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College is a momentous occasion for every student. It is often the beginning of the rest of their lives. What unfolds between the stately buildings, late night study sessions, and lifelong friendships that shape their futures, can many times spur inspiration for the generations that follow.

Three Marshall University graduates have such a story. Susan Popp, Kim Wellman and Sydney Wellman all received their degrees from Marshall. They are also grandmother, mother and daughter.

“Three generations is kind of a long time, so we all experienced something different,” Sydney said. “We definitely bond over that. And it’s also a matter of respect in a way, we all recognize that we’ve put in the work to receive our degrees from the same college and we have this level of respect for each other.”

Sydney is the most recent Marshall graduate in their family, earning her bachelor’s degree in biomechanics in May 2022. She is now a graduate student in Marshall’s School of Physical Therapy.

Their legacy is made possible thanks to Marshall’s Alumni Legacy Scholarship. The Alumni Legacy Scholarship is awarded to non-resident, first-time freshmen whose parent or grandparent graduated from Marshall. The student’s parent or grandparent must also be donors of the university.

Susan has donated to Marshall consistently for more than 30 years, and it is because of Susan’s generous contributions to the university that Sydney, who lives across the river in Chesapeake, Ohio, was able to attend Marshall at an affordable rate. However, none were aware of the scholarship beforehand.

“I was completely surprised by the scholarship opportunity,” Kim said. “That was a real blessing. It has made me realize how important donations are to the university. That’s something I’m going to start doing is donating to the Marshall Foundation for that reason. It was so helpful for Sydney to get her bachelor’s degree. I’m grateful my mom donated, and that she could have that opportunity.”

But for Susan, college was not a part of her original plan.

“My future husband was already at Marshall,” she explained. “My father asked me if I wanted to go, and he gave me some money. He wanted me to go to school.”

Susan married her late husband, Larry, who graduated from Marshall in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. The two then moved to Virginia, thus putting Susan’s college career on hold.

“We moved to a southern part of Virginia and there were no colleges there, so there was no opportunity to go back,” she said.

Nearly a decade later, the family moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, as Larry graduated with his master’s degree from Radford University. This allowed Susan to return to the classroom before the family moved back to Huntington a year later.

With another move across state lines, Susan knew she would have to wait a year before she could enroll again to pay the in-state tuition rates. Or so she thought.

“My mother saw an article in the newspaper that they had a program for women returning to college,” Susan said. “So, she dragged me to Marshall and before I left there that night, I was enrolled again.”

Susan’s educational journey crafted some of Kim’s earliest memories and began her love for their shared alma mater.

“I can remember going to Marshall with my mom when she was signing up for classes and standing there in those long lines with her while she was paying her tuition when I was a little girl,” Kim said.

In 1983, Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in library science and social studies. After graduation, Susan went into teaching, first as a long-term substitute teacher before taking a full-time position at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School in Huntington as the librarian. Susan worked there for 29 years and retired in 2018.

For Kim, she always knew she would attend Marshall. Both of her parents were Marshall graduates, and it was never a question as to where she would complete her degree. She also knew from a young age what her major would be.

Larry Popp passed away in January 1990 during Kim’s freshman year. He battled with heart disease for many years, which included an open-heart surgery when Kim was around 9 years old. It was her father’s health struggles that led Kim to become a nurse.

“I remember sitting in the lobby of the old St. Mary’s Hospital for hours waiting for him to have heart surgery and I was just inspired by the nurses there,” Kim said. “If I could have the opportunity to provide that care to someone else’s family, I just wanted to be able to do that.”

Kim earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in 1991 from Marshall. She then took all her prerequisite classes at Marshall before attending St. Mary’s School of Nursing, which she graduated from in 1996. In 2005, she received her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Marshall.

Larry’s passing had a profound impact on the entire family. With Kim just beginning her time at Marshall and Susan only mere months into her job at St. Joseph, Susan wanted to find a way to honor his memory.

“Every year after my husband died, I’d send a little money to the Foundation in his name,” Susan said. “Marshall gave him the opportunity to have a career for 24 years in what he loved to do, which was teach music on a high school and middle school level.”

“He was a wonderful man who loved Marshall,” Kim echoed. “Sydney knows he’s a powerful influence in my life, even still. I think that influence carries on to her and my other daughter, as well.”

