A man whose first academic experience at the University of Mississippi did not end well has committed a $300,000 estate gift to School of Education scholarships as a nod to second chances.
In 1967, Bill Street was not comfortable with the classes his father wanted him to take at Ole Miss. After three unsuccessful semesters, he withdrew and joined the U.S. Navy. After six years in the service, he wrote the university and asked if he could return as a student.
“They said ‘Yes!’” Street recalled with enthusiasm. The highly motivated student started back in the summer and made a perfect 4.0 grade-point average on his first four classes and completed his academic career with 26 A’s and 6 B’s out of 32 classes.
“This university gave me a second chance and you don’t get many of those,” the Alabaster, Alabama, resident said. “That’s one reason why we’re committing this gift. This university gave me the chance to do it over, and I took advantage of the opportunity.
“My Ole Miss education gave me a foundation for the rest of my life. It gave me a work ethic and taught me how to focus on priorities. If you really want to know why I love the place, that’s it.
“Ole Miss is like a passion that gets in you, and you can never get away from it. Ole Miss is not just the sports; it became the place. And today, I’m very focused on the academic side of it,” Street said.
Street and his wife, Ginny, started making an annual gift to Ole Miss the year Bill Street graduated. In recent years, they provided $31,000 to establish the Dr. Harry P. Owens Secondary Education Opportunity Scholarship Endowment to honor Street’s mentor, the now late history professor. Their estate gift will grow the endowment, which has already awarded four scholarships.
David Rock, dean of the School of Education, pointed out that the Streets have been supporters for 46 years.
“Bill has been a friend of our UM School of Education since his graduation in 1977, and we are proud of his and Ginny’s continuous commitment to our students and faculty. Teachers like Bill, who was outstanding in his first year of teaching when he was named the school’s Star Teacher, are what we need for all students,” Rock said.
“Bill’s listening ability and academic curiosity are traits to be emulated and led him to an outstanding career in banking as well. Bill and Ginny are totally devoted to our students having meaningful opportunities and relationships with our faculty, just as he had with Dr. Harry Owens for whom their scholarship is named.”
Bill Street did his student teaching at Horn Lake High School, which hired him after his graduation with a degree in secondary education. While he only taught a government class for a year and a half, “education and the classroom never left me,” he said. “You give a person an education and they can do anything.
“I loved teaching. I loved working with students. My class was required, so I taught every student at that high school.”
Street remembers after a high school commencement service speaking to a student who had been bullied. I said, “Don’t worry about these people. When you make up your mind to do something, just do it.”
Street returned to the Navy Reserves and some years later he received a new lieutenant commander, a nuclear engineer, who turned out to be the former student.
“He told me those few brief words turned his life around,” Street recalled. “That’s the thing about teaching that is really important. You just don’t know how you are going to impact someone.”
The impact Ole Miss professor Owens had on Street also was at the root of the estate gift designated for the scholarship endowment.
“Harry Owens taught me to think. He was a true liberal — a thinking man. I feel like what I gained from him was the ability to have an open mind and to listen. That caused me to say, ‘I might not agree with this but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. I need to think about it and learn from it.’ The result was I found myself learning a lot of things I probably never would have approached,” Street said.
From Owens and from the School of Education, Street said he learned to be an effective communicator, which he used both in his banking and Naval careers. He recently retired as senior vice president of ServisFirst Bank, where he sold financial products.
As a member of the School of Education Board of Advisors, Street is proud of the preparation education majors are receiving. He was given the opportunity to sit in on some current education classes.
“The School of Education helps students develop skillsets and provides them with tools beyond anything I’ve ever seen. The professors were teaching them how to teach, how to instruct from different levels and how to communicate with students so they will understand. If they can translate even a little bit of that, they are going to be successful,” Street said.
While her husband was pursuing his degree, Ginny Street worked in shipping and receiving at Ole Miss. Married 46 years, the couple was introduced by Bill Street’s mom, Audrey, who worked with Ginny Street at a department store in Falls Church, Virginia. Although Bill Street is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, the Street family had moved to Virginia because of his father’s service in the U.S. Air Force. Ginny Street, a native of Ohio, had moved with her family to Virginia because of her stepfather’s service in the U.S. Marine Corps.
To the Streets, their needs-based scholarship is a way to help students who struggle with the tuition demands of college. Without the G.I. Bill scholarship, Bill Street said he would not have been able to afford his Ole Miss education.
“We feel that educating people is the best way to help them become productive,” Street said. “It doesn’t matter who they are, if you give them an education, they have a foundation from which to do things.”
The gift gives the Streets membership in the 1848 Society, which was established in 1998, the university’s 150th year, to honor and recognize special alumni and friends who have either funded or planned a deferred gift in support of the university. The Streets are also members of the 1903 Society, which honors those who make a gift of $10,000 or more to the School of Education’s Academic Enhancement Fund, a pooled endowment. 1903 was the year the School of Education was founded.
The Dr. Harry P. Owens Secondary Education Opportunity Scholarship is open to gifts from individuals and organizations by sending a check, with the scholarship’s name written in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655 or online at https://nowandever.olemiss.edu.
For more information on supporting the School of Education, contact Kelly Smith Marion, associate director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-2007. For more information on estate gifts, contact Marc Littlecott, advancement director for estate and planned giving, at email@example.com or 662-915-6625.
By Tina H. Hahn/UM Development