Mother Would Be Proud’

The Louise VanLandingham Memorial Endowed Scholarship


louise-vanlandingham1After their mother passed away at age 84, Maureen Nichols was a bit afraid to tell her older sister what she did with a portion of the inheritance. She shouldn’t have worried.

“I was ecstatic,” said Kathy Hawsey.

With a donation to University of Mobile, Maureen established the Louise VanLandingham Memorial Endowed Scholarship. Each Sept. 9, on their mother’s birthday, the sisters make a contribution to the scholarship. The university invests the funds and a majority of the annual interest earned provides a scholarship each year for a University of Mobile student. A portion of the earned interest is reinvested along with the principal, enabling the endowment to grow and produce even more scholarship funds.

“Mother would be proud,” said Kathy. Maureen said the endowed scholarship at a Christian university would have appealed to their mother’s sense of frugality.

“We always wanted the biggest bang for the buck. When you are investing in lives, especially ones who are going out to preach the Word, that is really the biggest bang for the buck,” Maureen said.

The sisters say Louise VanLandingham fit the description of “The Greatest Generation” that grew up during the deprivation of the Great Depression – a generation of men and women who worked hard, made do with what they had, helped their neighbors and never complained about their hardships.

“She could do anything,” Kathy said. One time, her mother planned to redo the screen doors. Kathy told her husband, Jay, they were going to help.

“Jay said, ‘I don’t want to go help your mother,’” Kathy related. “I said, ‘Why?’ Jay said, ‘Because she works circles around me!’”

The Louise VanLandingham Scholarship is awarded to UM students with financial need. Priority goes to students who fit at least one of these criteria that also described Ms. VanLandingham: single mothers, Mississippi residents, or members of Riverside Baptist Church in Mobile.

She was originally from Mississippi, then married James O’Connor and raised her two daughters and son in Mobile, where the family attended Riverside Baptist. When the children were still young, their father died.

“Dad had borrowed a huge amount of money to build a duplex,” Kathy recalled. The bank loaned money for the investment with the family’s home for collateral, and there was no insurance on the construction project. The new widow was left with a large debt to repay.

But their mother was frugal and smart, willing to work hard and find creative ways to provide for the family. She sewed the children’s clothes, grew a garden and canned food to meet her family’s needs. Like many women of that time period, she did not know how to drive, but relying on church and family members for transportation did not set well with her independent spirit. She soon learned to drive and bought a second-hand car.

She paid off the massive construction debt, provided for her family, tithed, and even contributed to the fundraising campaign to start Mobile College.

“She always tithed, and the money for the college came with it,” said Kathy. Maureen said they don’t know what motivated their mother to give.

“Perhaps God told her to,” Maureen said. “She was impressed enough to do it when the ordinary person wouldn’t.”

After her children were grown, she was remarried to Manuel McKinley. She served as matriarch of her extended family, was a source of wisdom in her community, and served her church as a Sunday School teacher in the children’s department and as a choir member.

Their mother was the oldest of 11 siblings and was unable to continue in school past the 11th grade, but she valued education. She worked as a sales clerk at Hammel’s department store in downtown Mobile, took courses on business law at a trade school, and later did clerical work at Brookley Field.

She passed that appreciation of education on to her children; both daughters have master’s degrees. Each was helped at some point in their education and lives by scholarships made possible through donations similar to the one they created in their mother’s name.

“We knew we weren’t well-to-do, but we didn’t go without,” Maureen remembered.

Kathy added, “We never knew we didn’t have everything that everybody else had; she found a way.”

The family connection to the school continued when Maureen, then in high school, took core college courses for two summers. Later, she went as a chaperone with the Mobile College choir and Dr. Kenneth Bergdolt on a trip to England. She was employed as a nursing instructor from 1977-1979 in the Mobile Infirmary-Mobile College Division of Nursing.

Now, both sisters enjoy the special seating at Christmas Spectacular that comes with being an endowed scholarship donor. They also look forward to the annual Endowed Scholarship Luncheon where they have the opportunity to meet recipients of many of the endowed scholarships.

As they talked about their mother, their stories painted a portrait of the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31. “Her price is far above rubies” is inscribed on the footstone of Louise VanLandingham O’Connor McKinley’s grave.


Anyone may create an endowed scholarship in memory or honor of someone. For information on how to start or add to an existing endowed scholarship, call the Advancement Office at 251.442.2223.

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.