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April 17, 2024 4:50 am

University of Mount Olive students benefit from Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarships

Photo ID 0897 - (L-R) Back Row: UMO President Dr. H. Edward Croom, Natalyah Wilson of Charlotte, NC; Hannah Hoyle of Grover, NC; Dasha Pantoja Douglas of Goldsboro, NC; Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation Senior Program Officer Carrie Davis Conway; Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation Trustee Lyons Gray; Alexis Barnes of Garland, NC; Tiffani Davis of Elizabeth City, NC; Celine Fleurilus of Pt Charlotte, FL; Kaitlin Kenan of Chinquapin, NC; Jeniya Smith of Hartsville, SC; Tristan Ennis of Dunn, NC; and Abigail Ramski of Mount Olive, NC. Front Row: Amber Nealy of Fayetteville, NC; Emily Sierra-Uriostegu of Benson, NC; Lauren McLamb of Four Oaks, NC; Sara Lopez of Mount Olive, NC; Rileigh Kucera of Fort Pierce, FL; Elizabeth Black of Green Sea, SC; and Rena Williams of Dudley, NC. Not pictured were: NaRyah Gore of Richlands, NC and Kira Narron of Selma, NC.

About UMO Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholars

Since the 2018-19 academic year, the University of Mount Olive (UMO) has been receiving support from the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation to fund scholarships for Christian women.  Over 60 UMO female students have benefited from the fund since its inception, and there are currently 25 UMO Lettie Pate Whitehead scholars for this academic year.  The University receives approximately $90,000 annually to assist these young women with their scholastic endeavors.  The students hail from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida.  They represent a variety of majors including education, agribusiness, recreation and leisure studies, veterinary bioscience, psychology, and nursing.  

During a recent reception to celebrate the scholarship recipients, Senior Program Officer Carrie Davis Conway and Trustee Lyons Gray spoke about the history of the fund.  Two scholarship recipients also spoke about what the funding has meant to them.

Brief History of the Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship Program

Born in 1872 Lettie Pate was no stranger to adversity and tragedy.  When she was just 13 years old, her father died unexpectedly creating a situation where Pate and her siblings had to be “farmed out” and raised by local relatives.  At the age of 22, Pate married Joseph Brown Whitehead, a young attorney from Mississippi.  They settled in Chattanooga, TN and had two sons, Joseph Brown Whitehead Jr. and Conkey Pate Whitehead.  In 1899, Joseph purchased exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola to most of the United States. Once again, tragedy struck and Joseph died of pneumonia at the age of 42 leaving Lettie to raise their sons who were ages 11 and 8 at the time.  

Mrs. Whitehead took over her husband’s business ventures.  She established the Whitehead Holding Company and the Whitehead Reality Company to manage the family’s assets.  She became the first women in US history to sit on the board of a major corporation – Coca-Cola Company.

Both of the Whitehead sons died in their early 40s.  In his will, the youngest son, Conkey, provided for the creation of the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation in his mother’s honor. 

Having lost her father, husband, and sons, Mrs. Whitehead understood adversity. “She was known as someone who had a real heart for people,” said Conway. “She had empathy for people who had suffered misfortune, or just needed a helping hand.  She became a really serious philanthropist and was very passionate about education and its power to transform lives.” 

According to Conway there are currently 194 schools located in the southern US who receive support from the Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship program with over 12,000 females benefitting each year.  

Words of Appreciation from the Scholars

“I’m truly grateful for such a blessing of this scholarship that is helping to provide a way for me to obtain a degree in biomedical science and make a difference in the healthcare field,” said Celine Fleurilus of Pt Charlotte, FL.  

Kaitlyn Kenan, a first generation college student, from Chinquapin, NC, said she left high school during her junior year to give birth to her daughter.  A young mother, who wanted more for herself and her family, Kenan had a desire to return to school, but lacked the funds to do so.  

“This scholarship fund played a huge role in my decision to return to school,” she said.  “As a first generation college student, I am hopeful that this scholarship will pave the way to a better life not only for me, but also for my daughter and the multiple generations that will hopefully follow.”  Ward is on track to earn her degree in healthcare management.  

Closing Comments from UMO President H. Edward Croom

“Every one of us has had a bump in the road at some point in our lives, but we should never let that stop us from working hard to achieve our dreams,” said UMO President Dr. H. Edward Croom. “The Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship Fund is a mechanism that is providing the opportunity for each of you to follow your dreams.  I am proud of you and very appreciative of the Foundation for their support of the University of Mount Olive and our students.”  

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University was founded by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists. For more information, visit