Bright and early in the conference room at the Lyerly House in Hickory, each seat had an orderly packet of information ready in preparation for the Unifour Foundation to make grant recommendations in excess of $200,000. This was the big day in a way, where the group would sift through more than double what we could award in requests, hoping to make impactful change in their service area. At the conclusion of the meeting, about four hours later, the table was in disarray (but in a good way), and everyone was smiling.
I had a donor visit scheduled later that afternoon in Taylorsville, where I was to meet the chair of the Bob Gryder Memorial Scholarship. Of all places, we were to see each other at the Walmart in the pharmacy department where he works.
With the bright industrial lighting overhead and dozens of strangers to me shopping, I spot Mr. John Watts who is sitting on a metal bench just outside the consultation area. We greet each other, then he hands me a Walmart plastic bag with about 25 scholarship applications in it, making note of the recipient who would be awarded the Bob Gryder Memorial Scholarship in the amount of $1,070.
He tells me about the close friendship that he, along with the scholarship’s namesake, Bob, and other suitemates had at Carolina about 40 years ago. They were all highly ranked in their class, were student athletes and very involved in the community.
One summer between semesters, Bob was hired at a plant where his dad worked in Alexander County. Inspecting one of the machines that had been jammed up, Bob found a piece of cloth in the chain mechanism. He pulled out his pocket knife to dislodge it, but when he did, the compacting machine with all its built-up pressure slammed down on him, crushing his head and killing him instantly.
The shock it sent through Bob’s family and friends was obviously paralyzing. For John and his suitemates at Carolina, they lost one of their best friends and the world lost an extremely talented, intelligent, and caring individual.
Not long after the accident, a committee formed to award scholarships in memory of their lost friend. The scholarship is the longest-standing award at Alexander High, given out each year to a student who is exemplary in academics, student athletics, and shows a high moral character.
“We had to do something,” John told me as I looked through the application for a senior at the high school who would be this year’s recipient. “Our hope is that we can encourage and recognize people who show the qualities Bob had.” In a small but important way, I thought, John, his friends and Bob’s family continue his memory in other students’ successes
When I shook his hand and walked out of the Walmart, I felt enlightened and inspired by the dichotomy of these two experiences on a random Thursday. I got to thinking: Impact can’t always be defined by the size of the grant or scholarship. Impact is relative to the situation. And I was proud to be a part of an organization that facilitated and supported that sort of relatively.