A scholarship endowment paying tribute to the lives of three University of Mississippi students has grown to more than $335,000, and three new recipients of the scholarship say they feel honored to represent the men for whom the endowment is named.
Continuing gifts from the Kappa Alpha fraternity have expanded the Charles Walker Kelly, Samuel Clayton Kelly and Bryant Mason Wilbanks Memorial Scholarship Endowment that pays tribute to the lives of lifelong friends tragically killed in a 2011 car accident. Kappa Alpha (KA) fraternity recently contributed an additional $60,000 to the endowment and $15,000 for this year’s scholarship awards.
All natives of Madison, Mississippi, the friends graduated together from Madison Central High School, attended Broadmoor Baptist Church, enrolled at the University of Mississippi and pledged the same fraternity. Now their legacies are kept alive by fellow KA brothers who receive scholarship awards. This year’s recipients are Michael Deauville of San Jose, California, Dillon Pitts of Pearl, Mississippi, and Kyle Thigpen of Jackson, Mississippi.
“One of the biggest fears of a parent who has lost a child is that the child will be forgotten. Thanks to the generosity and support of KA and the Ole Miss community, our sons' legacies will continue on the Ole Miss campus long after we are gone,” said Ken Wilbanks, the father of Mason Wilbanks. “It is truly humbling and such an honor to be able to present these three scholarships annually to active KA members in memory of Mason, Sam Clayton and Walker. I know our boys are smiling knowing they are continuing to help those in the fraternity they loved so much at the university they loved so dearly.”
Alumni advisors of the KA’s Alpha Upsilon Chapter and UM’s scholarship cCommittee work together to select recipients. The award is based on a number of criteria, including financial need, leadership and academic performance.
Deauville, a sophomore biology major with a minor in chemistry who hopes to attend medical school, said the scholarship will enable him to have the resources he needs to pursue his goals.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am incredibly blessed and grateful for this recognition and scholarship. It is nothing short of an honor,” Deauville said. “Knowing that I am continuing the legacy of the three men is a very good feeling, and I aspire to be everything that they were. I am humbled by this recognition, and while I believe that there were many other deserving men, I will vow to continue their legacy in all that I do.”
At the recent Kappa Alpha awards banquet, Deauville spent time with Sam and Kim Kelly, parents of Sam Clayton Kelly.
“They opened their arms to me, and after a few short minutes I felt I had known them my entire life. Mrs. Kelly even noted that I too am now a part of her family,” Deauville recalled. “I just want to thank them, as well as the other two families, for their enduring support of KA. I am honored to call them friends. I know they will all be a part of its family and the chapter is better for that relationship.”
Pitts, a junior marketing and corporate relations major with a minor in manufacturing engineering, said the scholarship will help him pursue his goal to attend law school.
“Receiving this scholarship is an honor — not only to myself, but an honor that I get to represent three amazing young men who were members of our chapter,” Pitts said. “To me, being a part of KA has opened numerous doors. I have been blessed to grow and make many lifelong connections and I owe it all to being a part of KA.”
Thigpen, a junior accounting major who plans to work for an accounting firm after graduation, said the scholarship will help him offset tuition costs as he pursues his degree.
“The Kelly Kelly Wilbanks Scholarship is an awesome way to remember the lives of our three brothers who were lost. Their story has led me to think about the relationships I've built throughout my short time at Ole Miss, and I've come to realize how great of an impact the ones I love have had on my life,” Thigpen said. “Mason, Sam Clayton and Walker continue to impact lives every day, and it's awesome to know that they will continue to do so for years to come.”
Chapter advisor Trey Horne of Oxford, Mississippi, has been instrumental in growing the endowment.
“Mason, Sam Clayton and Walker were strong men of character who loved God and their families. Through this scholarship endowment, their legacies will live on by providing three men of Kappa Alpha Order scholarships each year,” he said. “As new classes enter Ole Miss, this endowment will remind these men that the lives that Mason, Sam Clayton and Walker lived are worthy to be followed.”
Sandra Guest, vice president of the UM Foundation, said she’s heartened by KA’s generosity.
“By memorializing its members through scholarships, Kappa Alpha has set an outstanding example for other student organizations to follow,” she said. “I commend Mr. Horne for his leadership efforts to sustain the momentum of this initiative over the last four years and to the chapter for working hard to keep the spirit of their lost brothers alive. KA has turned a tragic situation into a lasting tribute, ensuring the legacy of Mason, Sam Clayton and Walker will forever remain at Ole Miss.”
The endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the Kelly, Kelly and Wilbanks Scholarship noted to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, Miss. 38655; contact Sandra Guest, vice president of the foundation, at 662-915-5208 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.
By Bill Dabney