Donna Underwood creates two scholarships to honor her late husband

Updated 3 years ago Special to HNN Provided by Marshall University

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Donna Underwood has two main goals in life. They are to provide students with opportunities that she didn't have after graduating from high school, while - at the same time - honoring her late husband, John.
Underwood recently met both of those objectives by funding a pair of scholarships at Marshall University. The new scholarships, established by the Marshall University Foundation, Inc., are an endowment called the John and Donna Underwood Endowment for the Yeager Scholars Program, and an expendable scholarship called the John and Donna Underwood Scholarship for the School of Pharmacy.

"I wasn't privileged to be able to go to college after I graduated from high school," said Donna, who was raised on a working farm near Lafayette, Ind. Yet, she was able to work her way up in the business world with just a high school diploma.
Donna was co-owner of Dunhill of Huntington, a professional employment agency, and she is a retired Lexis-Nexis statistical process control production supervisor. She also is a past board member of the Chillicothe (Ohio) Country Club, and a past board member and secretary of the Adams County (Ohio) American Cancer Society. Her past and present hobbies include golf, bridge, showing and training horses, and gardening, and she is an avid fan of Thundering Herd athletics.
Realizing that many young people - most for financial reasons - are unable to attend college, she established the two scholarships not only to give students opportunities equal to what she had, but to exceed what she was able to do ... much like parents would want for their children.
She said that her parents never went to college and, since their needs were pretty much met by the farm, college was never mentioned when she was living at home.
"Three kids later, working, struggling to make ends meet, there was never enough money, time or energy to think about college," she said.
"My husband, John, had his master's degree.  His friends would ask me where I went to college.  It was hurtful to say that I had never attended a university. That is what motivates me to fund these scholarships and also honor John in doing so."
John Underwood graduated from Marshall in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in business. He later obtained his master's degrees in both business and sports administration from Ohio University. He served on many boards in support of Marshall University, including the Real Estate Foundation Board of the Marshall University Foundation, Inc. He was a native of Huntington.
"For a university to be progressive and entice students to want to attend, it has to be 'State of the Art,' " Underwood said. "This is the reason that John and I had been so supportive of Marshall University and in supporting the growth of new buildings and future planning.  Now that John is gone, I plan to keep his memory alive in keeping the support alive."
Underwood said her husband always wanted to leave some legacy behind as he knew his time on earth was going to be very short.
"After speaking several times with Ford Price, our minister at Central United Methodist Church in the west end of Huntington, a plan came together," she said. Thus, John Underwood created a sports camp at the church.
"The sports camp was basically to give the west end kids a free, week-long, structured, and disciplined event to give them perhaps a different way of thinking," Donna Underwood said. "Some, not all, come from very impoverished living conditions and they would never be able to attend a sports camp.  The camp provides several different avenues of sports and Christian morals.  It is taught by volunteers and volunteer coaches from the community."
She said that free breakfast and lunch is provided to all participants.
"After they complete the week of activities, the street is blocked off, games, speakers, music, awards, and a free cook-out are provided for the whole community," she said. "Without the support of other churches and our church family, along with the community and Marshall University allowing us to use some of their athletic fields, this would never been accomplished.  I have to give thanks to all those other folks who step up to help make this successful."
Dr. Ron Area, CEO of the Marshall Foundation, described Donna Underwood as "one of the most caring and giving people I know. She has a passion for making other people's lives better. Donna and John lived by the belief, 'To whom much is given, much is expected.' "
Dr. Kevin Yingling, dean of Marshall's school of Pharmacy, said, "Through my interactions with Donna Underwood, in addition to her kind and gracious spirit, she demonstrates that she understands the value of each person and loves to encourage people to be their best. She knows the value of individual potential, the 'make a difference' character of a person.  She exemplifies this in her occupational endeavors and in her charitable endeavors across our campus.  Their scholarships (Donna's and John's) are yet one more example of her generous nature and eagerness to directly 'make a difference' for those who will do the same for others."
Dr. Ronald Bieniek, dean of Marshall's Honors College, reiterated the impact of these gifts, saying, "Donna Underwood's generosity increases Marshall's ability to provide financial assistance and experiential opportunities to deserving students who can run full throttle with such scholarship support.  I am grateful for her caring investment in our students and their potential."

Donna and John Underwood have supported many other programs at Marshall, including:

  • The Vision Campaign - the Underwood Sports Medicine Research Center Endowment
  • The Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center
  • The Marshall University Foundation Hall
  • Athletics, including the Thunder Club

They also are members of the President's Circle, for which they qualified by giving at least $100,000 to MU, and the Old Main Society, for those who have remembered Marshall University in their will, trust, or through other planned gifts.

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