When Dr. Helen Mundy Witt ’67, ’78 MEd, ’13 DEd died in January at the age of 88, everyone at Lynchburg knew that her legacy would live on. More than the first Black graduate of what was then Lynchburg College, she was also an educator, a civil rights advocate, a wife, mother, friend, author, and an accomplished tennis player.
“Helen was our biggest fan,” said Annette Stadtherr, a close friend of Witt’s and director of multicultural services at Lynchburg. “She was also an advocate for the institution. Whenever she was here, she was wearing Lynchburg gear and would always make a stop at the Campus Store for more swag.
“She was a cheerleader for education, and especially for [education] at Lynchburg. I am confident she still cheers us on in spirit.”
In the past decade, the University began celebrating Witt’s extensive contributions to education and civil rights. There’s the Helen Mundy Witt Society, an alumni association affinity group established in 2013 that focuses on the advancement of positive, professional networking among the University’s Black alumni. There’s the Helen Mundy Witt Multicultural Award, first given in 2018 at the inaugural Multicultural Gala.
This year, thanks to generous gifts from her family, friends, and alumni, the University has added a scholarship and a special room named in her honor.
The Dr. Helen Mundy Witt and Mr. Leroy Witt Sr. Master of Education Scholarship Fund was established in May 2021 on behalf of the family by Witt’s first granddaughter, Janelle Clemons, a senior HR business partner with Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The goal of the scholarship is to “help recruit, retain, and educate” Black graduate students to “further diversify the University’s campus community, and to catalyze systems that allow for greater solidarity with students of color.”
Clemons, whose family line includes educators well beyond grandparents Helen and Leroy, hopes the fund will make a difference in the lives of aspiring Black teachers.
“I’m hopeful this scholarship will bless the recipient by taking a small portion of the financial burden, so the recipient can focus on the task at hand of furthering their academic career,” she said. “And I’m hopeful my grandparents’ legacy will inspire people to pursue a career in education, and particularly that their legacy will inspire minorities to become educators.”
Clemons herself was inspired by her grandparents, who encouraged her from a young age.
“My grandparents instilled the value of having an education in their children and grandchildren, and all those they interacted with,” she said. “As a child, I can remember conversations I had with my mother and grandparents about where I desired to go to college — not if I wanted to go to college.”
Her grandmother, who had started college before she married Leroy, went back to school in the 1960s while raising five children. She completed a bachelor’s degree, became a teacher, and later added a master’s degree.
“When my Nana passed away in January, I wanted to find a way to turn my pain and grief into purpose and, most importantly, find a way to honor the legacy she and my grandfather left,” Clemons said.
“Establishing a scholarship in their names at the University of Lynchburg was a natural connection because of the impact Lynchburg College had on my grandmother, and the support my grandfather provided to her in pursuing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.”
During Homecoming (Oct. 15-17), a special African American Firsts luncheon will honor Witt and other Black alumni, faculty, and staff, and the University will dedicate the lounge in the Walker Alumni House in Witt’s honor.
“We are very pleased to name the Alumni Lounge the Helen Mundy Witt Room,” Director of Alumni Relations Heather Garnett said. “The room is dedicated to Dr. Helen Mundy Witt for the inspiration she provided to countless generations of African American students who followed in her footsteps.
“Her courage, strength, and determination to pursue a degree from Lynchburg College made her a pioneer and a trailblazer.”
More information about Homecoming is here.
To give to the Dr. Helen Mundy Witt And Mr. Leroy Witt, Sr. Master of Education Scholarship Fund, click here.