By Bill Studenc
The dean’s suite of offices in the Forsyth Building, home to Western Carolina University’s College of Business, has a new formal name that celebrates five generations of a family’s connections to WCU dating back to the early 1900s.
The Forsyth Building’s Suite 124 is now designated as the WCU College of Business Crawford Sherrill Dean’s Suite in appreciation for a scholarship fund created in December 2021 by $425,000 in gifts and pledges from WCU alumnus Michael A. Crawford, chief performance officer at national accounting firm FORVIS.
Crawford, a 1987 graduate of WCU with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance, established the Crawford Sherrill Endowed Scholarship in memory of his father, Frank Moody Crawford Jr., a 1954 WCU graduate who died Aug. 5, 2021, at age 89. His mother, Othello Haskett Crawford, resides in Sylva. “She is thrilled to have her husband of 62 years honored in this way,” he said.
The new name for the office suite, previously approved by the WCU Board of Trustees, was unveiled during a ceremony Friday, April 28, in front of a gathering of family members, friends, faculty, staff, students and other supporters of the university.
The change will require AJ Grube, dean of the College of Business, to order business cards reflecting her new address. Grube expressed gratitude to Crawford and his wife, Gina, for the financial support leading to the renaming of her office suite, calling them “tremendous supporters of the College of Business.”
“I’ve been lucky to get to know Mike and Gina over the past few years and see first-hand the enthusiasm they have for helping our students,” she said. “Almost every conversation starts with a question about what good things our students have accomplished. This gift will enable our students to accomplish so many wonderful things. For this I’m excited, but I’m also incredibly grateful to Mike and Gina.”
The Crawford Sherrill Endowed Scholarship will provide financial assistance to students in WCU’s Brinson Honors College studying in the College of Education and Allied Professions or majoring in accounting in the College of Business. Preference will be given to first-generation college students, graduates of Smoky Mountain High School and students who have attained the rank of Eagle Scout.
Mike Crawford said that he decided shortly after his father’s passing in 2021 to establish a scholarship fund to honor his father and commemorate his dad’s legacy. He said he wanted to include a preference for Eagle Scouts because his father attained that rank in high school and “was super proud of this accomplishment.”
After earning his degree in management in 1954 at what was then Western Carolina Teachers College, Frank Crawford Jr. served with the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958, worked at Dayco Corp. in Waynesville as an industrial engineer for more than 10 years and at Mead Corp. in Sylva as a cost accountant until 1976 when he returned to Dayco for three years.
He then became division accountant for the N.C. Department of Transportation before retiring in 1994. He was the son of Frank Moody Crawford Sr., who graduated in 1941 from what was then Cullowhee State Normal School with a degree in education, and Edith Sherrill Crawford.
Michael Crawford’s family ties to WCU begin with his great-grandfather, W.R. Sherrill, a 1902 graduate who went on to law school after earning his teaching degree in Cullowhee. Before becoming a lawyer, Sherrill was a teacher, principal and public school superintendent, and his diploma features the signature of Robert L. Madison, founder of the institution now known as Western Carolina University.
Other family members connected to WCU include brother Steve Crawford, a 1985 graduate; an uncle, Bill Crawford, recipient of WCU’s 2019 Mountain Heritage Award; and a trio of cousins of his father, all WCU alumni who became educators.
“My dad loved WCU and was so proud of ‘his boys’ who graduated from Western just like him, his father and his grandfather,” he said. “I loved my dad and I love WCU as well, as it helped me become who I am as a husband, father and businessman. Without my education and experiences at WCU, I would not be who I am today. This is a way to give back to the college I love and honor my father at the same time.”
Crawford is a long-time supporter of WCU’s College of Business and its accountancy programs, which were previously christened the Dixon Hughes Goodman Accountancy Programs in recognition of $1 million in gifts and pledges in 2015 from more than 50 WCU alumni employed by the firm, including Crawford. The programs were renamed the FORVIS Accountancy Programs in December 2022 following the merger of the limited liability partnerships known as Dixon Hughes Goodman and BKD to create a new firm called FORVIS.
In addition to providing scholarship support to WCU accounting students, Crawford said he wanted his contributions to help students in the education program in recognition of his family members who were educators, including his grandfather, who was a teacher, principal and school superintendent, and his grandmother, who was a teacher.
“My hope is that these students will take full advantage of their education and friendships during their time at WCU. I hope that WCU is a catalyst to their success as both a person and a professional, and I hope one day they will give back to the university with fond memories and gratitude just like myself,” he said.
“Western was four of the best years of my life, and I am so appreciative of the experience,” Crawford said. “As a brother in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, I met lifelong friends while experiencing Cullowhee through intramural sports, social gatherings and community service opportunities, all while challenging each other to do our best academically and having the best GPA for fraternities.”
The creation of the Crawford Sherrill Endowed Scholarship represents the latest example of gifts of time, treasure and talent from Mike Crawford, who currently serves on the WCU Foundation Board of Directors and has made numerous significant previous contributions to the College of Business as well as to the Catamount athletics program, said Jamie T. Raynor, vice chancellor for advancement.
“This new scholarship celebrates Frank Moody Crawford individually and recognizes the tremendous Western Carolina University legacy that exists within this family,” Raynor said. “It is fitting that future generations of WCU students will benefit from gifts made in recognition of the impact of previous generations of the Crawford and Sherrill families.”
Taleigh Verrault, a sophomore from Sylva majoring in psychology in the College of Education and Allied Professions with a second major in history, is the first recipient of the full-ride scholarship, which is renewable and is designed to cover all college-related expenses.
“When I first learned I had been selected for the Crawford Sherrill Scholarship, I was in awe. The scholarship is worth so much that I barely believed that it was real,” said Verrault, a member of WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band. “Receiving this scholarship ensured that I did not have to pay or take out any loans for my undergraduate education, which is extraordinary. Not only does it allow me to focus more on my academics and less on working, but it also allows me to enter the next stage of my life after graduation without student debt.”
After graduating from WCU, Verrault plans to go on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology. “Doing so will make me the first person in my family to earn a doctoral degree. I know that this will be an expensive endeavor, so not owing on my undergraduate education makes a huge impact,” he said.
“I just want to thank the generous donor who created this scholarship, as it really means a lot to me to have my education free of the stress that cost can bring,” Verrault said.