|Oil company creates $50 million scholarship program|
By Jane Dennis*
Feb. 1, 2007
EL DORADO, Ark. (UMNS) - United Methodist students attending an
Arkansas high school are among recipients of a serendipitous gift of
hope from an oil company.
| Claiborne Deming
El Dorado-based Murphy Oil Corp. announced Jan. 22 that it has
established a $50 million college scholarship program for nearly all of
the town's high school graduates over the next 20 years.
"This is a gift of a future for our area youth," said the Rev. Jim
Polk, pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Dorado. "Everyone
here is ecstatic. We really didn't in any way see it coming. We're just
dumbfounded. It's truly a great gift."
Murphy Oil is putting up $5 million a year for 10 years to fund The
El Dorado Promise, which is expected to continue for at least 20 years.
Students can use the scholarship money at an Arkansas institution or any
out-of-state college. But the annual scholarships are capped at the
highest resident tuition rate at an Arkansas public university, which is
currently about $6,000.
Students who attended school in El Dorado since kindergarten are
eligible for the full amount, while students who attended for all four
years of high school can get 65 percent. Those who have been in the
district for less than four years are ineligible.
The program begins with this spring's graduating class of about 250 at El Dorado High School.
First Church impact
About 30 of the 40 teenagers active in the youth program at First
United Methodist attend El Dorado High School and are expected to
benefit from the scholarship program.
"We had kept it a pretty tight secret," said Claiborne Deming, Murphy
Oil's president and chief executive, who is also a member of First
United Methodist. "It was a surprise, and the response has been really
extraordinary and wonderful. We've seen a gush of tears, awe and joy."
| The Rev. Jim Polk
The oil company's board of directors was seeking a way to "make a
significant impact on El Dorado, Murphy's home," Deming explained. Board
members agreed that the scholarship program would provide "the biggest
bang for the buck and will impact many young people's lives."
The company is also counting on the residual effects to include
attracting new businesses to El Dorado and creating better jobs for
students who return after graduating from college.
At an assembly announcing the program, school Superintendent Bob
Watson called the program "life changing" for students who have worked
hard but could not have attended college because of financial
"We know it's such a challenge to pay for college these days, and so
many families struggle with that. We wanted to make college a reality
for children in El Dorado" and "lift the burden off the shoulders" of
families, Deming said.
"It's a clear sign of a way forward for Arkansas education in general
and our students in El Dorado specifically," Polk said. "The great
thing is it's for everybody, no strings attached. It's not based on
grade performance, it's not a needs-based program. … It's just saying
you go through school, and we want to make sure you have a chance for a
Amazement and gratitude
The first reaction by most people has been amazement, Polk said.
"Then, almost in the next breath, we recognize what a generous offer,
what a blessing this is, and how thankful we are that there are people
who genuinely want to help the community and help others."
El Dorado's population is about 21,000. It is about 120 miles south
of Little Rock in Arkansas' oil-and-gas producing region. The town is
part of Union County, where the per-capita income is less than $32,000,
and fewer than 15 percent of county residents have college diplomas.
Murphy Oil last year was ranked 193rd on Fortune magazine's list of
the nation's largest companies, with revenue of $11.9 billion. It is a
major supplier of gasoline stations at Wal-Mart stores and Sam's Clubs.
"There's gratitude everywhere for this gift," Polk said, "and a real
sense of hope that this will make a huge impact on our area."
*Dennis is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the Arkansas Conference.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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