Since his early days in the 1960s as a teacher, coach and elementary school principal, University of Mississippi alumnus Hobson Waits has always believed in – and staunchly supported – America's youth.
Even after he left the education field in 1969 to become a lobbyist for the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi (EPAM), Waits' commitment to kids never faltered. And, thanks to a new $26,000 scholarship endowment created in his name at Ole Miss by the Mississippi Council of Cooperatives (MCC), his dedication will continue to benefit the state's young people for decades to come.
The Hobson Waits Cooperative Leadership Scholarship Endowment will provide income for scholarship assistance to deserving students in the UM School of Business Administration. It's a fitting homage to the Leland native, who has worked closely with the Mississippi FFA Foundation and the Mississippi 4-H Club Foundation, two organizations that offer programs and growth opportunities for youngsters throughout the state.
"It kind of recharges my battery and gives me renewed faith in young people," Waits said, of his volunteer work. While some of his peers may frown upon today's youth, Waits is quick to defend them. "I think they have the same values and ideals that my generation had," he said. "We've got some young folks coming up that are just as smart as – or smarter than – we were. I feel good knowing that the world is going to be in their hands."
Waits retired as EPAM's executive vice president and CEO in 2006, finishing a distinguished 37-year career with the Ridgeland-based service organization for Mississippi's 26 electric cooperatives. A 1960 graduate of Ole Miss with an undergraduate degree in history, Waits earned his master's degree in school administration at Delta State University before serving a stint in the U.S. Army. After eight years as an educator, he joined EPAM's staff as director of public, member and employee relations in 1969, and rose to the CEO position in 1982.
As EPAM's lead lobbyist at the state and national level, Waits was influential in the passage of numerous bills that benefited the state's electric power associations and their members. As CEO, he unified all 26 Mississippi electric power associations through membership in EPAM and ushered in various new programs – including group insurance, workers compensation and a safety and loss control department – as well as EPAM's publication, Today in Mississippi.
In 2005 Waits supervised EPAM's response to Hurricane Katrina, as his staff coordinated emergency work crews from 22 states in an unprecedented effort to restore power to about 500,000 electric meters.
He also served as past director of the Mississippi FFA Foundation and past chairman of the Mississippi 4-H Advisory Council. He chaired the Mississippi 4-H Foundation for several years and, in 2007, was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame.
According to MCC scholarship chairman Gary Blair, Waits' work with the state's electric cooperatives and the MCC, coupled with his commitment to young people, earned him the honor of an endowment scholarship in his name.
"MCC has been providing annual scholarships to students for more than 20 years, and the board of directors decided this year to honor Mr. Waits for his years of service by naming this endowed scholarship at his alma mater," Blair said. "The scholarship will assist deserving students in furthering their education at Ole Miss, honoring Mr. Waits' legacy of service to youth and cooperatives for years to come."
Ken Cyree, dean of UM's School of Business Administration, agreed. "We are inspired by Mr. Waits' legacy of giving back to the community in so many ways," he said. "We appreciate this gift, which will benefit our students and provide a connection to Mississippi's cooperatives while honoring Mr. Waits' leadership."
Waits, a father of two daughters, and his wife Mary Louise live in Rankin County but still pay regular visits to Ole Miss for sports events. He said he was "grateful, honored and surprised" to learn about the endowment. "It never crossed my mind that anyone would do this," he added. "I'm still a little flabbergasted. I can't think of anything better to lend my name to than a scholarship at Ole Miss."
The Hobson Waits Cooperative Leadership Scholarship Endowment is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by mailing a check with the fund noted to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655 or by visiting www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.