Victoria Butler comes from a family that believes in higher education. Her great grandfather, founder of the company that later became known as Hughes Plumbing here in Spokane, believed that all of his children should receive a college education. His son attended the University of Pennsylvania, and when it came time for one of his daughters to attend college, he looked into Smith College. Vicki, herself, became the third generation of women in her family to attend and graduate from Smith College.
“I always took it for granted that girls would go to school. From the time I was born, it was expected that I would go to college. I’ve come to realize that is not the case for all women.” It was, in part, because of her family’s focus on education and their encouragement that Vicki went to college.
Vicki works to continue that focus on education and encouragement of students through her family’s Foundation. In 1947, Vicki’s grandfather, Eric Johnston, set up a foundation to provide scholarships for the children of his Spokane employees. After Johnston’s death, the foundation turned its focus to education at large. That foundation later split into two—the Johnston-Hanson Foundation and the Johnston-Fix Foundation—that continue to have education as
their primary focus. Vicki is currently serving as chairman of the Johnston-Hanson Foundation. The board of the Johnston-Hanson Foundation concluded that rising income disparity poses one of the greatest challenges to our country, and that the cost of education is a major contributing factor. The board determined that it could have the biggest impact by directing scholarships to those most in need, and that determination led Vicki to CCS. Last year, the Foundation provided four full scholarships to CCS students. This year it is providing five.
Ally Mershon received one of the scholarships funded by Vicki’s Foundation. And she, like Vicki, has a family who motivated her to get an education. Her parents never had the chance to attend college, but they instilled in Ally the belief that a college degree would open up opportunities that she would not have otherwise. Her dad, after a long day of work on an alfalfa farm, would come home, hold his daughter’s hand, and remind her that college could provide her with a better life.
These conversations stuck with Ally after her father was diagnosed with cancer. As Ally tells the story, early on in her high school education, she’d been unfocused and disinterested; a challenging student. But, with the help of
dedicated teachers, she worked hard to focus on school. By the time she graduated, she had earned a Student Excellence Award and scholarships. Her goal had been to prepare for college and be someone her dad could be proud of, and she succeeded. After watching her mother handle the financial struggles of Ally’s brother attending a four-year school, Ally decided that she wanted to do college differently. She was going to go to a school that she could afford through hard work and scholarships. She received several scholarships from her community to get started at CCS, and even won a writing contest, telling the story of losing her dad. Later, as she worked on her coursework for social services, she received the Johnston-Hanson Foundation Scholarship. When she first started receiving scholarships, Ally felt a little overwhelmed. She wondered what made donors believe in her. “There’s this question [on scholarship applications], Why do you deserve this scholarship?’ And when I think about [it], I think of all the other people in need and it makes me wonder ‘do I deserve it any more than others?'"
But she saw all of the people who believed in her along the way, who still believe in her, and they told her it was because of how she’s overcome her struggles. She also listened to her grandmother, who told her that the scholarships were not a hand out, they were a hand up. The importance of this, Ally says, is that a hand-up makes her work harder, because people believe in her and are invested in her success. “Nobody accomplishes anything all by themselves,” Vicki says in response to Ally’s point. “Everybody needs help. And it’s something that ties people together, gives you a sense of community, but also, as you progress, you then have an obligation not only to use the help wisely, but to recognize, when you’re in a position to, that obligation to help somebody else.” “Exactly,” Ally says. “Having so many people that were willing to invest that unconditional love, and support, and patience [has everything] to do with my career.” Ally is studying social services because she wants to pass on to others the same support she received from her community and from scholarship donors. Both Ally and Vicki passionately agree that scholarships provide much more than just financial assistance for education. It harkens back to their own experiences and how important it was to have a community that believed in each of them and what they could accomplish with a college education. And for students without that community, scholarships can mean everything. As Ally puts it, “Scholarships are such a good way
to [encourage students], because for students who may not have that support in their life, they do have that support in scholarships.” This is an important truth about scholarships. They not only relieve the financial burdens that keep too many people from getting the education needed to build the lives they dream of, they also act as a vote of confidence in a student. As Ally explains, without scholarships, she wouldn’t have been able to afford traveling to a college with a large campus full of resources to help her succeed. It was just as important to know that people believed in her and were willing to invest in her success. That support and encouragement helps students succeed. It lets them be the third generation to attend Smith College. It helps a young girl from eastern Washington achieve her goal, make her father proud, and finish her social services degree. And it inspires them to be that support for others working to achieve their dreams. Vicki says it best: “Each investment in a student [has] a ripple effect. And you don’t know what the return on that investment is going to be, but if you don’t make it, you’re not going to get any return.”