Western Carolina University has met its Giving Tuesday goal of raising a minimum of $250,000 to broaden access to scholarship support for students, thanks to a six-figure bequest from a New Mexico teacher who wanted to recognize her late mother’s love for the university.
Nearly half of the estate of Sarah E. Sharpton has been designated to establish an endowed scholarship fund to provide assistance to students at WCU in perpetuity and for immediate use for general support of student scholarships through the Giving Tuesday effort. Complete details of the distribution of the estate funds are still being finalized.
The fund will be named the Monteith-Sharpton Family Endowed Scholarship in memory of Doris Monteith Sharpton, a Jackson County native who earned her bachelor’s degree from WCU in 1956 before embarking upon a 25-year teaching career in North Carolina and Florida. When Sharpton died in October 2019 at the age of 94, she left her estate to her daughter, Sarah, who died July 16 of this year.
Although Sarah Sharpton, who also was a teacher, had no direct connection to WCU, she was well aware of the role that the institution played for her mother. Doris had included WCU as a beneficiary as a directive from her trust and Sarah was committed to honoring her mother’s wishes, said Elizabeth Monteith Armijo, Sarah’s cousin and co-trustee of the trust fund.
“Aunt Doris talked a lot about the impact that Western Carolina had on her life and her career,” Armijo said. “She had her ‘teacher of the year’ award from 1979-1980 still on display, which told me how much teaching meant to her. While sorting through boxes of her belongings, I found numerous items and notes from the university, including alumni magazines, and that told me how much the university meant to her.”
As a student, Doris often had to hitchhike to campus from her home in Glenville, sometimes with son Ken, who had cerebral palsy, in tow, Armijo said.
“Aunt Doris would sometimes take him to class with her. It was amazing that her professors would allow and encourage her to do so, so that she could continue her education,” she said. “Aunt Doris and Sarah were both strong, incredible women and I am very blessed to be in the family with them.”
Armijo characterized her aunt, who raised two children (often alone), as a strong, determined, intelligent woman. “Because of her strong will and determination, she overcame many challenges to graduate from WCU in three years with high honors at the age of 31,” she said. “She had the foresight to invest some of her earnings from her teaching career in government bonds and now WCU is benefiting from that foresight.”
Doris Sharpton earned her master's degree in education from Miami University while teaching in Florida, living in Arizona and New Mexico after retiring. She was born in Glenville as the third of six children of Thomas Lenville Monteith and Ellen Elizabeth Bryson Monteith, and lived in the Hamburg township.
While the contributions from the bequest have pushed WCU across its $250,000 goal for Giving Tuesday, that does not mean others should refrain from participating, said Jamie Raynor, vice chancellor for Advancement.
“We are hopeful that other potential donors will choose to honor the Sharptons’ generosity with a gift of their own. The Sharpton estate funds will provide much-needed unrestricted, immediate use scholarship support to WCU students,” Raynor said.
“The university does not have a sufficient amount of funding to provide scholarship support to all students who deserve it, and gifts like this new bequest and the many others received on Giving Tuesday will enable us to help a larger number of students. We are thankful for those who include the Western Carolina University Foundation in their annual gifts as well as their estate plans,” she said.
The total amount raised through WCU’s Giving Tuesday initiative will be announced after all gifts have been tallied.