What began as a way to honor a beloved husband and father, became a significant source of financial reprieve for Sydney. As someone who grew up around the university and watching Marshall sports, Sydney was always interested in attending college close to home as part of the Herd.

“That’s where my mom and nana went, and they always spoke so highly of it,” Sydney said. “It also worked out that what I wanted to do was at Marshall, too.”

Sydney began her Marshall journey as a nursing student, like her mother, but soon felt her academic career was leading her down a different path.

“I found the biomechanics program in the School of Kinesiology and started that my junior year,” Sydney said.

Sydney said she has always loved studying math and the human body. Biomechanics, which is the study of human movement, encapsulated everything she was interested in. Her graduate program in physical therapy will help her reach her dream, which is to work as a pediatric neurology physical therapist.

“I want to work with kids and young adults who have gone through a traumatic brain injury or a spinal cord injury and work with them to rehab them to get better,” Sydney said.

Three Marshall alumna. Three vastly different majors. Three stories, bound by a deep appreciation for the college they love.

On the day of Sydney’s graduation, the three stood proudly outside of the Mountain Health Arena and commemorated the occasion with a photo as they each held a Marshall Alumni T-shirt that Susan had gifted Kim and Sydney.

“I hope to be able to pass my desire and my gratitude for Marshall to my future children,” Sydney said. “And hopefully, there will be a fourth generation.”

The Marshall University Foundation announced it received a $25,000 grant from Truist West Virginia Foundation to support need-based scholarships at Marshall University. 

“We are grateful for the long-standing partnership between the Marshall University Foundation and the Truist West Virginia Foundation,” said Dr. Ron Area, chief executive officer of the Marshall Foundation. “Increasing scholarship aid is a top priority for the university, and this grant will ease the financial burden for a number of students.” 

The grant will support scholarship recipients who are full- or part-time students who are residents of West Virginia and have need, as determined by the Office of Student Financial Assistance. Scholarship aid has increased by 44 percent over the last several years due to the Marshall Rises comprehensive campaign with 500 more students receiving aid annually.  

“We’re pleased to support the Marshall University Foundation,” said Jacqueline Keene, executive director for the Truist West Virginia Foundation. “Truist is committed to our purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities, and we believe the Truist West Virginia Foundation contribution to Marshall University will help make a difference in the lives of many.” 

The Marshall Foundation maximizes continuous financial support for Marshall University and its students by soliciting, receiving, investing and administering private gift support. The Marshall Foundation is committed to providing professional service to Marshall University, its students and donors. 

Truist and Truist West Virginia Foundation’s relationship with Marshall pre-dates the merger of One Valley Bank and BB&T in 2001. Truist provided a 10-year commitment toward the establishment of what is now called the Truist Center for Leadership at the Lewis College of Business and Brad D. Smith Schools of Business. Truist West Virginia Foundation has a long-standing history of support towards Marshall University student scholarship grants. 

The Truist West Virginia Foundation is committed to Truist Financial Corporation’s (NYSE: TFC) purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities. Since 2000, the foundation and its predecessors have been making strategic investments in nonprofit organizations to help ensure the communities it serves have more opportunities for a better quality of life. The Truist West Virginia Foundation’s grants and activities focus on economic development, education, arts, health care, social services and financial literacy. Learn more by contacting Jacqueline Keene at 

In 1947, the Marshall University Foundation Inc. was chartered to receive, invest, administer and disburse private resources on behalf of Marshall University.

Ten years later, a well-respected lawyer and alumnus of the then Marshall College, Arthur B. Koontz, made a $20,000 donation to establish a scholarship, the largest donation of its kind to the college. The scholarship is still impacting students today.

Koontz was born at Kessler’s Cross Lanes in Nicholas County, West Virginia, January 29, 1885, one of 11 children. He attended school in Summersville before arriving at Marshall College in 1903.

Koontz’s grandson, George Ragland, said he doesn’t know how his grandfather found himself at Marshall. Ragland’s great-grandfather, John Koontz, was a farmer and stock raiser, but it is clear he valued higher education as all of his children went on to become successful educators, lawyers, doctors and political leaders.

After graduating from Marshall in 1907, Arthur Koontz was accepted at Yale University where he received his law degree. He began to practice law at Charleston in 1911, and appeared “in connection with important litigation in practically all the state courts,” according to a biography written by James Morton Callahan in History of West Virginia: Old and New; Volume 2.

