Lighting a Legacy

September of 2017 brings the official launch of “a dynamic community dedicated to creating vibrant programs and ideas to support scholarship efforts.”

This is the mission statement of the University of Mobile Torch Society, a newly formed group of individuals passionate about “Lighting the Way through Scholarships” and through crafting impactful relationships with students.

This vision ignites a legacy of stewardship as it blurs the lines between what it means to give and what it means to receive.

The Torch Society is actively growing. Anyone who desires to invest in the lives of students both through fundraising, and through creating lasting relationships with students, is welcome to join. Members take part by using their gifts on a range of committees, all with one goal: to promote a spirit of volunteerism that engages and serves University of Mobile students. Those who interact with existing Torch Society members will likely find a common theme—they give because they once received.

A Calling to Serve

When Dr. Timothy Smith became the fourth president of University of Mobile, his wife, Penney, brought with her a calling to serve students. Her previous activity in organizations and auxiliaries throughout her and Dr. Smith’s journey led her to dream even bigger.

“I always knew that when I had the opportunity, I wanted to be part of impacting students’ lives,” she said.The new “First Lady” of University of Mobile began forming an idea of a society of individuals who raised scholarships for students to cover the gaps in their funding—those who were struggling to pay for books, or a meal plan, or for the final balance for their room and board for the semester.

Penney Smith once faced similar circumstances. Her heart for enabling students to thrive in their education began with her own college experience.

Her father passed away when she was young, leaving her 37-year-old mother with three children. Without financial aid, Smith would have been unable to complete college, but she received a scholarship sufficient to cover her education.

“My whole life and career changed because of that scholarship,” she said.

Throughout her adult life, she has constantly desired to “pay it forward.” When Smith arrived at UM, she found that the spirit of serving students was embedded within the university’s DNA, even from its earliest days. The first First Lady of the college – Annie Boyd Parker Weaver, informally known as “B” Weaver – founded the Mobile College Auxiliary to raise funds for projects around the campus.

Smith located the bylaws of the Mobile College Auxiliary, which had been dormant since 1994. Desiring to maintain the heritage of such an organization, she formed a team to transform the Auxiliary into the Torch Society, becoming executive director of the new organization. The legacy of service shifted from projects to scholarships, and the community began to grow.

An Effort of the Heart

Mary Brown serves as Torch Society president because she and her husband, Charlie, are also “giving back.”

As a student of University of Mobile (then Mobile College) in 1976, Charlie Brown ’79 & ’14 struggled to make ends meet. But he was not left to struggle alone. Throughout his college experience, he lived with several different families who made their home his own.

Eight years ago, Mary and Charlie Brown began opening their own home and their hearts to students in need, students Mary calls “forever our kids.” Through her leadership in the Torch Society, she is excited to raise funds for students. However, her passion reaches beyond students’ financial need. Her desire is to foster community with students.

“My vision is not to only help students through scholarship, but to take a personal approach and really keep in touch with our scholarship recipients,” she said.

The Torch Society is not merely a financial effort—it’s an effort of the heart. The Society’s motto is, “Lighting the Way through Scholarships.” The end result of the work is not the money; it’s a path toward something even more powerful: relationships that carry on a legacy.

The Seed God Planted

Recent alumni (graduates within the last 1-10 years) stereotypically don’t join auxiliaries and societies and fundraising efforts, thinking: “What do I have to offer? My ability to give doesn’t yet match the degree of my desire to give” or “I just don’t even know where to start. What do I have “My whole life and career changed because of that scholarship.” Penney Smith Anne Weaver Davis and Penney Smith 21 to offer if I’m not ready to write a large sum on a check to my university?”

For Morgan Carnley ’11, these questions didn’t stop her. From the moment she walked across the stage on the day she became an alumna of University of Mobile, she was imagining how she would give back.

“The Lord really laid on my heart to start saving for a scholarship for UM. That’s been on my heart for a long time,” she said.

Carnley served as president of the Student Government Association from 2010-2011. She received scholarships as a student, along with an honorarium designated for the SGA president. That leadership position was a priceless opportunity to her, and it has fueled her desire to find a way to give in a way she was blessed to receive.

When she heard of the Torch Society, she saw pieces falling into place right in front of her. “I was so excited to realize the seed God had planted in my heart years ago was for this purpose,” she said.

Today, Carnley serves as vice president for the Junior Torch Society, a part of the Torch Society specifically designated for alumni ages 22-35. The Junior Torch Society provides opportunities for young alumni to find likeminded people passionate about forming relationships and opportunities for the students behind them.

‘For Such a Time as This’

“For such a time as this.” These words come from Esther 4:14, and they are the driving scripture of the Torch Society. Penney Smith realized that the financial provision for her education over 30 years ago was not simply for her own benefit.

She knows she was blessed “for such a time as this.”

“Having been a life impacted by scholarships, blessing others with scholarships is why I’m so passionate and driven about this work and joining forces with others who share that passion,” she said.

Smith is not alone in realizing that the purpose of the scholarship she received was not just for her past, but is a call to serve students today. Mary Brown’s husband once needed a home in college, and now she and Charlie give the very thing he needed to others: both physical aid and meaningful relationship. Morgan Carnley was a student leader who is now devoted to aiding in the success of future leaders.

A student receiving financial aid experiences the blessing of provision; but how much greater is the experience of, on the other side of one’s educational journey, giving to someone like yourself, anticipating how God will use that gift.

Those within this society who are supporting students are also the recipients of priceless gifts, for they take part in a story that looks both backward and forward as the legacy unfolds.

About the Author

Kala Hembree