Honorary co-chairs of this year's event were Georgia's First Lady Sandra Deal and Dr. John and Mrs. Jane Hemmer, both university alumni.
Scholarship support for students has been a focus for UNG President Bonita C. Jacobs since her inauguration in 2013, which was celebrated with the first Scholarship Gala; the UNG Foundation has raised a total of $7,633,562 since 2012."Scholarships are essential for many students and one of my top priorities," Jacobs said. "Our alumni and community partners have responded with remarkable generosity and contributions that are truly life-changing for our students. … That support helps our students realize their full potential, which helps them become successful leaders."
Most UNG students receive some type of financial aid, from scholarships and grants to student loans, and the need for scholarships continues to rise.
Dr. Richard Oates, vice president of UNG's Gainesville Campus, noted 2017 marks the 50th year since the first graduates of then-Gainesville Junior College.
"Few of us could have imagined the growth this community would experience over the next 50 years to become a regional hub for business, healthcare and education," Oates said. "Today, a part of the University of North Georgia, the Gainesville Campus serves more than 7,700 students and offers associate, bachelor's and graduate degrees and professional certificates in a wide range of programs to help meet the workforce needs of the region and the education goals of our students."
Lessie Smithgall, seated, was the recipient of this year’s UNG Presidential Leadership Award. Pictured, from left, are Dr. Richard Oates, vice president of UNG’s Gainesville Campus; Dr. Martha Nesbitt, former president of Gainesville State College and husband Pete; UNG President Bonita Jacobs; Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal; First Lady Sandra Deal, honorary co-chair of the event; Mrs. Jane Hemmer, honorary co-chair of the event; Bob and Wanda Swoszowski, recipients of the UNG Summit Award; and Dr. John Hemmer, honorary co-chair of the event.
During the event, Jacobs presented the 2017 Presidential Leadership Award to Lessie Smithgall of Gainesville; Mrs. Deal introduced the award.
"The Presidential Leadership Award is reserved for those who have made an extraordinary mark on the lives of those at UNG and within its communities. Lessie Smithgall, this year's honoree, has done just that. Lessie personifies this award through her exemplary life accomplishments, her good works for the people of our community, and her boundless spirit," Deal said. "Lessie and her late husband, Charles, have left an enduring mark on our region through media, art and philanthropy. For UNG and its students, their legacy can particularly be felt through the Gainesville Theatre Alliance. With their invaluable support, this nationally acclaimed program has enriched our lives and the community."
The Smithgalls met and worked together in broadcasting in Atlanta before moving to Gainesville to buy a radio station and weekly newspaper; in 1947, the couple founded a daily newspaper in Gainesville that eventually became The Times. Their support includes donating land for both the Gainesville campus of the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Smithgall Woods Conservation Area in Helen.
Previous winners of the Presidential Leadership Award are retired Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, Mike Cottrell, Paul Stringer, George Coleman, Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, and retired Gen. Randy Mixon.
The Summit Award, which recognizes significant contributions to scholarships at UNG over an extended period of time, was presented to Bob and Wanda Swoszowski. Their support of scholarships at UNG spans more than 35 years in support of educational achievement and excellence. In addition to UNG, the couple have supported more than 30 non-profit organizations throughout the region through financial contributions and service to more than 15 boards and committees; the couple was recognized by the North Georgia Community Foundation as its 2015 Philanthropists of the Year.
With more than 18,000 students on five campuses, UNG is one of the largest public universities in Georgia. As one of only six senior military colleges in the country, UNG holds unique designations as The Military College of Georgia and a state leadership institution. UNG offers more than 100 programs of study ranging from associate degrees to graduate programs.
Editor's note: This story was edited on March 28, 2017, to correct that the amount referenced above represents the total of funds raised by the UNG Foundation since 2012, not the amount awarded.