In 1918 he was instrumental in the forming of the Union Trust Company of Charleston, which he served as vice president. It was with the stock in this company that he formed his endowment with Marshall.

Nominated by the democratic party as candidate for governor in 1920, “he made a most creditable campaign and won a flattering vote in the general republican landslide of that year,” according to Callahan.

Ragland described his grandfather like Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.

“He was erudite, but in an understated way; a bit pensive; serious, but not stern; and respected in all circles,” Ragland said. “When he was not at home, he generally wore a navy suit, a white shirt, a tie and a hat. He deferred to his wife, Mazie, in all domestic matters.

“When he returned home at the end of his workday, he would go into a small room (today we might call it a den), sit down in a chair right beside the radio, take off his very thick glasses, close his eyes and listen intently to the news. Everyone knew not to bother him on those occasions.”

He was a gracious man.

“When he and his wife went out to a restaurant for supper, after the meal, when it was time to leave, he would make a point of going to the restaurant’s kitchen and thanking the cooks for a delicious meal,” Ragland said. “I can’t remember a time when he didn’t do that.

“After church on Sunday, my family would often go directly to the Koontz home, and find Arthur and Mazie sitting side-by-side in their rocking chairs on the porch. When I got out of the car and within ear shot, he smiled a big smile, reached out his arms for me, and said, ‘Hello, Big Topper [his nickname for me]. Come up here and sit on my lap.’ That loving gesture made me feel like a million bucks!”

Koontz also impacted the direction Ragland took in life.

“When I was a senior in college, Arthur (I called him ‘Granddaddy’) asked me what I was going to do after graduation,” he said. “When I told him I had no specific plans, he said, ‘A legal education never hurt anyone.’ That casual comment gave me some much-needed direction. So, I enrolled in the Washington & Lee School of Law, had a wonderful experience there, and eventually ended up becoming a partner in the largest law firm in North Carolina, where I worked until retirement. Had Arthur not given me that encouragement and support, who knows what I would have done with myself?”

Koontz continues to impact the lives of college students. His scholarship has been awarded nearly every year since it was established, including this year.

Koontz died of a heart attack in 1968. Ragland said his grandfather, due to the age difference, did not have much impact on his ideas toward philanthropy, and his parents, children of the Great Depression, placed more emphasis on saving.

“Personally, however, I believe in giving to those organizations that benefitted me,” he said. “I began making annual gifts to my law school soon after graduating.”

Ragland said he believes his grandfather and great-grandfather would tell current Marshall students to take the opportunity to broaden their minds, would say something like:

“There are many things you could be doing with your life right now. Of all those options, you have chosen to be a student at Marshall University. As such, you have the opportunity to learn about lots of different subjects, to increase your understanding of the past and the present, to interact with students from dissimilar backgrounds and, in general, to broaden your mind. Take advantage of this opportunity. Apply yourself. Do your best. You will never regret it. We wish you well.”

Lighthouses are often viewed as beacons of hope in the darkness. They provide a sense of safety to those who land on their shores. They provide a path leading you home. For Patricia Bodo Sazy and Martha Denise Vickers it was a book about lighthouses that united the two native West Virginians and Marshall University graduates.

“Caesar’s Lighthouse Adventures” is a delightful and informative children’s book written by Sazy and illustrated by Vickers. Caesar, a Lhasa Apso, travels up and down the East Coast with his fellow canine pals as they explore 12 fascinating lighthouses.

Sazy hails from Logan County and Vickers is from Charleston. Currently, they both not only live in Louisville, Kentucky, but they live in the same neighborhood. They became more closely acquainted during their time together in their neighborhood association while decorating for the 2019 holiday season. Each were unaware of their shared West Virginia roots until they began working on the book.

“She’s an excellent illustrator,” Sazy said. “We had gotten to know each other and when I started my book I called her. We then realized we were both from West Virginia and we both went to Marshall.”

“It was just happenstance that we found out we were both Marshall graduates,” Vickers added. “I had an education in art and she said she wanted to do a book on lighthouses and made me the illustrator.”

In “Caesar’s Lighthouse Adventures,” Caesar and his friend Izzy, a Yorkshire Terrier, start their journey with the Summersville Lake Lighthouse in Mt. Nebo, West Virginia, and end their trip at Lighthouse Landing in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. In between, Caesar and Izzy encounter many fur-covered friends at lighthouses in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Each of the dogs featured in the book are based on dogs Sazy knows or knew in real life, including Caesar, which was her dog who passed away in 2014.

Sazy drew inspiration for the book from her parents. Both were Hungarian immigrants, and her father, who became a coal miner working at Holden 22 Coal Camp, used to share with Sazy the importance of light in the mines to make it out safely.

In her book’s author bio, Sazy said her father noted how brightly the Statue of Liberty shone when he landed at Ellis Island. “Lighthouses were beacons of light for those manning and warning ships of a safe or dangerous harbor. So dad gave me the inspiration for reading about the importance of light and lighthouses,” she wrote.

In preparation for the book, Sazy traveled to each of the featured lighthouses and researched facts about them to accompany the fictionalized story.

“This book is a great thing for teachers,” Sazy said. “It’s a book that grows with you. It’s for all ages from elementary school on. It’s educating people on lighthouses.”

Once Sazy had Vickers onboard as the illustrator, Vickers began sketching out the lighthouses, but instead of illustrating them in her own personal style she took a more customized approach to each lighthouse.

“It’s been rewarding as she allowed me to choose artists from each state in which the lighthouse was located in to try to interpret that artist’s style in depicting the lighthouses,” Vickers said. “Our hope is that children, as they read the book, can see different types of art.”

Since the book was published, it has garnered a lot of buzz. Sazy’s and Vicker’s adopted hometown of Louisville recently awarded Sazy with a proclamation honoring her work for “Caesar’s Lighthouse Adventures” and her dedicated service toward the betterment of her community.

“I was ecstatically surprised,” Sazy said.

Sazy and Vickers, who quickly bonded over the book and their ties to the Mountain State, speak highly of their alma mater and the opportunities it has afforded them.

For Sazy, attending Marshall was a family affair, which included her siblings and her late daughter, Monica Ann Lucas.

“We all have degrees from Marshall,” Sazy said. “Each one of us had something special that we did at Marshall. I cannot say I had a better education.”

Sazy has a bachelor’s degree in library science and a master’s degree in communications media, graduating in 1971 and 1973, respectively. Before she moved to Kentucky, she was the medical library consultant for Logan General Hospital, now Logan Regional Medical Center, and for 13 years she was the library media specialist for Logan County Public Schools. After moving to Louisville, she was the library media specialist and technology coordinator at Butler Traditional High School, retiring in 2004. In addition to being a newly-minted author and owner of PMSazy Book Express, she is also a licensed massage therapist with 32 years of service. Since 2014, Sazy has been a board member of the Holden 22 Miners Memorial Fund Inc., serving as first vice president and public relations coordinator.

In 1989, Sazy established a scholarship in memory of her daughter. Over the course of the past 33 years, the scholarship has been awarded 32 times. The Monica Ann Lucas Memorial Scholarship is available to students studying health care management in the Lewis College of Business and Brad D. Smith Schools of Business. For 22 years, Sazy served on the College of Business’ advisory board. Because of Sazy’s continued giving, she is also a part of the John Marshall Society, provides recognition to individuals, corporations and foundations who make a significant gift to the growth and development of Marshall University.

“I will always be a Holden 22 Coal Camp girl, a West Virginia mountain gal, and a diehard Marshall University fan,” Sazy said. “I am very proud of being brought up in the age of innocence, home grown, and very proud of my Hungarian American upbring.”

Vickers graduated from Marshall in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in fiber arts. Vickers has worked in an array of industries, including health care, law and other professions as an artist. After graduation, Vickers worked in custom framing. She then worked for CASCI/BlueCross BlueShield in Charleston. From there, she moved to Chicago and worked at Wheaton College as the insurance coordinator. Upon moving to Louisville, she continued working in health care before taking a leap into the legal world and worked at a law firm as the administrative assistant. She now works for a company that specializes in creating fandom art called 2nd Star Productions.

She credits her versatile career to past professors Michael Cornfeld, June Kilgore and Stanley Sporny who were huge influences on her life.

“You can take the girl out of the mountains, but you can’t take them out of the girl,” Vickers said. “I’m just so glad for my time at Marshall because I felt like that was the beginning of my broader view of the world and seeing all the possibilities that can be had for someone just starting out in college. To this day, I think of them so fondly. I’m the person I am today because of Marshall in so many ways.”

“Caesar’s Lighthouse Adventures” is currently in many of the gift shops of the lighthouses that are featured, with multiple reorders in the works. Interested in owning a copy? Visit to get your copy today.

