Late laundry lady’s gift inspires $3.1M donation to USM from Army retiree

Published 9:34 pm Monday, April 5, 2021

The University of Southern Mississippi has received $2.9 million from the estate of a man first inspired to donate by a laundress who gave the school money for scholarships.

The gift will create scholarships for students in need because retired Chief Warrant Officer Lamar W. Powell wanted people “to get an education, strive for the top, save all you can save, and give back when you can,” a news release said. It said the bequest brings Powell’s gifts to the school to $3.1 million.

Powell also left money to South Carolina State University, the statement said.

He grew up on a farm outside Liberty, Mississippi, enlisting in the Civilian Conservation Corps after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, and then in the Army.

Throughout his career, he took correspondence business courses from the University of Chicago and used what he learned to invest. After 23 years in the Army, he worked for the State Department.

His first donation to USM came after he learned about Oseola McCarty, who invested what she earned by hand=washing laundry and gave the school $150,000 in 1995 to use for scholarships.

Powell learned about McCarty’s gift during a trip home for a family reunion, the news release said. “Powell called the USM Foundation soon after returning home, and a few weeks later, a check arrived for $30,000,” it said.

He died Dec. 30, 2015, at the age of 97, making Southern Missississippi and South Carolina State University the remainder beneficiaries of his trust.

The university said the Lamar W. Powell Scholarship Endowment eventually will provide scholarships for 80 students a year. The first group of freshmen will begin this fall.

Each will get a four-year scholarship to include an early-start curriculum called the JUMP program.

Stace Mercier, executive director of the USM Foundation, called Powell’s generosity astounding.

“To learn how Ms. McCarty inspired him is such a beautiful story,” Mercier said. “These were two individuals who never attended Southern Miss, yet were so passionate about contributing to its mission.”