Pender County endowment invests in educating the next generation

Businessman J.B. Lewis loved supporting young people, and he would often go the extra mile for them—literally. For example, when the Burgaw Rotary Club would sponsor local high school juniors so they could attend a leadership camp, Lewis would drive them there in his Rolls Royce. For young people who had never been out of the county, this experience was unforgettable.

So when Lewis quietly started a scholarship endowment at the North Carolina Community Foundation to help students who wanted to continue their education beyond high school, the secret didn’t stay secret for long.

“When J.B. set up the scholarship, he wanted it to be anonymous,” said Kent Harrell, scholarship administrator. “But everyone in the club knew who provided those funds to endow that scholarship.”

A vision for young people

Lewis had moved to Burgaw in 1952 and started the Lewis Sausage Company, which became very successful. As a long-time Rotarian, he wanted to support the club’s effort to provide scholarships for students from Pender County who wanted to attend college. 

“There are a lot of families in Pender County who do not have the financial means to send their children to college,” said Harrell. The Burgaw Rotary Club had been providing scholarships to students through their annual fundraising efforts for some time, but Lewis wanted to ensure the club could do more. 

“By creating this endowment through the community foundation, he allowed the club to have access to funds without the administrative burden being placed on a club treasurer,” said Harrell. “The club has continued to supplement the funds received from the endowment each year to make sure that deserving students have a chance to pursue their educational goals.”  

The endowment’s origins

The story goes that NCCF representative Beth Boney Jenkins spoke to the Rotary Club at one of its meetings in 2002. Unbeknownst to Jenkins, Lewis had been planning to fund an endowment for scholarships and had been thinking about how to set it up. 

“They were already looking at creating this endowment, so the visit from Beth was perhaps divine intervention,” said Harrell. “After the meeting, Mr. Lewis followed her into the parking lot and told her he would like to contribute $100,000.00 to start an endowment. “

The Rotary Club of Burgaw Scholarship Endowment has awarded more than $160,000 in scholarships over the years. In 2023, the fund awarded five $1,500 scholarships, three of which were renewals from the previous year. Scholarships focus on students from Pender County who plan to attend an institution of higher learning in North Carolina and who demonstrate a need for financial assistance.

A positive impact

Lauren LanierTaylor Blake

Lauren Lanier received a scholarship in 2008 and 2009 and came back to Burgaw to run Lanier Hardware and Rental. “Receiving the Rotary Club scholarship solidified the support my community had for me and the furthering of my education,” she said. “It gave me a drive to go out and gain knowledge. I could ultimately utilize all of the life lessons and scholastic knowledge that college afforded me to come back and serve the very community that supported me.”

Taylor Blake received a scholarship in 2020 as a freshman at East Carolina University when COVID-19 was adding a whole new challenge to higher education. “At that time, the scholarship helped me with housing because I was not able to stay on campus,” said Blake. But the scholarship itself wasn’t the only benefit. “While I am extremely grateful for the scholarship award, I am much more fortunate to know the Burgaw Rotary Club members as they have all been supportive of my educational journey!”

Lewis passed away in 2016. But Harrell has found similar joy in working with young people. “I was a lawyer for 20 years before I became a superior court judge in 2016, and most of the young people I dealt with on a daily basis were making bad decisions and setting their life on a very difficult course,” said Harrell. “Serving on this scholarship committee allows me to see how many young people in my community are doing great things, making great decisions and setting their lives on a course for success. Having the opportunity to play a part in that success is very rewarding.”