Alumnus' gift will help MD students attend Potomac State
KEYSER - A $1.75 million gift from a West Virginia University alumnus and his wife will empower students from Allegany County, Maryland, to further their education at WVU’s main campus in Morgantown and WVU Potomac State College in Keyser.
Jim and Marsha Blair’s gift establishes an endowed namesake scholarship that benefits graduates of Mountain Ridge High School in Frostburg, Maryland. Preference will be given to students from the Blairs’ hometowns – Midland and Lonaconing, respectively. Recipients must have a demonstrated financial need and may be enrolled in any WVU undergraduate program.
“Boosting scholarship support is our top priority as students continue to face financial hurdles due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges,” B.J. Davisson, executive vice president and chief development officer of the WVU Foundation, said. “The Blairs understand that the need is great, and I know they are eager to help Allegany County natives achieve their dreams. We’re incredibly grateful for passionate WVU supporters like Jim and Marsha and their continued generosity.”
The Blairs’ gift pays tribute to the region and schools that fostered their family’s success. The couple hails from Georges Creek, a tributary of the North Branch Potomac River in western Maryland. Once thriving with ample jobs in coal mining and industry, the area has suffered significant economic decline in recent years. The Blairs, who now live in Greenville, North Carolina, hope to provide need-based help that alleviates the financial burden of higher education, so area natives have greater opportunities to succeed.
“As we went back home and saw what was happening, we felt there was a need to help,” Jim said. “If those students could get a good job as a result of this scholarship, we would consider this a great success.”
Marsha added: “That’s still our home. It would be nice to know some of those kids had a nice chance at getting a good education and having good lives.”
Jim launched his college career at nearby Potomac State College, where longtime professor Elizabeth Atwater signed him up to study her area of expertise – journalism. Potomac State College has been affiliated with WVU since its inception in 1901 and continues today as a fully integrated campus of the University. Potomac State offers a special tuition discount to students from Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland.
“We so often hear from our alumni how Potomac State College changed their lives by not only providing them with a strong academic start but also providing them with wonderful memories and lifelong friendships,” WVU Potomac State College President Jennifer Orlikoff said. “We’re very appreciative to the Blairs for remembering Jim’s first alma mater in their generous donation. Their legacy will allow local students the opportunity to pursue their academic goals and career dreams.”
After earning his associate degree at Potomac State, the young couple moved to Morgantown, where Jim completed his bachelor’s degree and much of the coursework for a master’s degree – both in journalism – prior to entering the U.S. Army amid the Vietnam War.
While he never received scholarship aid as a student, Jim served as a resident assistant, worked for The Daily Athenaeum and became a graduate teaching assistant to help cover costs associated with his education. Along the way, he learned the value of hard work and acquired leadership skills that fueled his future professional achievements. Meanwhile, Marsha worked for the athletic department.
“I don’t think we would have half of what we have, as far as our family is concerned and the financial success we’ve enjoyed, if we hadn’t gone to WVU,” Jim said.
After leaving the Army, Jim served as advertising manager, general manager and/or publisher for newspapers in West Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina before the couple entered the credit reporting industry in the 1980s. They sold their credit bureaus to Equifax and retired in 1997, although they still own a business that handles credit screening for utility companies.
The Blairs, now married 52 years, have spent their retirement years traveling, spending time with family and giving back. In addition to their contributions to WVU, Marsha – who has a disabled brother – serves on many community boards and helps families cope with the needs of disabled loved ones.
Jim also returned to WVU to finish his master’s degree in 2003, with help from Reed College of Media faculty and staff. He urges other potential donors to consider the rewards they reaped as a result of attending WVU.
“If the school has helped you, you almost have an obligation to give back,” Jim said. “We gave it a lot of hard thought as to how to make it most useful for students to further their education.”
The Blairs’ gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University, in conjunction with WVU Day of Giving. Alumni and friends made over 5,000 gifts totaling $11.9 million March 3 during the University’s fourth Day of Giving, setting new records for the 24-hour online fundraising event held across the University system.
The Blairs’ contribution also bolsters efforts by the Foundation to provide scholarship support for students in need via “We Are Stronger Together,” a special fundraising initiative launched to assist those affected by the pandemic with educational expenses.