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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen 2017-18 SCHOLARS: Jessica Dobyns, right, was congratulated by Dennis Smith, chairman of the Oaklawn Foundation board of directors, and scholarship committee members Tuesday after she was presented a $3,000 scholarship for the 2017-18 academic year. The foundation recognized 118 recipients Tuesday in the in the Dr. Martin Eisele Auditorium of the Frederick M. Dierks Center for Nursing and Health Sciences at National Park College. Dobyns will apply her scholarship to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

Record amounts for the yearly number of scholarships and award funds from the Oaklawn Foundation pushed its total to more than $2 million in the first decade of giving.

Kerry Lockwood-Owen, chairwoman of the foundation's scholarship committee, and the late Darrell Meyer, foundation chairman, outlined its giving efforts when the foundation was founded in 2006. The first class of scholarships provided awards of $1,600 to 26 local students in 2008.

"We thought we had died and gone to heaven that we had honored 26 people," Lockwood-Owen said. "Little did we dream that in the 10th year of giving, our program for 2017-18, we will be awarding $360,000 in scholarships."

The Oaklawn Foundation has now provided of $2.172 million in 694 scholarships since 2008. The 2017-18 awards included 115 $3,000 scholarships and three designated $5,000 awards.

The new foundation chairman, Dennis Smith, presented the inaugural Darrell and Shirley Meyer Memorial Scholarship to Hot Springs World Class High School graduate Eric Lenox, a special-education teacher at Hot Springs Middle School. Meyer died in February.

Lockwood-Owen said Meyer previously agreed with her recommendation to award a scholarship in his honor to the applicant with the highest "score," as assessed by the scholarship committee. Lenox earned his bachelor's degree at Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla., and is pursuing a master's degree for special education at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.

Another $5,000 scholarship was established this year in honor of a committee member who died in December. Committee member Helen Harris announced the first recipient of Nathaniel "Bob" Freeman Leadership Scholarship was Robert Taylor, a graduate of Lakeside High School.

Freeman graduated high school in North Carolina, college in Virginia, served in the United States Army and worked in a number of positions with Weyerhaeuser. His extensive list of public service included time on the Hot Springs School Board, Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross and the Webb Community Center. Taylor is pursuing a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia in Athens.

Hot Springs graduate Johana Vazquez became the second-ever recipient of the Melinda Gassaway Scholarship for $5,000. The foundation established the scholarship in Gassaway's honor in 2014 after she retired as executive editor of The Sentinel-Record. Only students enrolled in broadcasting, communications or journalism programs are eligible to apply.

Lake Hamilton High School graduate Rachel Asherman received the scholarship each of the first three years it was awarded and is now a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Vazquez plans to study journalism at Eastern Connecticut State University.

The only requirements for the Oaklawn Foundation Scholarships are residency in Garland County and at least a high school diploma to be eligible to pursue higher education. This year's recipients included students ages 17 to older than 60. Lockwood-Owen said the scholarships are available to graduate and doctorate students in an attempt to help all local students fulfill their potential.

"I can confidently say there is not another program like that in the state of Arkansas," Lockwood-Owen said.

Sarah Brown, director of development for National Park College, will become the first Oaklawn Foundation Scholarship recipient in a doctorate program to earn the subsequent degree. She said she will defend her dissertation in June and graduate from UCA in August.

Brown said she was debt-free after she earned a master's and will owe less than $5,000 after she receives her doctorate due to the support from the Oaklawn Foundation. She continued to raise her children, both her and her husband changed jobs during her time in the doctorate program and she underwent major surgery.

Lockwood-Owen said the foundation received 469 applications for the 2017-18 scholarships. She said another $44,000 was allocated to the Wellness Fund for Garland County schools.

Funds from the Wellness Fund are distributed by the United Way of the Ouachitas to all seven public school districts in the county, National Park College and the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts.

Smith said the foundation received almost $1.2 million from Oaklawn in 2016. He said the addition of gaming to Oaklawn's business allowed the creation and success of the foundation.

"It enabled the Cella family to establish the Oaklawn Foundation, which serves as the conduit for their generosity in giving back to our community," Smith said.

The Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce serves as the coordinating administrative party. Lockwood-Owen commended Rita Koller and the rest of the chamber's staff for their efforts in making the scholarship program successful.

NPC President John Hogan encouraged recipients to take advantage of the scholarships and to pay it forward. He expressed gratitude for the foundation's support for local education.

"They are giving and people are giving of their own time, talent and treasure to make an investment they know is going to pay off for you and your future," Hogan said.

The Hot Springs Area Community Foundation acts as the scholarship distributor and will be key as the submission system will be made electronic in 2018. Applicants will not be able to submit applications until they input all required materials.

Applications for 2018-19 academic year scholarships will be available online on Jan. 2. Lockwood-Owen said the community foundation will offer two sessions at the Garland County Library and the Webb Community Center to assist applicants in the submission process.

At least 26 recipients will apply their scholarships to NPC, 19 to Henderson and another 15 to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Other schools with the most recipients were Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, 11; UCA, 10; the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, eight; and Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, five.

In-state schools with recipients include the College of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Hendrix College in Conway, Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, University of Arkansas at Monticello and the University of Arkansas for Medical Science. Out-of-state schools include Auburn University in Alabama, Capella University, Grand Canyon University, Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Local on 05/24/2017

Print Headline: Oaklawn Foundation awards surpass $2M in first decade

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