By Melanie Threlkeld McConnell
Charlene Leontine Francis McCormack married young, worked hard, loved her family and her church, and ultimately laid the groundwork for the success of her three children, especially her oldest, Western Carolina University Chancellor Kelli R. Brown.
To honor her mother, who died in 2013, Brown and her husband Dennis, have established the Charlene L.F. McCormack Endowed Scholarship to provide financial support to first-generation WCU college students who live in the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina.
“My mother was a very special woman. She never received a college degree, but she always encouraged and supported her three children to go to college,” Brown said. “It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized she gave up things so we kids could have opportunities, like showing horses and going to college. She was the hardest worker I ever saw.”
McCormack grew up in Dayton, Ohio. She married James Ray McCormack when she was 21 and he 24, and they were married for 56 years before she died. McCormack retired after 28 years from the General Motors transmission plant in Toledo, Ohio, where she worked “40 plus hours a week as an assistant buyer,” Brown said, and then spent her weekends cleaning horse stalls, preparing horses for horse shows and driving her children to the shows to compete. The work paid off. In 1981, a then-23-year-old Kelli McCormack won the title of Miss Rodeo Ohio.
“I look back and see what an amazing woman she was - strong willed, high integrity, and she loved her children and grandchildren,” Brown said.
Dennis Brown agreed. “Charlene was a such a warm, kind, wonderful, giving individual whose spirit brightened any room. She knew and appreciated the value of education, working hard to ensure her children and grandchildren had the support, encouragement and resources to pursue their educational development,” he said. “She reveled in their success. This scholarship is one way to memorialize Charlene’s success, cementing her legacy within the McCormack family and beyond by transforming lives for generations to come.”
McCormack loved to play golf, garden, travel and adventure. In 2007, Brown and her mother took a two-week river cruise down China’s Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world, stopping to walk the Great Wall, visit local and rural markets and see the panda bears.
This is the second scholarship the Browns have established. The first was in their name when Chancellor Brown was provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Georgia College & State University.
“My mother had a beautiful soul and was beautiful. She worked hard, loved her family, had a caring heart, believed in God and was active in her church,” Brown said. “She provided the foundation for my work ethic, sense of values, integrity and always doing what was right.”