Retired Teacher Provides Financial Gift for Future Educators

January 19, 2012

Retired Teacher Provides Financial Gift for Future Educators

VALDOSTA--For more than 60 years Ruby R. Sullivan has been helping students succeed in and out of the classroom. Now, at the age of 97, Sullivan is continuing to help students succeed.

The Camilla, Ga. native, who attended Georgia State Womans College (now Valdosta State University) from 1930 to 1932, has made a substantial gift to endow a scholarship for education majors at Valdosta State University.

During a special ceremony on Jan. 18, Interim President Louis H. Levy officially announced the establishment of the Ruby and John Sullivan Education Scholarship within the Dewar College of Education. The scholarship is named for Sullivan and her late son, John Sullivan, a 1972 business graduate of Valdosta State.

The endowment will provide financial assistance to education majors with a demonstrated financial need, who intend to enter the teaching profession upon graduation, and are high school graduates from a Georgia county where the poverty rate is 50 percent or more than the state’s poverty average.

Additionally, after graduation, if a scholarship recipient is awarded a contract to teach in a public or private school located in a Georgia county where the poverty rate is 50 percent or more than the state’s poverty average, the graduate is eligible to receive an annual stipend equal to the amount of his or her annual scholarship award for a period of no more than two years.

In recognition of her generosity and service to teaching, Levy presented Sullivan with the President’s Medallion, the highest honor bestowed by the university.

Levy also stated that in recognition of Sullivan’s gift, the Valdosta Literacy Center, located on the first floor of the Education Center, is now officially named the Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center.

“This center provides tutoring and learning activities to help school children improve their reading and writing skills,” Levy said. “It is a fitting tribute to have Mrs. Sullivan’s name associated with a facility that is working to instill the love of reading to children.”

As Sullivan stood before the group of students, faculty, and friends, who had come to honor her years of teaching and service, she quickly stepped back into her role as a teacher and said, “Class, come to order.”

While in high school Sullivan said, “I met many new friends. Most of my friends had become interested in dating, but boys were not my interest. My ambition was to go to college and get a teaching degree. My teachers had been an inspiration to me.”

At the age of 16, Sullivan asked her father to drive her to the Bank of Camilla, where she boldly asked J.E. Brooks, president of the bank, for money to go to college.

“I had no appointment. I walked into the bank and asked to see the president of the bank,” said the spry 97-year-old woman. “I was a stranger to him and he was a stranger to me. I asked for a loan to go to college and without hesitation he said to me, ‘You go to college and you write a check on this bank when you need to pay the bill,’ and that is what I did.”

In 1930, Sullivan arrived at Georgia State Womans College with the goal of becoming a teacher. Two years later, at the young age of 18, she began teaching fourth graders in Cotton, Ga., earning a salary of $49 per month.

Sullivan said that despite many tragedies in her life, including the death of her husband in 1956, she found joy in teaching and had many wonderful experiences.

Sullivan expressed her concerns for the cost of a college education today and told the students in the audience that their parents are trying to raise a family, pay bills and send them to college.

“My son John was a strong believer in education. He was involved in politics and worked on two presidential campaigns for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980,” Sullivan said with pride. “John always kept up with current events. He was a true believer in equal educational opportunities.”

Sullivan said the scholarship will accomplish two major goals. The first is to help qualified students from Georgia’s rural communities attend Valdosta State University and graduate with teaching degrees. The second is to help with a stipend if they return to a high-need Georgia community and teach.

“This can start a cycle that will have a lasting and positive impact on many young people for generations to come,” Sullivan said. “This scholarship honors my son John, who I mentioned was a strong believer in educational opportunities. It is simply the right thing to do in his memory to carry out his wishes in his absence.”

She closed by wishing all the students in attendance success in their education and, in true teacher fashion, ended with “class is dismissed.”