Southeast Missouri State University alumni Tom and Julie Wood of St. Louis, Mo., wanted to give back to the University that had given them so much.
"We had a great education and wonderful life experiences at Southeast," says Tom. "We gained a lot at Southeast, and both of us feel a need to pay it forward."
Access to a great education at an affordable college is what brought Tom and Julie to Southeast as undergraduates.
"I came from a solid home background, but would not have been able to afford college elsewhere," says Tom. "Even then, I needed to work every summer and had jobs during the school years in three of my years at Southeast."
"Southeast was known for an excellent women's physical education and health department," says Julie, who transferred to Southeast for her junior and senior years because of the University's affordability.
Tom and Julie graduated from what was then known as Southeast Missouri State Teachers College in 1966. Tom earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in marketing, and Julie completed a Bachelor of Science in Education, secondary education, with a major in health and physical education.
While at Southeast, she enjoyed the smaller class sizes Southeast offers and the personal and individualized relationship between students and professors, Julie says. Her experiences with the women's physical education department and the Delta Delta Delta (Tri Delta) sorority provided opportunities for developing her leadership, social and independence skills.
Tom's experiences at the Capaha Arrow, the forerunner to Southeast's current Arrow student newspaper, and in the office of the school's first public information office, were keys to the beginning of his career in journalism. The journalism and business classes he took at Southeast gave him the foundation to a successful career, and the leadership opportunities he was afforded with experiences in Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity gave him the confidence to be comfortable in social settings, Tom says. He is especially grateful for the scholarship he earned through the Interfraternity Council.
"That $100, while it may seem small to anyone these days, was huge for me and kept me in school that year," he says. "That kept my head above water one year when I was really broke."
Remembering that scholarship and the opportunities it provided for him make him want to pay it forward every day, Tom says.
To help make a college education—a quality education—available to new generations of Southeast students, Tom and Julie recently created a deferred gift annuity and established a scholarship in their name.
The Woods recently completed a generous five-year commitment made as part of Southeast's Honoring Tradition Inspiring Success campaign. As a result of their generosity, a scholarship is awarded each year to a student in need of financial assistance.
Furthermore, as a result of a deferred charitable gift annuity arrangement, Tom and Julie will receive income during their lives beginning in fall 2018. After their lifetimes, the remaining amount will endow the scholarship in their names.
"We hope the scholarship will make it possible for a deserving student, who might not be able to attend college otherwise, to gain a quality education at Southeast," Tom says. "Or it might make it possible for that student to not have to work during their college years in order to focus singly on the education aspect of this great University."
The Tom and Julie Wood Scholarship is a renewable scholarship for students enrolled at Southeast who are pursuing an education or mass communication degree, graduated from Washington (Missouri) High School or Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School and are in need of financial assistance. If there is no student meeting these qualifications, the scholarship will be awarded to a student who has high academic promise and who otherwise might not be able to attend college.
Tom and Julie hope their scholarship will continue to help many generations of students have the financial freedom to reach their educational and personal goals.
"The best memory of all is that I met my best friend and love of my life at Southeast," Tom says. "We want students to know that there is help out there if you need it. And in the future, you may be able to help others in a similar way."
In addition to their current and planned gifts, Tom and Julie also continue to be involved through giving of their time and expertise. Tom is an emeritus member of the Foundation Board of Directors and a member of the Sigma Tau Gamma alumni association, and Julie has served on the St. Louis Executive Committee of Southeast's Alumni Association. Tom and Julie hope their gift will inspire other alumni to support the University, whether it's monetarily or through service.
"There are always other ways to pay it forward," says Tom. "If you received help from someone, whether financial or in other ways, from a faculty member, alumnus or family, you can spread that benefit by helping future students."