Phylistene Ward started her future on the day she received a $250 scholarship from Third Unitarian Church.
Ward, who graduated in 1975 at the top of her class at what was then Austin High School, used that money to buy some of the books and clothes she would need to start at Augustana College in Rock Island. She went on to Rush University where she got a bachelor’s of science in nursing.
And now 35 years after being one of the first of two recipients of a Third Unitarian scholarship, Ward returned to the church last Sunday to present an award to graduating senior Shonte Clay, the standout center-forward at Von Steuben High School who will attend the University of Minnesota this fall.
“I wanted to show my three grandchildren that hard work can pay off,” said Ward, who is the surgical services team leader in orthopedics at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park.
In all, 13 students from Chicago and Oak Park each received $1,000 scholarships during the Scholarship Service.
The Rev. Dr. Qiyamah Rahman, who led the service, extolled the recipients to accept things with grace and humility.
“You have everything you need within including the resources you need for your journey. Exemplify yourself as a recipient of the Austin Scholarship and know that you are not average. We expect the best of you and the best of yourself,” she said.
This was the 36th year that the West Side church has given students the opportunity to help them fulfill their dreams. Church officials believe it may be the longest sustained college scholarship program in the Austin area. Nineteen students in all applied for scholarships.
Krystal Wilson wants to emulate her role model Oprah Winfrey and work in broadcasting and the Steinmetz High School senior wants to serve others.
“I want to use my skills to help others, to spotlight on what they need,” said Wilson, who plans to major in broadcasting at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Torry Walker, who plans to major in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, wants to show his peers that being “nerdy” is OK.
“I want to show them that it’s OK to be smart and they can use that as a springboard to get where you want to go,” said Walker, who is this year’s salutatorian at Providence-St. Mel.
His mother, Valerie, was tickled pink.
“He’s a well-rounded, balanced kid,” she said. “This scholarship means more because it honors his academics. He’s worked hard to get here. I’m so very proud of him.
Third Unitarian started its scholarship committee in 1974 as a way to give back to the Austin community, the families and the children of Austin, said Jamie Boyce, the church’s director of membership.
Founders of the Austin Scholarship/Outreach Committee included emeritus pastor the Rev. Donald K. Wheat; congregation members Betty Harris, Eleanor Lukazewski and Roberta Wilson, who also was a paraprofessional for the Chicago Public Schools; Earl Williams, then-principal of Austin High School; and Vivian Matthews, the school’s librarian.
Donations from throughout the Austin area, Unity Temple in Oak Park and Winnetka Congregational Church have sustained the program ever since.
Scholarships had initially been given to Austin graduates, but in 2007 after the public neighborhood school graduated its last class, the committee sent applications to other high schools on the West Side and to Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Here’s a list of the scholarship winners and the schools they’ll be attending. To see photos of the winners published by our partners at the Austin Weekly News, click here:
Alexis Bell of Prosser High School – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Steffen Canino of Austin Business & Entrepreneur Academy – Northern Illinois University
Shonte Clay of Von Steuben High School – University of Minnesota
Samec Figueroa of Roberto Clemente – Joliet Junior College
Ruben Morales of Roberto Clemente – Wisconsin Lutheran
Maria Maia of Oak Park and River Forest HS – DePaul
Ottinyse Miller of Foreman High School – Michigan State
Thomas Morris of Providence-St. Mel High School – Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Daisy Salazar of North Grand High School – Monmouth College
Vincent Smith of North Lawndale College Prep – Indiana State University
Torry Walker of Providence-St. Mel High School – Northwestern University
Krystal Wilson of Steinmetz High School – Tennessee State University
Lauren J. Wilson of Steinmetz High School – Tennessee State University
Thaddeus Wright of Orr Academy High School – Jackson State University