(OXFORD, Miss.) – University of Mississippi alumnus Kevin Null of Ackerman remembers how grateful he felt to receive substantial tuition assistance from the Sumners Foundation for his undergraduate and law degrees. To express his appreciation, he recently became the first scholar to make a gift back to the foundation that has provided tuition assistance over the last 30 years to residents of five Mississippi counties.
“For several years, it has been my ambition to return a portion of the funds I received to the Sumners Foundation,” said Null, who has a private law practice. “I was surprised to learn from John Sumner, the foundation’s attorney, that no one else had previously made such a donation. I agreed to let my gift be publicized in hopes that it would encourage other Sumners recipients to make gifts.”
The Sumners Foundation, which is one of the largest privately funded educational funds in the Mississippi, was established by Mr. and Mrs. E.H. Sumners of Eupora, who shared a concern to improve educational opportunities for young people.
“My aunt and uncle left a wonderful legacy that has helped literally thousands of people pursue their dreams of higher education,” said John Sumner (the family later dropped the “s” from the name) of Winona, who earned undergraduate and law degrees from Ole Miss and also has provided long-term support to his alma mater. “We gladly accepted Kevin’s gift and are deeply honored that Kevin wanted to give back to the foundation and help other young people.”
Natives of Indiana, the Sumners couple built an extensive timber business in central Mississippi and made many philanthropic contributions during their lifetimes. With a desire to leave a lasting legacy and honor her husband’s work, Mary P. “Ging” Sumners created the foundation after E. H. “Harry” Sumners died in 1952. She passed away in 1987.
The foundation ensures that individuals in Choctaw, Attala, Carroll, Montgomery and Webster counties receive tuition assistance if they attend one of five designed Mississippi institutions. Null is one of thousands who have received the assistance at Ole Miss since the program started, and hundreds more University of Mississippi Medical Center students have been helped through the fund. The other three institutions are Mississippi State University, Millsaps College and Holmes Community College.
The assistance is available for undergraduate, graduate and continuing education. To receive the help, students must meet college entrance requirements, live in one of the designated counties for at least one year prior to applying for the assistance and maintain a “C” average. The amount of the support depends on how many students are attending each designated institution. On average, each Ole Miss student receives $5,000 to attend full time for the fall and spring semesters in an academic year, and students at the Medical Center each are provided $15,000 to $20,000 annually.
The Sumners Foundation was established when the timber from the couple’s more than 19,000 acres was sold for $22 million. Weyerhaeuser now manages the majority of the timberland under a 40-year lease. The remaining 1,361 acres are actively managed by Regions Morgan Keegan Trust Natural Resources Department, the largest trust real estate, farm and timber management department in Mississippi.
Under the administration and investment management by Regions Morgan Keegan Trust, this $22 million foundation has grown to nearly $75 million and has distributed to the beneficiaries (students) approximately $83 million since its formation. Any former recipients who are interested in giving back to the Sumners Foundation can do so through Regions Morgan Keegan Trust, Attention: Lorraine Bleakney, P.O. Box 23100, Jackson, MS 39225-3100.
Null, who was joined by his wife, Angela, in making a gift to the Sumners Foundation, knows there are generations of students yet to come who can benefit from the assistance of the Sumners Foundation. The Nulls are the parents of two children, Katherine and John.
Photo courtesy of the Choctaw Plaindealer newspaper