Jewell Palmer's age made her unique, but it was her dream that made her memorable.
Sadly, that dream was never realized.
When Palmer first began taking Adult Education classes at Trinity Valley Community College four years ago, she was one of the oldest students the Athens program had ever had. At 79 years old, she was instantly an inspirational story.
"She is the one that I use as an example when I am telling students that it's never too late," said GED instructor Karol Black. "If she can do it, anyone can do it."
Palmer quit school at age 14 because her soldier husband was being transferred to California, said Black. She promised her mother that she would finish high school, but life got in the way.
More than 65 years later, she still had not forgotten her promise and began taking classes at the college.
"She was always telling jokes," said Black. "She was always coming into class and saying 'If anybody wants to listen, I've got a joke.'"
She attended class for two years, taking special tutoring wherever it was available in order to catch up after decades out of school.
Then, the day came for her to take the GED test. Because of scheduling conflicts, she took the test at another East Texas College. But due to a mix-up, Palmer was given the wrong test.
She would never get to take the right one. Her health was deteriorating and she needed surgery. Earlier this year, she died without earning her GED.
"She said she would get her GED before she died, and then she didn't," said Black. "It was devastating."
Her life may have been over, but her ability to inspire others lives on, said Black. Palmer had an effect on her, she said, and so she began working to start a scholarship in Palmer's honor.
As the staff at the TVCC Adult Education Department began looking into the best way to find a fitting tribute, they talked to Testing Director Gail St. Clair. St. Clair, whose office administers the GED test, said students taking the test often struggle with paying the testing fee.
"The test costs $75," said Bill Carmines, director of adult education for TVCC. "To the population we serve, it's extremely difficult for those people to come up with that kind of money. Many of them are single mothers who have little to no income. They're just trying to make ends meet. They are often trapped in the system and trying to get out. For years there's been a hole there. There's been no one for them to go to for help."
And so the Jewell Palmer Memorial Scholarship was born. The scholarship is designed as a one-time award just to cover the cost of taking the GED test. Students must meet a criteria of need in order to receive the award.
The first award was given earlier this summer to a student who needed the test but simply did not have a way to pay for it. That, said Carmines, is something that would have Palmer smile.
"If your choice is to put food on the table and pay the $75, you're going to put the food on the table," said Carmines. "Now they have an option."
Getting the scholarship started was just the first step, said Black and Carmines. In order for it to continue, the scholarship will need regular funding. Black has been visiting various area civic groups in recent weeks to gather support.
Carmines said because the funds are awarded only $75 at a time, the smallest contribution can really go a long way toward making a difference in a life.
"You are not only making an impact then, but you're making an impact to help them further their educations if they choose to enter college," said Carmines. "If someone wants to better themselves, they've got to do this first, and if $75 is the only thing blocking them that is so sad. Once they get past this hurdle, they're on their way to a better life."
For Black, the scholarship does not lessen the sadness at the loss of a student who died before she could realize her dream. But, said Black, it is good to know that her legacy will live on and help others.
"This is a great way to support the program," said Black. "She would have loved this."
For more information on contributing to the Jewell Palmer Memorial Scholarship, call the TVCC Office of Development at 903-670-2620.