Come this fall, four Alcoa High School students will be living the legacy of a man who is remembered in the education community as one who cared and acted on it.
The four young people are recipients of the “Mr. P” scholarships, named for Dennis Pershing, who taught vocational and driver education at the school and who was known for taking his concern for struggling students to the street, if need be, to make a difference in their lives.
At a program last week, the scholarships were awarded to:
n LaTaya Roddick, who will be attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga studying social work.
n Courtney Hodge, who will be entering cosmetology school to become a hair stylist.
n Michael Stubblefield, who will be going to Pellissippi State Technical Community College with an eye toward continuing his quest for a business management degree at UT.
n Dalnitra Warren, who will be heading to Hiwassee College to become a physical therapist and continue her basketball career.
It is said that Dennis Pershing had no children but had thousands of kids. He is remembered as a beloved alumnus and former educator at AHS who, without fanfare or affectation, went about the work of changing and redirecting lives.
Pershing died Dec. 18, 2006, just short of his 51st birthday, but his influence on the futures of many Alcoa students is all but inestimable, according to his brother, Ed Pershing, who is spearheading an effort to perpetuate his brother’s memory by awarding four Mr. P scholarships.
Known as Mr. P by the students who loved and respected him, Dennis Pershing devoted a lifetime to young people who struggled more than most with academics, poverty conditions, possibly even abuse.
“And he told no one,” said Ed Pershing, one of three surviving brothers.
Success seems to be a hallmark of the Pershing family. The four brothers were the products of a father who was a foreman at Alcoa Inc. and a mother who was a registered nurse and who grew up poor in Rockwood.
But the four sons of that union became a pharmacist, a physician, an accounting executive and a teacher.
Ed Pershing, a principal at Pershing Yoakley & Associates, a Knoxville accounting and consulting firm, said he and his brothers want to honor the work of their late brother, Dennis by forming the Mr. P Foundation to award scholarships to struggling Alcoa students.
Dennis Pershing, a lifelong bachelor, lost a fight that had lasted nearly 30 years against what Ed Pershing said was a benign brain tumor, one of those one-in-a-multitude afflictions that seem to pick their victims at random and without reason.
But the ailment never prevented Pershing from having an optimistic outlook or a rampant sense of humor, according to Ed Pershing and those who told stories at the teacher’s funeral of his practical jokes.
But he will be remembered most for his positive influence on the lives of young people, who he helped in ways that sometimes were far beyond classroom obligations.
Like the young mother, a former student that Ed Pershing tells about, who his brother spotted walking along Alcoa Highway in the rain. Offering her a ride, Dennis Pershing found out she had two young children and was walking to a job because she had no transportation.
Shortly, Pershing had bought her a car, made the first couple of payments and even paid half-a-year’s insurance premium, all just to get her on her feet.
Actually, this happened twice, Ed Pershing said.
At Pershing’s funeral he was heralded as a hero who squeezed the juice out of life and performed his preferred vocation of helping struggling kids quietly, becoming a mentor and an example.
Pershing’s other two brothers are Jim Pershing, a retired pharmacist, and Dr. Steve Pershing.
Together the brothers are forming the Mr. P Foundation, which is providing $5,000 scholarships to the four students in the AHS Class of 2008.