Scholarship keeps his father’s memory alive

UW-L Professor Michael Winfrey, left, stands with his father, Walter in the early 1980s

UW-L Professor Michael Winfrey, left, stands with his father, Walter in the early 1980s

NevaDayl Winfrey remembers watching her six-month-old baby in the car outside the University of California, Berkeley while her husband, Walter, was in class. When he finished, the two switched roles to avoid a babysitter bill.

It was 1952 and the newly weds had vowed to finish college while raising their baby despite living on a meager budget. Their last year in college, they had another child and even less time and money. Luckily, NevaDayl’s parents chipped in $5 per week so she could take a full load of classes and hire a sitter.

“We were dead broke. Without that, we couldn’t have done it,” she says. “It meant so much. I can’t even tell you what that meant.”

The couple thought if they could ever afford to help someone else through college, they would. But time passed and they became busy with jobs and raising kids, she says. They forgot about the idea. In 1984, at age 58, Walter died.

More than a decade later, their son, Michael, recalled his parent’s financial struggle through college. And, as a UW-La Crosse professor of microbiology, he was well aware of the need for more scholarships in his department. So he told the Winfrey family his idea to start endowed scholarship in his father’s name, which would award $1,000 to a student each year.

“He (Walter) was always the kind of person that was looking out for anyone who might be mistreated or disadvantaged. He really liked helping people any way he could,” Michael said. “I think, if he knew we were doing this, he’d really be touched.”

The Walter Winfrey Memorial Microbiology Scholarship is one of the 400 scholarships, which the UW-L Foundation awarded during the annual UW-L Student Scholarship and Award program April 25. The Foundation awards about $550,000 in scholarships each year.

UW-L alum Lara Pereira was the first to receive the Winfrey scholarship for the 2000-01 school year. Today she is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta, Ga. At the time she received the scholarship she said her family was having financial troubles.

“It helped me stay enrolled and on track so there were no interruptions to my education,” she said.

The Winfrey family has since chipped in to increase the scholarship to $1,100 and this year will award two at that amount. The family knows what it’s like to need the support while in school, said Michael’s sister Sandra Murray. She returned to medical school at age 43 while raising her two children. But she couldn’t have done it alone, she said. She had help from her husband and neighbors who would pick up the kids from school and feed them supper when she had class. Her sister, Susan Vaughan, also finished college and earned a master’s degree as a single mother with a young daughter.

“All of us had some kind of support from other people,” Murray said. “It’s like we’re paying it forward. It’s not a huge scholarship, but sometimes just a little bit of help makes a difference.”

For NevaDayl and Walter that $5 went a long way. The family is pretty certain the Winfrey scholarship will too.

“Someone 100 years from now will receive a scholarship in his name – It’s a real nice way to honor someone and keep the memory alive,” Michael said.

Interested in starting up a scholarship or contributing to a scholarship?
Contact Al Trapp at the UW-L Foundation trapp.alle@uwlax.edu; 608.785.8496 or Greg Reichert in University Advancement at reichert.greg@uwlax.edu ; 608.785.8672