With deep roots of poverty all around him, Ralph Dickerson was an anomaly in small Kenova, W.Va., when he decided to pursue a college degree. His first stop was Marshall University with the help of a baseball scholarship, and after military service, his destination was the UM School of Law.
The 1949 graduate then returned to his hometown, where the 3,500 residents depended upon him for legal help and community leadership. After leading a frugal lifestyle, Dickerson directed more than $280,000 to the UM law school from his and his wife's estates.
"Ralph Dickerson's passion for Ole Miss ran very, very deep," said his nephew Roger Dickerson of Pointe Vedra Beach, Fla. "He loved the school and what it stood for. If you ever had a conversation with him, you would walk away knowing he had graduated from the University of Mississippi. The school was the one thing that really touched his heart. The experiences he had through higher education were unheard of in Kenova."
The major part of the estate gift created the Ralph S. and Della W. Dickerson Memorial Endowment, with annual income addressing school needs. The remainder of the gift has been placed in an account for the same purpose, with resources directed at the law dean's discretion.
"My uncle had all the confidence in the world that the university would be a good steward of his gift," Roger Dickerson said.
Dean of Law Richard Gershon said the gift will help train other lawyers to serve their communities, as Ralph Dickerson did during his lifetime.
"We will use this wonderful gift from the Dickerson estates to enhance educational opportunities for our students and to continue building the law school's reputation of developing leaders for Mississippi and the nation," said Richard Gershon, dean of law. "Such gifts are a way for the current generation of lawyers to help the next generation."
Dickerson's legal education served him well, his nephew said. "He enjoyed the law and being a litigator. He was very knowledgeable, and his community leaned on him. He was the youngest of seven children and grew up in an underprivileged environment, where many people only had eighth-grade educations. My uncle rose above that and was successful."
Ralph Dickerson served in the U.S. Marine Corps after earning an undergraduate degree. A relative recommended the UM law school, where he attended on the G.I. Bill. He married his wife, Della, also from Kenova, and Roger Dickerson described the couple as "synonymous."
"They walked everywhere they went. They lived a simple life. My uncle didn't even own a car until the late 1980s; he always made arrangements to travel with county employees to the county seat eighteen miles away from Kenova. Even that distance was challenging in that mountainous area," the nephew said.
Ralph and Della Dickerson, who died in 2004 and 2009 respectively, will be linked to Ole Miss in perpetuity as their endowment provides resources for legal education.
To learn more about helping future generations of students through a planned gift to the university, contact Sandra Guest, vice president of the University of Mississippi Foundation, at 662-915-5944/800-340-9542 or email@example.com.