Morris H. Willey Memorial Scholarship Supports Aspiring Mathematicians, Scientists
For nearly 40 years, the Frostburg community was lucky enough to know Morris H. Willey, a long-time educator and colleague at Frostburg State University who fused his passion for knowledge with his easy ability to form lasting friendships and change people’s lives.
Jay Hegeman, FSU’s registrar and assistant vice president for Student & Educational Services, probably knows this better than most–in addition to living in the same hall during college (he and Morris graduated from Frostburg) Jay also shared an office with Morris for many years, with only a bookshelf dividing the space in half, and was one of Morris’ closest friends.
“Neither of us had any personal secrets during those years,” Jay laughed.
During their time in college, Morris “complained about not getting his homework done but no one seemed to care. His room was generally packed every night until early morning,” Jay remembers. A member of Alpha Delta Chi fraternity, Morris was often the center of parties, road trips, “the usual college crazy stuff.”
It was his amiable personality that later made it easy for students to approach Morris when they were having problems learning in their classes. After completing a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Education in mathematics in the early 1970s, Morris stayed on at Frostburg to fill various teaching assignments, including serving as an orientation and mathematics instructor, a math/science instructor for Upward Bound and a math tutor and instructor. In November 1976 he was hired as an academic counselor, a position that paved the way for his promotion to director of Programs for Academic Support & Studies (1980) and University registrar (1996), a position he held until his battle with an aggressive brain tumor prevented further work. He passed away in June 2008.
“Morris helped many, many students to complete their math requirements at FSU due to his patience and understanding of how each one of them approached problems differently,” Jay said. “He was a master of helping students find a personal approach to math.”
A Familial Love of Learning
Not surprisingly, Morris’ passion for learning was shared not only with his students, but also with his beloved daughters: Tara, 34; Lindsay, 31; Madison, 14; and Blair, 11. This love of learning spilled over into a deep love for his family.
“Growing up, he was always playing math games with us–teaching us about adding, subtracting, multiplication by using blocks or weights,” Tara said. “When I was a teenager, he was incredibly patient as I struggled with trig and calculus. Even as I was working on my master’s he was helping me with statistics.”
Math and science were the subjects Morris loved the most. “When we were little, he was always working to grow our ‘mathematical minds,’ and as adults, he was always ready to delve into a discussion of logic,” Lindsay said.
When he had time, Morris loved being outdoors–skiing, riding motorcycles, running, gardening. He met and married his wife, Vicki, at the Deep Creek Yacht Club, where they both enjoyed sailing and racing their Flying Scot together nearly every weekend. He ended up becoming a member of the board of directors of the Racing Association and of the Deerhaven Yacht Club. He was proud of his vegetable garden and made his own maple syrup at a sugar camp.
“He really enjoyed being outside and enjoyed nature. He was interested in learning as much as he could about the world around him–and he passed that on to us,” Tara said. Today she is doing graduate work in stream ecology at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Lindsay works as a sommelière for a group of restaurants in Baltimore.
“I always enjoy visiting Frostburg,” Lindsay said. “It’s a short peaceful drive from Baltimore and I appreciate the pristine landscape and more relaxed pace.”
Adding it Up
After their father passed away, Tara and Lindsay realized they needed to do something to embody Morris’ life and everything he gave to others.
“He really cared about education and wanted to help students make the most of theirs. He was particularly interested in helping students who had obstacles to overcome,” Tara said. “We thought a scholarship was a way to continue helping students even in his absence.”
Together with Morris’ wife, Vicki, they established the Morris H. Willey Memorial Scholarship for undergraduates in FSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with a preference for students majoring in math and/or science.
“He dedicated so much of his time and energy to the students of FSU, finding ways to help them with a multitude of issues–we really wanted that compassion to live on,” Lindsay said.
“We would like to see the endowment reach $20,000,” Tara said. “As a full-time student, I know how expensive school is firsthand–and the costs keep growing. So it would be nice to make a bigger contribution to students in need. We would also like to evolve the criteria for the scholarship to include first-generation college students and perhaps incorporate a community service or tutoring component.
"One of the key things about Dad was that he valued people for what they are–not because they were rich, smart or pretty or whatever. And he saw their potential and tried to help them achieve it. So I would be really happy if this scholarship could help students in the same sort of way–not necessarily the students who have achieved straight A’s and have lots of family support, but those students who need a little nudge to be their best and achieve their goals.
“Dad was far from perfect, but that’s part of what made him so likable–and he was the first to laugh at himself. … We are doing this as a way to remember him–to give others a means to remember him–and by remembering him, help to continue some of the good he would be doing.”
Lindsay agrees. “Dad valued and enjoyed education–he was like a sponge, soaking up every experience,” she said. “Working at Frostburg put him in contact with so many different people and I know he really loved that. In some way I hope this scholarship does what he tried to do–help students focus on and enjoy their education.”
The FSU Foundation has embarked on a $15 million comprehensive campaign, Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg, to raise badly needed funding for higher education in Western Maryland. Donations to the Foundation support student scholarships and programs, academic programs, faculty development and other critical University needs. For more information about supporting FSU, visit www.frostburg.edu/admin/foundation or call 301-687-4161.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 13 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu.