A retired teacher and administrator in the health and physical education profession has made more than half a million dollars in gifts and pledges to endow a scholarship fund at Western Carolina University for students interested in conducting research on LGBTQ issues in educational settings.
Ron Morrow, a 1978 graduate of WCU with a degree in health and physical education, recently signed a planned gift agreement adding $400,000 to his previous pledges and donations of $150,000, increasing the Ronald G. Morrow Endowed Scholarship Fund to $550,000.
Formerly the executive director of the N.C. Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Morrow said he endowed the fund in 2018 to help fill a void in research into the inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community in the classroom.
“I had hoped when I began the scholarship that the need, in 10 or 20 years, might go away. Sadly, the need is there and even growing as students come out earlier. Research dollars for LGBTQ issues are still almost nonexistent,” said Morrow, whose interest in LGBTQ issues and diversity dates back to his time as a college student.
“While I was updating my will, I listed as a goal to positively affect the education of all students about LGBTQ issues as well as about LGBTQ students themselves. Being able to leave an endowment allows me to transfer private dollars to public purposes with the assurance that my gifts will serve these purposes for as long as the institution continues to exist,” he said.
After earning his bachelor's degree at WCU, Morrow continued his studies at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, receiving his master's degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics in 1984 and his doctorate in exercise and sports science in 2000. For his dissertation, he focused on ways to foster an inclusive environment in physical education for everyone.
“When I chose my doctoral dissertation topic, I had to select professors to serve on my doctoral committee. Two of the four I asked to serve recommended I not take on this subject for fear of damaging my future career choices,” Morrow said. “Fortunately, I was able to find three other professors who were enthusiastic and encouraging. This shouldn’t be happening in our halls of academia. Why should I expect someone else to make changes if I’m not willing to do it myself?”
Throughout his career, Morrow has conducted extensive research and published numerous articles on inclusion of LGBTQ students in physical education classrooms and activities. His passion for the topic stemmed from his days as a teacher in Mecklenburg County schools, where he saw gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students frequently excluded from participation.
“The focus was on the natural athlete. The other kids were doing their homework in the bleachers,” he said in 2012, when he was presented with WCU Alumni Association’s Academic Achievement Award.
Morrow traces his decision to study health and physical education to his childhood. “My father was the aquatic director of the Central YMCA in Charlotte for 50 years. My twin, older brother (Donnie Morrow, a 1979 graduate of WCU) and I were raised at the Y. We were teaching swimming at age 6,” he said. “My brothers were natural athletes. I was not, so I became a generalist and learned every physical education skill well enough to teach others. With so much experience, studying physical education in college was a natural thing to do.”
Morrow credits faculty members in WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions – including Otto Spilker, Jim Hamilton, Sue Fields, David Claxton and Art Pilch – with setting the stage for his career as an educator. The late Spilker was a particular influence on him.
“Dr. Spilker once stated his teaching philosophy as, ‘Be ready. Be over-prepared. If I don’t know the material, I’m in big trouble.’ Not only was Otto my professor, my mentor and my colleague, he was my friend,” he said. “He reminded you often that you taught children and they were No. 1”
In addition to working in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, Morrow was director of aquatics, swimming and diving coach, and faculty member and chair of the Department of Physical Education at Davidson College. He also has served as a visiting faculty member at Barton College, N.C. Central University and N.C. State University.
During his 10-year stint as executive director of the N.C. Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, the organization expanded membership from 800 to nearly 3,000. In 2008, Morrow helped establish a statewide fitness testing program to address childhood obesity among nearly 1.5 million school children. He also founded the nonprofit organization IsPOD (In-School Prevention of Obesity and Disease) to monitor student data and provide student “fitness report cards” to parents and teachers at approximately 500 schools.
Morrow’s endowed scholarship at WCU is designed to benefit undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Education and Allied Professions, with preference given to residents of North Carolina and students with financial need.
Kim Winter, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions, called Morrow “a longtime friend to our college” through a series of donations and service on its Advancement Council.
“I am ecstatic about the Ronald G. Morrow Endowed Scholarship for students. The scholarship will help us carry on a legacy of intentionally educating students in the concepts of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. We are advocates for justice-oriented practices and offer learning opportunities to both the campus and community,” Winter said.
“We do this work through passionate and engaged faculty and staff as well as powerful partnerships not only with other colleges, programs and offices at Western Carolina University, but also with external stakeholders like Ron Morrow,” she said. “I always say, ‘We’re in the business of changing lives.’ Collectively, we are dedicated to creating an equitable and inclusive environment where ethical teaching and workplace practices are centered to build a more just workplace.”
For more information on creating an endowed scholarship fund to help students pursue their higher education goals, contact the WCU Division of Advancement at 828-227-7124 or email@example.com, or visit the website give.wcu.edu.