Mississippi’s Ben and Erin Napier headline scholarship fundraiser

Published 7:00 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

Television personality Erin Napier, co-host of HGTV’s “Home Town,” is known for the watercolors of houses she and her woodworking husband Ben renovate for new homeowners in the Laurel area.

She credits one of Mississippi College’s most famous graduates for nurturing her artistic talent, which has helped fuel six seasons of the popular television series.

“Mississippi has such a rich arts heritage,” Napier said, “and MC gets to claim one of our state’s greatest modern painters, Wyatt Waters. I got to take his workshop in Clinton years ago, before ‘Home Town,’ and have never forgotten those lessons he taught.”

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Erin will return to Clinton with Ben on Tuesday, April 4, to headline the Mississippi College Spring Scholarship Banquet at 6 p.m. in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center. Tickets are available for the Office of Giving and Development-sponsored dinner, the largest fundraising event at the Christian University.

“We are excited to speak at MC and see the campus,” Erin said, “and to learn more about their arts programs.”

Audiences rave about the Napiers’ skillful artistry, unabashed Southern friendliness, and deeply rooted Christian values. MC alum Anthony Thaxton, who designed the artwork for MC’s Scholarship Banquet, said the couple embodies the warmth and hospitality found in the Magnolia State.

“You can’t find two better ambassadors for Mississippi than Erin and Ben,” Thaxton said. “They have faith in roots and roots in faith, and this permeates everything they do in a positive way. Ben served as a youth minister for some time, with Erin helping on trips and youth events.

“I believe their influence – and their courage to live and freely express their faith – is reaching more people for God now than they would have been able to do as youth leaders.”

MC’s Scholarship Banquet has featured well-known individuals from across the spectrum of politics and entertainment, including Reba McEntire, Drew Brees, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Bob Dole, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Chuck Hagel, and Condoleezza Rice.

Katrina Pace, executive director of the MC Foundation, said the ‘Home Town’ duo brings a sense of comfortable familiarity to their celebrity.

“The Napiers are examples of people who had opportunities to establish their careers at other places around the country, but they stayed in Mississippi to make that happen,” Pace said. “They have shown a lot of love and care for their state.

“That’s an important message for our students, to see people who have remained here and thrived in such a big way with their careers. We’re excited to hear their message.”

During their visit to MC, the Napiers will give a small presentation and host a question-and-answer session for students.

“It will be good for our students to spend some time with the Napiers, who can give them wise counsel on how to start their careers,” Pace said.

Proceeds from the MC Scholarship Banquet will benefit scholarship recipients at the Christian University. Since its inception in 2008, the banquet has raised more than $4 million to assist students like Mason Kennedy, a junior biology: medical sciences major from Mendenhall.

“If it weren’t for the scholarships I received, I would not be at MC today,” said Kennedy, who receives the Salutatorian Scholarship, the Presidential Scholar with Distinction Scholarship, and the Eminent Scholars Grant. “As someone who plans to go to medical school, I wanted to minimize debt throughout my time as an undergraduate. I competed for scholarships at universities throughout the state, and I’m thankful for the scholarship program at MC.

“Scholarships provide students the ability to pursue their dreams in a Christian environment. Because Mississippi College is a private institution, scholarships help make MC affordable for amazing students who otherwise might never consider coming here.”

Kennedy said the scholarship program at MC has contributed to his undergraduate experience.

“The scholarship program is a direct representation of what Mississippi College is. The program is what got me here, and the experience I’ve had at MC has kept me here. I have found the most nurturing and generous people at MC.

“The lack of student loans and debt has allowed me to freely get involved at MC and serve my fellow students, which I have thoroughly enjoyed.”

Slade Haney, a freshman biology premed major from Piedmont, Alabama, said the scholarship program at MC has allowed him to pursue his dual dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist and playing collegiate baseball.

“I was very fortunate to receive baseball offers at other universities, but when I received the prestigious Trustee Scholarship at MC, it was clear to me that this was where the Lord wanted me to be,” said Haney, a Select Scholar. “I committed to playing baseball at MC within the hour. I have been able to pursue more of my passions without a heavy financial burden.

“I am so grateful for the scholarship program at MC because it provides a world-class education and amazing opportunities.”

He said the program yields dividends long after students complete their degree programs.

“By supporting the scholarship program at MC, you are not only benefiting students during their time on campus, but you are also helping broaden their paths to success in the future. Without it, I would never have been able to make the wonderful relationships with both students and faculty that I will take with me throughout my life.”

This fall, the first recipients of the Leland Speed Scholarship – full-tuition scholarships for admitted high school or undergraduate transfer students who are residents of Mississippi and live on campus – will enter Mississippi College. That generous gift from the family of the longest-serving board member in MC’s history has clarified how proceeds from the MC Scholarship Banquet are used to assist students.

“The Speed Scholarship is a wonderful opportunity, but it applies only to Mississippi residents, and it only covers the cost of tuition,” Pace said. “Scholarship Banquet funds may be used to cover additional costs, including room and board for in-state students and scholarships for out-of-state students.”

MC President Blake Thompson will welcome the audience and introduce the Napiers. Television journalist Maggie Wade, who received her B.S. in business administration from MC in 2020, will serve as moderator, presenting questions to the Napiers submitted by audience members.

President Thompson will announce the Institute for Southern Storytelling at Mississippi College, located in the new Samuel Gore Arts Complex, and its co-founders, restaurateur Robert St. John and filmmaker Anthony Thaxton.

“Erin and Ben both are great designers and all-around creative folk,” said Thaxton, who coproduced a documentary with Robert St. John, “Walter Anderson: The Extraordinary Life and Art of the Islander,” that won a pair of Southeast Emmy Awards. “I love Erin’s use of art in ‘Home Town’ – not only her watercolors, but the way she has introduced Walter Anderson to a whole new audience by featuring his prints on their show.

”As an MC alum, it means so much to me for them to come here and raise funds for the University. Their kind interactions with viewers and visitors are the same as their interactions behind the scenes with the crew and homeowners. What you see is what you get. I think they’ll love MC and will fit right in.”

Pace hopes banquet attendees will enjoy the evening with the Napiers, but wants them to feel even better about supporting Mississippi College students.

“Our students are always at the forefront of everything we do as a University,” she said. “The purpose of the banquet is to help them advance in their education and their experience here.

“Of course, getting to know the Napiers and what they’ve done for our state will be great. It’s always fun to spend time with celebrities, have the opportunity to ask them questions, and discover something about them you didn’t know before.”

Tickets cost $300 each, and table sponsorships are available. To purchase tickets or for more information about table sponsorships, click here.