Nan Ogburn Cullman fund establishes legacy in Johnston County

In 2018, the Johnston County Community Foundation made its first awards from the Nan Ogburn Cullman Education Endowment for Johnston County. Nan Ogburn Cullman, the fund’s namesake, bequeathed $2 million to the Johnston County public school system upon her death in 2015. This fund, established in 2018, honors the causes and passions Cullman championed throughout her life.

At 15, Cullman won a scholarship to attend the Julliard School. Upon graduation, she performed with regional opera companies and other chorales throughout her life. Though Cullman was an avid lover of the arts, no role she performed spoke to her more than that of Fiordiligi from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte.


Cullman ventured in to new terrain without fear, as she was one of the first people to obtain a visa to hike through Bhutan, a small county between Tibet and India. “Long before Sheryl Sandberg challenged women to lean in, my mother was jumping in,” said Cullman’s daughter, Alexandra Haslingden, in the obituary. In addition to riding camels with the Tuareg tribe through the mountains of Algeria, Cullman’s travel pursuits also sent her to both Mount Everest and to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Smithfield native married Hugh Cullman, son of Broadway “angel” and Port Authority Chairman Howard S. Cullman in 1951. They made their home in Westchester County, NY, for the next 40 years. Dedicated to serving her community, Cullman spent her life volunteering in hospitals and churches and serving on the boards of Youth Consultation Services of New York and the North Carolina Symphony. In 1993, the Cullmans returned to NC, making a home in Beaufort and then relocating to Pittsboro.

The Nan Ogburn Cullman Education Endowment for Johnston County is a named fund managed by the NCCF. Applications were limited to Smithfield-Selma Senior High School faculty and staff, and programs that promoted the arts, travel and leadership among students were considered for funding.

“We will do our best to ensure that this endowment continually honors Mrs. Cullman’s goals to benefit educational purposes in her beloved Johnston County,” said NCCF President and CEO Jennifer Tolle Whiteside.

The Nan Ogburn Cullman Endowment awarded $26,000 to Smithfield-Selma Senior High School for the following projects:

  • $10,000 for the Travelling the World with VR program.

“Roughly 72 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunches. Many have never seen the ocean or the mountains,” said William Parker, SSS teacher. “With the aid of Google Expedition Kits, teachers at SSS will have the opportunity to help these students experience cultures throughout the world, as well as throughout time.” With this program, students will be able to go on virtual field trips to museums and cities around the world.

  • $6,000 to AVID’s Night at the Theatre program

This program will provide students in the AVID program with the opportunity to attend Ira David Wood’s annual performance of “A Christmas Carol” at the Durham Performing Arts Center “We believe this opportunity will help the students consider their most basic school experiences through an interesting and exciting new lens,” said Kaye Menjivar, SSS teacher. “For us, the most important benefit is giving our students who largely come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to experience the arts in a way they would likely not experience due to lack of resources and opportunities within their families.”

  • $10,000 to Smithfield-Selma High School’s Global Partnership program

The Global Partnership program is a cross-cultural student exchange, where Danish students attend Smithfield-Selma in the fall and SSS students study in Denmark in the spring semester. “Through this program, we hope to prepare students to be leaders in their chosen career because, as the world becomes increasingly global, people who can navigate interactions with those from different countries are able to lead and be a positive force in their professions,” said Laura Chalfant, SSS teacher.

“We are so excited by what each of these programs will do for the students at Smithfield-Selma” said NCCF Regional Director Quinn Novels. “These programs will help provide a more enriching educational environment and may also help students develop a deep appreciation for leadership, travel and the arts.”

The living legacy Nan Ogburn Cullman left behind has the potential to positively impact the lives of students at Smithfield-Selma High School and the lives of those in Johnston County. “The NCCF is so honored to be managing this fund,” said Beth Boney-Jenkins. “Nan Ogburn Cullman and this endowment in her memory echo what the NCCF is all about—people giving back to the communities they love.”

By Emily Blevins