“I don’t know that I have ever been as touched by a gift to the university as I am by this one. Miss McCarty has shown great unselfishness and sensitivity in making possible for others the education she never had.” – Aubrey Lucas, president, The University of Southern Mississippi.
The turn of the New Year is a time most of us resolve to do something. Something positive, usually involving our body masses. This time of year presents us with the perceived opportunity to begin anew.
That said, often our resolutions are focused on ourselves. ‘I’m going to lose 20 pounds.’ ‘I’m going to finish that novel I started writing three years ago.’ ‘I’m going to spend less time playing games on my iPhone.’
These resolutions brought Oseola McCarty to my mind. Oseola, a washerwoman who spent her life laboring, resolved to do something. However, her resolution didn’t have to do with herself. Her selfless resolution has enabled people she never met to fulfill their dreams.
That’s because Oseola McCarty, who died in 1999, became an unexpected benefactor of the University of Southern Mississippi when she created a trust to fund scholarships for African-American students from her area with her life savings. Oseola, who quit school after the sixth grade, resolved that others would have the education she lacked.
“I would go to school and come home and iron. I’d put money away and save it. When I got enough, I went to First Mississippi National Bank and put it in. The teller told me it would be best to put it in a savings account. I didn’t know. I just kept saving,” McCarty recalled in the USM press release announcing the gift in June 1995.
McCarty worked on laundry bundles, washing and ironing, her entire life. She originally charged less than a dollar per bundle for her labor. As she raised prices, Oseola began saving money. While she never married or had children of her own, in time, Oseola accumulated $150,000 in savings. She then worked with her bankers to set up a trust with the purpose of providing scholarships.
The gift made national and international news. But that wasn’t the point of the gift.
“I wanted to share my wealth with the children,” Oseola told The New York Times‘ Rick Bragg. “I never minded work, but I was always so busy, busy. Maybe I can make it so the children don’t have to work like I did.”
Instead of seeking a building name or other accolades, Oseola expressed her desire to attend the graduation of someone her money helped. The first student who received a scholarship from her formed a close personal relationship with Oseola. That student, Stephanie Bullock said, “It was a total miracle.”
As of January 2014, 44 students had received scholarships thanks to McCarty’s gift. Forty four lives have been touched forever by a five foot tall woman who didn’t finish grade school.
To me, Oseola’s story is a testament to what an ordinary individual’s resolve can achieve. It’s an inspiration for a new year.
Sources and Images: “Oseola McCarty,” Wikipedia.org; “Oseola McCarty donates $150,000 to Southern Miss,” by Sharon Wertz, University of Southern Mississippi Office of University Communications press release, June 26, 1995; “All She Has, $150,000, Is Going to a University,” by Rick Bragg, The New York Times, Aug. 13, 1995.; “California Students Make Donation to Oseola McCarty Scholarship Fund,” by Van Arnold, USM Office of University Communications, Jan. 30, 2014; The Philanthropy Roundtable’s Philanthropy Hall of Fame.