Natchitoches, La (KMSS) — Former students, family and friends honored a retired Northwestern State University professor and his wife to acknowledge help and support they received from the couple while earning their undergraduate degrees. The students and the couple’s family arranged a surprise reception to announce the creation of the Dr. Melvin and Ruth Stevens Helping Hand Scholarship, intended to help Northwestern State students who are struggling financially to stay in school.
Remarks by former students conveyed a common theme of overcoming hardships to attend college and benefitting not only from emotional and spiritual support Dr. and Mrs. Stevens offered, but also anonymous financial support. The students received scholarship money to cover expenses and only later realized who provided the support.
Robert Bice travelled from his home in Hawaii to be present for the scholarship announcement. Bice, who earned an undergraduate degree at Northwestern State in 1979 and eventually his MBA, said the anonymous gifts define the character of Dr. and Mrs. Stevens.
“His gift was multiplied exponentially,” Bice said. “He set me up for a career and helped me get started. I want to say, ‘Thank you, Dr. Stevens.’”
“My story is similar,” said Steve Fletcher, who graduated in 1979 and has had a long career as an educator. “I had to have money to go to school. Without their help I may never have graduated. I’ve been a teacher all these years. The thing I remember most is their giving and caring. It was not just the money. Dr. Stevens was there when you were up against something. To me, he was a spiritual father. As a teacher, he was an example to me that I try to pass on to my students.”
Randal Walker, who earned his degree in 1980, said Dr. Stevens talked him into enrolling at Northwestern State, where he got a scholarship to perform with the campus group The Entertainers and received anonymous help. While talking with a friend later, Walker realized who was helping him and other students.
“We are just three or four folks who were just here for three or four years,” he said.
Dr. Stevens taught agriculture, agronomy and soil sciences at Northwestern State. He also obtained his pilot’s license, certification to conduct appraisals and a real estate license. He described his own experiences struggling to earn a degree, working the night watch on campus and washing dishes to pay expenses. He later worked in a defense plant where he met his wife. He earned a degree in agriculture from the University of Arkansas and eventually his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University. During that time, he was also involved in church work, serving as Sunday school superintendent and other ministries.
Mrs. Stevens was also an industrious person, working as a postmistress and operating a hair salon before obtaining her real estate license.
“She was always concerned about caring for the needs of others,” Walker said. “Their church was always their first priority. They are caring, sharing people who always made their house available.”
The couple’s generosity inspired the former students to help others. The scholarship was established through a $10,000 donation.
“Dr. Stevens told me that the best way to thank someone for helping you is to help someone else,” Bice said.
For more information on the Dr. Melvin and Ruth Steven’s Scholarship or to make a contribution, contact Jill Bankston, associate director of Development at (318) 357-4241 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org:email@example.com.