Scholarship program a lasting legacy for South Georgia educator and banker

Scholarship program a lasting legacy for South Georgia educator and banker
Officials with Valdosta State University are investigating racially slanted social media post. (Source: WALB)

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - A scholarship program has been established to honor the legacy of a well known Mitchell County educator, and a Camilla banker who more than 80 years ago decided to believe in her.

This program will pay for students in need to attend Valdosta State University, and establish them teaching in disadvantaged parts of Georgia.

Late last month, the dedication of the J.E. Brooks Society was held in Atlanta to celebrate the life and legacy of Ruby Rigsby Sullivan and J.E. Brooks.

In 1931 then 17-year-old Ruby Rigsby, with no money but a dream of becoming a teacher, went to the Bank of Camilla and asked the bank's president, Brooks, for a loan to attend Georgia State Women's College, now Valdosta State University.

With only kindness to back his hunch, Brooks loaned her $500 to pay for her education.

"He told her to go to college. And then if she graduated and she did achieve her goal of becoming a teacher, then they would talk about how she could repay that loan," said Valdosta State University Vice President of Advancement John Crawford.

Sullivan went on to teach for an amazing 67 years, mostly in Mitchell County. She died last year at age 103.

And with a very substantial endowment, she established the J.E. Brooks Society. With members of the Brooks Family on its advisory board, the scholarship program will pay for at least 20 students in need to attend the VSU education program.

It will even pay them a stipend to make their education meaningful, and then continue to pay them after graduation if they return to high poverty Georgia counties to teach.

"There are going to literally be hundreds of school teachers throughout South Georgia in our high poverty counties, that are high-quality teachers, that are going to make an impact on young people for perpetuity really," said Crawford.

Sullivan's endowment trustee said the society organizers have established it soundly, and have at least 400 years of funding.  And they will have the ability to grow the number of scholarships.

So more than 80 years ago an act of kindness by a bank manager set in motion a legacy for a lifetime educator, and now will pass on that act of kindness to generations of Georgians and hopefully, improve the education of communities and students across the state.

The J.E. Brooks Society Scholarship program will target sophomore high school students in need of financing to attend college who want to teach.

Students that are interested can contact their high school guidance counselors to get more information.

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