NICEVILLE --- Marking its 20th anniversary by remembering the past, saluting the present and focusing on the future, the Okaloosa-Walton College Foundation celebrated two decades of service to OWC with nearly 300 friends and supporters at its Annual Dinner and Meeting on Friday night, February 8.
Lori Kelley, OWC Foundation president and a partner with O'Sullivan Creel, said the foundation may need to "kick it up a notch" in contributions as the immediate funding needs for two new bachelor degree programs, a Community Services Center providing home for the county's emergency operations services and the sheer growth of the college's nursing and allied health programs will require the community's investment in OWC.
"Whether it's economical, intellectual, or emotional, the true power of education is that it's transformational," Kelley told the crowd gathered for the dinner in the OWC College Mall on the Niceville Campus. "The ability to enhance lives and help individuals grow in new or expanded teaching centers is the kind of learning that is life altering. The power to change and vastly improve the quality of cultural life for an entire region demonstrates how transforming the Mattie Kelly Arts Center has been the past 10 years."
Kelley said the late Mattie Kelly's bequest and state match, both of which totaled more than $17 million to OWC, was transformational because of what happened two decades ago. "We have honored tonight a group of visionary individuals who collected just $12,000 in contributions that first year and now the OWC Foundation's endowment of $47 million ranks among the top 20 of community colleges in the nation."
However, she said Mrs. Kelly's gift also "signals to this foundation its challenge and opportunity for tomorrow, next month, next year, and the next decade. For the college to continue to have an impact on students, business and our community at large, this foundation must grow exponentially in its financial commitment."
Dr. Bob Richburg, OWC president, used to the occasion to "honor our past and the men and women who paved the way for this foundation in 1988 and beyond" as founding officers of the foundation. Richburg recognized Destin businessman Larry Anchors, founding president, the late Carl McInnis of Niceville, founding vice president; former Fort Walton Beach banker Lamar Roberts, founding secretary; Fort Walton Beach businesswoman Marjorie Cummins, founding treasurer; and Niceville businessman Patrick Byrne, founding trustee liaison.
"Each of these individuals gave their time, made a financial commitment themselves and encouraged others to do," said Richburg, who also saluted the present by recognizing the 2007 OWC Leroy Collins Distinguished Alumnus Melissa "Misty" Cromer, who began her career at O-W as a single mother in OWC's Even Start adult education program, passed the GED exam to earn her high school diploma and then went on to earn an associate's degree which enabled her to begin her own photography business.
Richburg said one person who has "encouraged us and challenged us" over the past two decades is Santa Rosa Beach resident Allyn C. Donaldson Jr., who was honored for his foundation service and philanthropy. Richburg lauded Donaldson's recent major gift to fund the Donaldson Entrepreneurial Institute at the new OWC South Walton Center that opens in 2009. "We have always enjoyed his friendship, his wisdom and his support," said Richburg, who presented Donaldson with an embossed rocking chair but added, "Mr. D, you cannot retire for O-W just yet."
Turning to the crowd, Richburg said it was the scholarship support that many in the room provide through endowments that saw the foundation award scholarships to a record 456 students this year. He said the amount of those scholarship totaled more than $410,000. The foundation's total direct support to the college in 2007 topped more than $2.3 million dollars in support of instructional programs, scholarships and other endeavors such as the fine arts and athletics.
Richburg also summoned the memory of Mattie Kelly for her generosity with her bequest to establish the Mattie M. Kelly Cultural and Environmental Institute at OWC which has funded two distinguished teaching chairs for professors in orchestra music and environmental sciences for the first time in the college's history as well as other endeavors. He saluted former foundation president Dale Rice Jr. and board member Sandy Sims of Gulf Power for "graduating" to the college's District Board of Trustees where they joined new trustee Brian Pennington of Tybrin Corp.
In a special recognition of his service to the region and college, Richburg gave Florida House Speaker Designate Ray Sansom "extra credit" for his work on behalf of the college and its projects over the years. Richburg again applauded the effort and partnership of the Okaloosa County Commission in sharing the cost of the Community Services Complex which will house the county's EOC, OWC's ROTC program, Health and Athletic Programs, and serve as an arena for basketball and major college assemblies.
"These are bold and exciting times for this college," said Richburg. "Indeed, the role of the OWC Foundation has been and will continue to be a vital part in how we take those next steps to service to students and the community."