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Released July 29, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG - Back in 1995, an elderly African-American Mississippi woman boarded a train in Hattiesburg bound for Washington, D.C. She was an invited guest of the president of the United States, but he would have to wait: Oseola McCarty didn't much trust airplanes.

This 87-year-old former washerwoman had her mind set on her mode of travel, and pretty much everything else. Just a few months earlier she had given The University of Southern Mississippi her life savings - $150,000 she had saved from more than 70 years of washing other people's clothes. She had dropped out of elementary school to care for a sick aunt, and had been unable to go to college herself, so she wanted to make sure others who were financially strapped could realize their dreams.

Her generous donation has so far allowed full-tuition, four-year scholarships to change the lives of Stephanie Bullock, Carletta Barnes, Joseph Milton, Jessica Clemons, Tracy Wesley, Timothy Lockhart, Derrick Bond, Kenya Lee, Dacia Haralson, Tymika Curb, Rachel Gray, Rhonda Jorday, Tameekea Johnson, Jackie McCarty, Jessica Gandy and Latessa Minor.

The University of Southern Mississippi's most recent Oseola McCarty Scholarship recipients are nursing students Jessica Charita Gandy of Waynesboro and Latessa Beata Minor of Hattiesburg.

"We are thrilled to name these two young women as McCarty scholars," said Tim Ryan, executive director of the USM Foundation. "Through their academic achievement and community involvement, they are carrying forward Miss McCarty's vision. It is a pleasure to know such deserving students are beneficiaries of this endowment."

Gandy, a pre-nursing student, is a 2002 graduate of Wayne County High School. Her school achievements include academic award recipient, homecoming court member, honor roll and Who's Who member, scholarship awardee and community service volunteer. She played basketball, ran track and was a member of the Beta Club and National Honor Society.

"This scholarship means a lot to me," Gandy said. "It makes me appreciate school so much more. I'm a nursing student and this will allow me to fulfill not only my dreams, but Miss McCarty's dream she had for herself. That's a great motivator for me and encourages me to do well. I'm blessed to receive this scholarship with her name on it."

Minor is a graduate of Hattiesburg High School, where she was a member of Future Educators of America, the Environmental Club, Beta Club, National Honor Society, Technology Student Club, Mississippi Quiz Bowl Team, Mock Trial Team, debate team and student council. Her community service includes volunteering for a school bond issue and a book and canned food drive, serving as a Junior Achievement volunteer and being involved in various religious activities.

"I'm excited," she said about the scholarship. "I wish (Miss McCarty) was still alive so I could meet her. It's amazing all she did in the last months of her life. I read all about her and the impact she had. She also wanted to be a nurse, so I can work toward giving back to the community, like she did. Miss McCarty's motto was 'Nothing is impossible with the Lord.' I can honestly say that prayers work."

Stephanie Bullock of Hattiesburg received the first Oseola McCarty Endowed Scholarship, which had as its priority "to provide a scholarship to a capable and deserving student who has financial need, with consideration given to an African-American student from the Hattiesburg and south Mississippi area." Bullock was one of those in need, and when she met McCarty for the first time, she wrapped herself around the woman and whispered, "Thank you so much."

McCarty was tickled, and a little embarrassed; she didn't understand what all the fuss was about since, after all, as she said in one of her books that followed the scholarship announcement, "There's a lot of talk about self-esteem these days. It seems pretty basic to me. If you want to feel proud of yourself, you've got to do things you can be proud of. Feelings follow actions."

Meeting the American president wasn't McCarty's only big adventure. Before she died Sept. 26, 1999, from cancer at age 91, The University of Southern Mississippi's most famous benefactor - who rarely before left her house except for visits to the doctor and the grocery store - was entertained by representatives of the United Nations, bestowed an honorary doctoral degree from Harvard University, presented the National Urban League's Community Heroes Award and UNESCO's Avicenna Medal (she refused to accept the award in Paris, so the organization came to Hattiesburg), and was the subject of several books, articles and worldwide news stories.

The humble woman took it all in stride. When she first made her donation, she told a reporter, "I want to help somebody's child go to college. I just want it to go to someone who will appreciate it and learn."

She got her wish. "It is very rewarding to see such outstanding students benefit from Miss McCarty's generosity," said Joan Stevens, the USM Foundation's assistant director of donor relations. "Her inspiration continues to live through the lives of each one of her recipients."


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August 5, 2004 5:08 PM