During his tenure as president of Marshall University, Dr. Jerome A. Gilbert made it a priority to increase scholarship aid for the student body in the face of rising education costs, and thanks to the Marshall Rises campaign, scholarship aid has increased 44 percent over the last five years with 500 more students receiving aid annually.

Part of the increase has been thanks to the hard work by the university’s Office of Student Financial Assistance, which launched a brand-new way for students to apply for private scholarships through an online portal. Launched in January of 2020, the portal reduces the amount of time it takes both students and staff to find and apply for applicable scholarships.

“We were trying to find scholarships for students by looking at each individual guidelines for each scholarship,” said Tara Hensley, senior financial aid counselor. “And then we didn’t really have something set up to where we could view a GPA or ACT score or the major they’re in or anything like that. We just had to search. It was countless hours.”

Financial aid staff said before the portal, there were upwards of 400 private scholarships that each required an application. Students could search most of the scholarships online at the financial aid site and college and department staff would work to pair students with appropriate scholarships, but awarding all available funding was still too big a task for the financial aid office.

“There were hundreds of applicants and applications that would come through,” said Cody Call, associate director of operations. “The paper was so much. We would open them all and there were some that were 20 per student. That would all get scanned in and filed away. It was a big pain. Then you’d have to review those, try to match up the scholarship and look at all the information manually. Now, the portal does all of that automatically for us. One word to describe the portal was just efficiency for our office.”

Students now fill out one application and are automatically matched with the scholarships out of 1,000-plus they qualify for.

“There are about 20 different departments, colleges and financial aid that utilize the scholarship portal now,” said Nathan Miller, applications programmer in enrollment services and builder of the portal.

The portal is a great resource for incoming students, who can see all the potential funding they can receive, and it’s great for retaining students by potentially providing them with funding all four years. It also helps the university catch students who may have fallen through the cracks before, like first generation students.

“Students and families need to know their financial outlook and the uncertainty of their futures has a negative impact on enrollment,” said Dr. Beverly Boggs, director of Financial Aid and Assistant Vice President of Enrollment. “I don’t know anyone who would be willing to make a large financial commitment without knowing if they can meet it. Having a balance due weighs heavily on the minds of our students; so much so that focusing on learning is secondary. Grades suffer, motivation suffers, and self-esteem suffers.”

Boggs said she has worked at several institutions that don’t have the donor support Marshall has, nor do they have portals as robust as Marshall’s.

“It makes a huge difference when trying to help students reach their educational goals,” she said. “It is so disheartening when a talented and promising student gives up on their education because there are no resources available to help them and financially they just can’t make ends meet. Sometimes it can be just a small amount of money that keeps them enrolled and engaged. Marshall is extremely fortunate to have loyal donors who know this.”

The portal ensures that robust support reaches the hands of the many deserving students.

“It’s an efficient way to spend the donors’ money,” said Jean Ann Bevans, associate director of customer service.

The portal has led to an increase in the number of students applying for scholarships, with over 1,100 students applying last year.

“That’s not even the supplemental applications, which was also a big increase from previous years where we may have been hurting to find students to award these things to,” Miller said. “Now we’re having to be more selective of who we award to because of the criteria, which is great. We’re using the donors’ money as they intended it to be used.”

Miller said the portal is helping colleges utilize their scholarship funding to the best of their ability.

“The portal has created ease of access for our future and current business students to apply for scholarships,” said Jeffrey Archambault, interim dean of the Lewis College of Business. “Keeping students the focus of all that we do is our first priority. We cannot reach the ambitious goals we have set as the Lewis College of Business, and our students from the Brad D. Smith Schools of Business cannot achieve the ambitious goals they set, without a robust and competitive scholarship portfolio. Scholarships are a great equalizer—they help business students realize their potential and help Marshall recruit and retain them.”

The Office of Financial Aid takes every opportunity to teach students about the portal, as does the Marshall University Foundation. From incoming student tours to orientation and beyond, financial aid counselors love to connect students with funding.

“That’s why I’m so passionate,” Miller said. “I did not have any idea until my last semester of college that I could come to the financial aid office and ask for a scholarship. I went through school with student loans. So, we have fixed that for other students so that they know that they can get scholarship money. They may not be awarded it, but they’re going to know about it. They’re going to know there are opportunities out there.”