Larry Bonner and his family established The Livingston and Cohildia Lyons Memorial Scholarship Endowment in 2012 to honor his aunt and uncle, who lived in Raeford, NC. This fund provides scholarships for graduating seniors from a Hoke County High School who enroll in a two- or four-year accredited institution of higher learning. We asked him share what inspired the fund and what continues to inspire him about this philanthropic investment. Here’s what he said.
Tell us a little bit about Livingston and Cohildia Lyons.
Uncle Livingston was my mother’s brother. He was one of 10 children and was the first person in his family to attend college - the only of his siblings to do so. When he was 18, he joined the military and purchased two washing machines so that he could earn money by washing and ironing clothes. He saved his money to pay for his own college education at NC A&T, where he met Aunt Co (Cohildia). The importance of education and hard work were instilled in the family from an early age. Uncle Livingston and Aunt Co never missed a family member’s graduation. They stressed the importance of education and celebrated educational accomplishments of everyone.
What inspired you and your family to start a scholarship fund as a way to honor them?
When Livingston and Cohildia died, I was one of the executors of the estate. In that role, I learned even more about them. Beyond being a beloved aunt and uncle, I found out about their service to the community. Aunt Co was a member of the civic league, and Uncle Livingston was superintendent of the Sunday school. That meant they knew a lot of children in the community and often had a car full on the way home from church on Sundays. They offered guidance, advice, support, and discipline to all of these children in the community, and I have met several of them, now adults, who remain grateful to this day. Based on what the family already knew about my aunt and uncle and then all that we learned in the process of settling the estate, we all felt an obligation to honor their legacy with a scholarship fund that would serve the community, just as they did in life.
How would you describe the impact of your fund?
We are able to change lives, families, and communities one student at a time by providing a pathway for young women and men who want to pursue higher education. Many of these students are first-generation students and may not have the resources or examples in their own families of pursuing this educational pathway to their futures.
What has been the most meaningful to you about supporting students through this scholarship fund?
For me, being a mentor and the kind of influence my aunt and uncle were has been the most meaningful part of this experience. I feel that I am following in their footsteps, honoring them, and that I am creating a path for others, too. One student, Malek Mitchell, has been especially inspiring and has shared his gratitude and his interest in supporting students himself in the future. This scholarship supported him for four years, and he recently graduated from NC A&T. Now, he’s getting his Master’s degree at Brown University.
What are your hopes for the future of your fund?
Our hopes are to provide opportunities for Hoke County students in perpetuity, to continue the family legacy Uncle Livingston and Aunt Co started, and to grow the fund so that more deserving students can have access to an education. I think my aunt and uncle would be pleased with that.