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Annual gala celebrates raising more than $6 million for student scholarships

Annual gala celebrates raising more than $6 million for student scholarships
Dr. Bonita Jacobs, UNG president, and Mary Helen McGruder, UNG Foundation chairwoman, hold a check representing the more than $6 million in student scholarships awarded by the UNG Foundation at the sixth annual Scholarship Gala on March 23.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) celebrated its sixth annual Scholarship Gala on March 23 at the Forsyth Conference Center in Cumming, Georgia.

The gala originated in 2013 with proceeds raised throughout the year providing scholarships for deserving students entering or attending UNG. 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. Bonita Jacobs, UNG president, thanked attendees for their support. "Every single one of you have done yeoman's work to help our students, and I cannot begin to thank you enough for your continued generosity and support," she said. "I assure you, our students are worth it. Our compass is set on a clear course with the focus on continued student success."

Scholarship support for students has been a focus for Jacobs since her inauguration in 2013, during which the first Scholarship Gala was held. The UNG Foundation has awarded more than $6 million in student scholarships from January 1, 2013, to June 30, 2017.

"Student scholarships are our No. 1 fundraising priority at UNG," said Jeff Tarnowski, vice president for University Advancement. "The Scholarship Gala provides an opportunity each year to highlight the importance and profound impact of scholarship grants for our students. The added visibility from this event has enabled us to raise more money each year to support our students, and for that we are truly grateful."

The gala also included the presentation of the Summit and Presidential Leadership awards.

During the event, Jacobs presented the 2018 Presidential Leadership Award to John and Mary Helen McGruder of Cumming. The award, established in 2010, recognizes those who have made a significant, positive impact in the life and advancement of the university. Nick Massengill, treasurer of the UNG Foundation Board of Trustees, introduced the award.

"For John and Mary Helen, community leadership is not about 'giving back' out of a sense of obligation," Massengill said. "Rather, it is part of their DNA and is simply indicative of their commitment to serve others and to make their community stronger."

Mary Helen McGruder is an alumna of UNG and chairwoman of the UNG Foundation. She served on the UNG Consolidation Implementation Committee, which led the institution-wide consolidation process in 2012. She also has led the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, the Forsyth County Library Board of Trustees and the Sawnee Mountain Foundation.

Dr. John P. McGruder is a doctor of veterinary medicine and founder of Crestview Animal Hospital; serves as a director of the Citizens Bank of Forsyth County; and serves on the building committee of the Cumming First United Methodist Church.

Previous winners of the Presidential Leadership Award are: George Coleman, Mike Cottrell, former Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, retired Lt. Gen. Randy Mixon, Lessie Smithgall, Paul Stringer, and retired Lt. Gen. James L. Terry.

The Summit Award was established in 2016 and recognizes an individual, family or organization for significant contributions to scholarships at UNG over an extended period. It was presented to former president and first lady of UNG, Nathaniel "Nat" Hansford and Frances Fincher Hansford. Dr. Linda Roberts-Betsch, retired vice president, UNG academic affairs, introduced the award.

"Nat and Frances Hansford's dedication to scholarship support for nearly 20 years has had a lasting impact on the lives of many deserving and talented students," Roberts-Betsch said. "With over $400,000 in philanthropic gifts, their donations will continue to cultivate the next generation of leaders in north Georgia and around the globe for many years to come."

The Hansfords served at UNG from 1999 to 2005, a period marked by significant construction projects, including the Health & Natural Sciences Building, John H. Owen Residence Hall and a new plant operations building, as well as securing state funding for the Library Technology Center built in 2008. During Hansford's tenure, UNG expanded the Corps of Cadets and solidified the university's leadership initiative and its role as a state leadership institution.

Frances Fincher Hansford was instrumental in building relationships in the university and with the broader community. Since their retirement, the Hansfords have remained active members of the UNG family, and their philanthropy has been both impactful and exemplary.

Previous recipients of the Summit Award are the Pennington family, in honor of Brooks Pennington Jr. in 2016, and Bob and Wanda Swoszowski in 2017.

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