By Michaela O'Shaughnessy with contributions from resident Edward Lamson.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Life In The Flats magazine.
Though entirely unintentional, the Winchester Scholarship Foundation (WSF) may be one of Winchester’s best kept secrets. This may come as a surprise, considering that the organization was founded over seven decades ago in 1945, when a few different women’s groups banded together to form the Winchester Mothers’ Association. What is even more surprising is that any anonymity blanketing the organization has not impeded its growth. The assistance that WSF provides is a valued resource given the considerable cost of higher education that parents and students now face.
In the last five years, the organization has given away almost 2 million dollars in awards, averaging around $3,000 per student. While in 2000/2001, 57 students received a total of $148,600, WSF gave out its highest number of awards in 2018 with 185 students receiving scholarships totaling $470,000.
‘WSF’s mission to provide financial support to qualifying Winchester High School students appears to be pretty straightforward. However, when you factor in the 48 endowments that supplement the funds, with each of the endowed scholarships structured to support a minimum of one award in perpetuity, things get a little more complicated. By paying out only 4.5%, WSF is able to grow the principal and, as a result, grow the award. These endowed funds are essential to WSF’s mission — without them, WSF could only support a small fraction of the
“If a student has $20,000-$30,000 in loans and we can give somebody money that is substituted for those loans, that’s great in my judgment. In the long haul that means they don’t have to pay as much interest when they graduate,” says Treasurer Edward (“Ted”) Lamson.
The fact that the endowments are financially beneficial to Winchester High School graduates and their parents goes without question, but it is the manner in which they perpetuate the memory of the named person that makes them especially meaningful. This is clearly the case with the gift named for Mary Jean WeyIman, a beloved fifth-grade teacher at Ambrose from 1988-2000 who passed away in 2013 after battling ovarian cancer. Created to honor Mary Jean’s dedication and innovative approach to teaching, the scholarship fund is a fitting tribute.
The same can be said of the Francis Finigan endowment. For 37 years, Frank Finigan taught physics and math and was the director of science for the Winchester school system. He was the football coach and started the high school’s hockey team, which he led to the state championship in 1955. The Miriam Read endowment, named for the special education teacher, is an example of how every little contribution helps. Funds for the $12,000 endowed fund were raised from small events like car washes, many little checks, and a great deal of sentimental goodness.
Two of WSF’s most recent additions are a music scholarship created by friends’ donations in memory of Kara Komen and the Grace Raneri scholarship, a gift of $126,000 designated for special education students.
WSF is also in the process of collaborating with the John and Mary Murphy Educational Foundation, another Winchester organization making meaningful contributions to the community. Since their initial contribution in 2008, WSF has received $479,00 from the Murphy Educational Foundation.
Scholarship applications are evaluated by the WSF’s Scholarship Committee, which is comprised of five members of the board of directors who are responsible for selecting the recipients for the awards. While some organizations require essays, one of WSF’s few requirements is that the students are graduates of Winchester Public Schools.
According to Tom Howley, who heads up the Scholarship Committee, WSF’s goal is to help alleviate the increasing financial burden of higher education, which is why the decisions are exclusively based on financial need. The committee reviews each applicant based on tuition costs, parental income and, in some cases, how many children in one family are attending college simultaneously. Secondary to those things, the committee also takes into consideration notable community service and/or extracurricular activities.
“We want people to apply and know about us, and we want to help as many people as we can. We don’t give large amounts but it helps. WSF is an important community resource funded by the people who live here,” says Tom.
If WSF isn’t the most well-known organization in Winchester, there is a perfectly good explanation for that. In an effort to maintain student confidentiality and privacy, the WSF does not advertise its services and forgoes induction ceremonies and photographs of smiling award recipients.
Ted is just fine with that. “One thing I’m certainly proud of is this information is very confidential and needs-based. We are serving a huge need and it’s growing and it is more money every year and a bigger number.”
As the college coordinator for Winchester ABC, Doe Coover is one of WSF’s biggest fans and knows full well the opportunities WSF makes available to youths when it comes to choosing colleges.
“In some cases, WSF makes the difference between going and not going to college — it’s one of the selling features with parents when they are picking our program. I have never had a student not get money, even if it’s not always the same. WSF helps put them over the hump of what parents can afford. I don’t know any town that does what WSF does — it is a great organization that I cannot say enough good things about.”
The longstanding Winchester organization believes that by supporting the education of Winchester youth, it is investing in the future and hopefully making a difference in the world.
“Somebody back in 1945 had the foresight to create this thing and a bunch of people along the way have contributed the time and energy to make it work,” says Ted.
For more information about making a donation to WSF or applying for a scholarship, visit WSF’s website at www.winchestersf.org. Prospective applicants can print out an application form in the guidance counselor’s office or on WSF's website.