OXFORD, Miss. – The contributions of two couples who have chronicled the life of Charleston and the lives of its residents by publishing the local weekly newspaper are being honored with journalism scholarships at the University of Mississippi.

Ed and Becky Meek of Oxford have created the Bill and Jean May Mississippi Sun Scholarship and the Clay and Krista McFerrin Sun-Sentinel Scholarship with a gift of $200,000. First preference for the scholarships will be given to Charleston High School and West Tallahatchie High School students who want to pursue journalism degrees in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at UM.

A native of Charleston, Ed Meek said the scholarships were established with several objectives in mind, including recognizing the impact that W.W. “Bill” May and the late Jean May had on his own career, as well as paying tribute to the contributions the May and McFerrin families have made to Charleston and Tallahatchie County. The Meeks also hope to encourage and provide assistance to students who want to pursue college degrees and journalism careers.

The Mississippi Sun of Charleston united with The Sumner Sentinel of Sumner in 1973 to become The Charleston Sun-Sentinel. Meek said the newspaper continues to play an important role.

“The newspaper in Charleston has been a force for decades, bringing together a diverse population and supporting important community development,” Meek said. “In my opinion, it’s one of the best weeklies in the state. Charleston is benefitting from some positive initiatives, such as that of the Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort, and the newspaper has supported these projects.”

The Mays edited and published The Mississippi Sun, until their retirement, and Bill May now lives in Tennessee. Clay McFerrin joined The Sun-Sentinel in 1982 and became editor and general manager in 1986, then editor and publisher in 1995. His wife, Krista McFerrin, oversees a wealth of responsibilities at the newspaper including office management, advertising, page design and circulation.

“Krista and I are very honored for the Meeks to name this scholarship for us,” Clay McFerrin said. “It is exciting to think about young people finding their way to journalism careers by taking advantage of this opportunity. The Meeks have always been great people and wonderful supporters of what we try to accomplish here in Charleston and Tallahatchie County.”

Will Norton, dean of the School of Journalism and New Media, said he welcomes the scholarship support and what it represents.

“Ed and Becky Meek have established these scholarships to support young men and women as they seek degrees in higher education. More significantly, they are encouraging young people to pursue careers as media professionals. The McFerrins and Mays stand as examples to our students that quality community journalism is the source of an informed democratic society,” he said.

McFerrin said it’s both rewarding and challenging to edit a community newspaper – particularly since he grew up in Tallahatchie County and has had to address unpopular and controversial issues.

“I hope people who know me understand and respect the responsibility I have,” McFerrin said. “I do love the opportunity to report on local activities, and it’s a great honor to serve the people of this community. The strength of print journalism is community newspapers. You have to focus on what really matters to your readers.”

The Meeks’ gift of $5.3 million to UM in 2007 provided initial funding for the establishment of the School of Journalism and New Media, which has been named in their honor. Built from the Department of Journalism, the school focuses on the future of journalism and communications with an emphasis on technology and its impact on society.

A UM journalism graduate, Meek is a former assistant vice chancellor for public relations and marketing and associate professor of journalism at UM. He got his first taste of journalism in the sixth grade, when he worked every day after school for the Mays at The Mississippi Sun.

“The Mays were my mentors – my adopted parents – and they offered me many wonderful experiences in a great environment,” Meek said. “They provided the foundation for my career.”

To finance his college degree, Meek worked as a freelance writer and photographer for UPI, as well as regional newspapers and national publications. He went on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees at UM. Becky Meek received undergraduate and graduate degrees from UM in special education and worked the majority of her career at Oxford’s Mental Health Center, now Communicare.

The Meeks formed Oxford Publishing Inc., which was acquired in recent years by Questex Media Group Inc., and founded the Tupelo Furniture Market.

Recipients of the May and McFerrin scholarships will be selected by the university’s scholarship committee based on need, leadership potential and motivation. Those who wish to apply for the scholarships should contact Dewey Knight, UM associate director of financial aid, at (662) 915-1166. When no students are available from Charleston and Tallahatchie County, the awards will go to students from other Mississippi communities.

Tina Hahn