Skip to main content

College of Education and Allied Professions

Additional donations boost estate gift, enable patron to see impact on parks, rec students

paysour with student

Scholarship recipient Aaron Echiburu (right) meets his benefactor, Michael Paysour.

By Bill Studenc

For Michael G. Paysour, a 1974 graduate of Western Carolina University with a degree in geography, it wasn’t enough that he made provisions in his will to provide financial support to future parks and recreation management students at WCU. Paysour wanted to see firsthand the impact of his philanthropy and meet the young people he was helping.

That’s why he has made additional contributions over the years above his initial $75,000 planned gift in 2016. All told, Paysour, who retired in 2019 as a history and social studies teacher in Catawba County after a 30-year career, has made gifts and pledges totaling $114,000 toward the Michael Paysour Parks and Recreation Management Scholarship Fund.

“It was important to me to give yearly to this before the future gift from my estate takes effect,” he said. “I wanted to make the scholarship active now because meeting the recipients is so important to me. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the recipients and have followed their careers in several instances.”

Paysour is also supporting his alma mater in other ways. He recently made gifts and pledges totaling $11,000 to support WCU’s men’s cross-country and track and field teams, including $7,000 in annual gifts to create the Michael Prozialeck Memorial Cross-Country Scholarship in memory of a college friend.

Support for WCU parks and recreation management students stems from Paysour’s original plan of becoming a park ranger. He worked for a stint at a national battlefield in Mississippi before changing his career path and becoming a teacher.

“I really desired a career with the National Park Service, but an economy thing in 1974 and 1975 prevented that from happening. So, I ‘dropped back and punted.’ I did do seasonal work for the National Park Service thinking it would get my foot in door, but that was not to be,” he said.

“Then I got established in the school system and put that dream to the side,” Paysour said. “At retirement, I wanted to help someone do what I didn’t get to do – work in the National Park Service. That is the basis of this scholarship.”

Like many of the students who attend WCU, Paysour was a first-generation college student.

“Western was a turning point in my immediate family, as I am the only one to go to college. My dad finished only the eighth grade before being pulled out of school to go to work in the mill in the mid-1920s. My mother graduated high school but was unable to further her education because of cost,” he said. “I wanted to do better than my parents, which they always stressed for me to do. Western gave me the path.”

Seven parks and recreation management students have received a total of $11,000 in scholarship support through Paysour’s fund so far. Among them is Aaron Echiburu, a senior from Charlotte, whose first years of college were upended by COVID-19, with a period of online learning followed by a dramatically curtailed on-campus environment.

“I received the Paysour Scholarship when I was a sophomore, during a time when I was really struggling to find a work-life balance. The cost of college and living really began adding up, putting a lot of stress on myself, my relationships and my academic life. I was debating dropping out and focusing on working until my funds had been replenished when, luckily for me, I was chosen to receive Michael Paysour's scholarship. That gave me some much-needed wiggle room and time to really adjust to adult life,” said Echiburu.

“Without that boost to my funds, I believe my mental state would’ve taken a dive – along with my bank account and potentially even my whole academic life. Thanks to it, though, I was able to get to where I am now, and for that I still feel as though I can't thank Michael enough,” he said.

Echiburu’s goal after graduating is to become a ranger at a national or state park, preferably along the East Coast – a goal within reach, thanks to scholarship support.

Ethan Lewis, a 2019 parks and recreation management graduate, is a two-time recipient of the Paysour Scholarship who works with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission as a wildlife law enforcement officer stationed in Mitchell County

“The scholarship given by Michael Paysour was a very generous gift that gave me a financial advantage to lessen the burden of my college loans and allowed me to pursue my career path with less restrictions financially,” said Lewis, an Ashe County native. “I also gained a friend in Mr. Paysour. He’s kept in touch with me during the years following my graduation and has been a big support in my career path.”

After earning his degree at WCU, Lewis began working for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation as a state park ranger, first at Mount Mitchell State Park, then at New River State Park.

Students like Echiburu and Lewis are precisely why Paysour supplemented his initial estate gift with additional contributions enabling the awarding of scholarships while he can observe their impact.

“I want students to know how special this gift is to me,” Paysour said. “Parks and recreation was my thing, and now WCU has a great program – the best – in a perfect place for them to follow their dreams. There’s nothing wrong with teaching, don’t get me wrong, but parks and recreation is where I chose to direct my giving. I feel I am living vicariously through their parks and recreation careers.”

Paysour has made gifts to WCU consistently since 1983, with more than $181,000 total lifetime gifts and pledges including support for parks and recreation management students, track and field and cross-country teams, the Catamount Club and other areas.

“I have been blessed with the ability to give back. I worked hard, saved and invested. Not having a family of my own, I felt it was the thing to do – give back to a place I love and that made me the success I was supposed to be. At Western, I became me,” he said. “Giving back is very important to me. I want to reward others who need help doing things they want to do.”

Paysour’s financial support of the men’s cross-country and track and field teams can be traced to friendships and relationships made during his time at WCU.

“My best friends at college were the track folks. They let me be a part of them even though I wasn’t on the team. One of the members became a friend for life. We stayed close for 50 years,” he said. “I visited him and his wife as often as I could at their home in Pennsylvania. I became a part of his family and watched his children grow and become successful.”

That friend, Michael Prozialeck, died unexpectedly in August 2023, and Paysour created a scholarship fund in his memory to benefit the men’s cross-country team, with preference to out-of-state students.

“I had spent Memorial Day weekend there, and plans were in place for our annual meeting at Western’s Homecoming,” Paysour said. “I felt I had to leave his name alive in a place that I know he loved so well. Cross-country had brought him to Western, so I felt it was fitting.”

For more information on creating an endowment to help students pursue their higher education goals or to provide programmatic support, contact the WCU Division of Advancement at 828-227-7124 or, or visit

Office of Web Services