 years before her retirement two decades ago. “I’m just sorry to hear Dr. Reaves is leaving because he’s done so much for the university, and I was just shocked to hear that today.”
Matthews, a great-grandmother of 15, maintains close ties with the university with both a daughter and granddaughter on the staff there. The former scholarship committee chair said contributing to the scholarships – a chapter tradition for most of its five decades – remains an important component of her membership.
“I just enjoy being around young people because they just inspire me, and when they really want to do something, I really want to help them do something because that would make them better people, and I feel like a good education is good for everybody,” she said. “I just like to help.”
The chapter is still deciding how to divide and distribute the scholarships, which will be announced at the end of April, said Chapter President Randon Pender, a member of the school’s class of 1985 who also serves as president of the The Winston Salem Black Chamber of Commerce. Pender, a whose family is home to five generations of Rams, said awarding scholarships to deserving students never loses its thrill.
“Just having the opportunity to give back to the students that are currently there is so rewarding for me because I was a recipient of scholarships when I was there,” said Pender, who went back to school and obtained her nursing degree as a mother of four. “…I know how important scholarships can be to getting an education. It made my journey easier.”
Membership in the Brown Alumni Chapter is open to all WSSU graduates, former students and community supporters. For more information, contact Pender at 336-575-2006.