To say Bill and Vera Lusk Proffitt have a deep appreciation for Maryville College would be a slight understatement.
The college shaped the character of Bill’s family. His mother, Lelia Graham, was enrolled at the college 100 years ago while his father, Harry, attended prep school at the institution, and for 17 consecutive years - from 1935 to 1952 - at least one of his family members was enrolled at the college. Bill himself was starting lineman on the last Scots football team to have an undefeated regular season in 1946, which is how he met his future wife while she was a cheerleader.
Vera was the first member of her family to go to college. A native of New Jersey, she had to rely on others in order to make the roughly 600-mile trip to East Tennessee.
“Having so little money coming down here from New Jersey, if it weren’t for people helping me, I don’t know if I could have afforded it,” she recalled. “One family gave me a $100 check, which back in 1945 was a significant sum of money.
“I felt as if people helped me to come, and I want to help someone else to be able to go to college who can’t afford to financially. We want to give back because we’ve been given so much,” Vera added.
While their deep appreciation for the college undoubtedly contributed to their recent decision to establish the $100,000 Proffitt-Lusk Family Scholarship, their own experiences while growing up in college, and their desires for others to contribute, aided their choice.
Bill, who established Proffitt Realty Company and worked there for more than 30 years and presided over the Blount Chamber of Commerce and is the current chairman of the Alcoa Planning Commission, has seen firsthand the impact that Maryville College has made on the community in recent years.
“The growth and excellence of the college that we have seen in the past few years is just phenomenal,” Bill said. “We’ve always had the idea to give back and help students out who really need it.”
The scholarship, which will be awarded for the first time during the fall semester of 2009, has been set up as an endowed scholarship, meaning the money will be invested, and the interest collected will be given to a student. The Proffitts have decided to allow the scholarship to be given to any student who is in financial need.
“We did not want to limit it,” Bill said. “(College administrators) told us we could put whatever limitations we wanted to on it, but we were not interested in doing that. We want any student who needs (the scholarship) financially to benefit.”
The Proffitts have chosen to make their contribution public, not for self-promotion, but rather as a call to others to contribute what they can to causes and institutions they feel strongly about. Additionally, Bill cites others before him who have given to the college as inspiration for establishing a scholarship.
“When I’ve seen others give to the college, I’ve admired them for their generosity,” he said. “It really shows that they care about the institution to do that. The other thing is that by [setting up the scholarship], it might encourage other people who are in position to give back to do so. We thought that the motivation should be not only about changing a life but also encouraging others to give.”
The Proffitts say they went to the college to establish a scholarship and surprised college president, Dr. Gerald Gibson, when they met with him to discuss the topic.
“(Gibson) was surprised, kind of like a bolt out of the blue, because we had never discussed anything like this with him before,” Bill said. “We just called him and made an appointment to meet him.”
Chuckling, Vera added, “His secretary asked us if she could tell him what the meeting would be about, but we just said that we wanted to take up a little bit of his time.”
Gibson called the Proffitts “two wonderfully generous alumni.”
“This new scholarship fund will assist our college in its longstanding commitment to providing access to a quality education for students of modest means,” the president added. “We are immensely grateful for both their generosity and their example.”
Bill said he and Vera feel good knowing that the College will steward the investment wisely. “(College administrators) had suggested different ways we could allocate our contribution, but a scholarship was something we had thought of for a long time.”
They wanted to give something to the college that could be beneficial and change the lives of students well after they are gone.
“There’s a saying that I’ve subscribed to,” Bill said. “It goes something like, ‘You make money to make a living. You give money to make a life.’ We feel like by doing this in a scholarship situation, this is our way to give that will be used long after we are gone.”
For information about establishing a scholarship at Maryville College, contact Holly Jackson-Ludlow, interim vice president for advancement and community relations, at 865.273.8884 or firstname.lastname@example.org.