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Bennie and Shirley Smith establish scholarship fund at UMES

August 13, 2017
Shown are (l-r) Shirley Smith, Bennie Smith, UMES President Juliette B. Bell and Bennie Smith Funeral Home Executive Administrative Assistant Cynthia Williams. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Bennie and Shirley Smith Endowed Scholarship Fund is being created at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to provide need-based scholarships to deserving students. The pledge by the owners and operators of Bennie Smith Funeral Home Inc. is the most recent in a series of philanthropic gestures the couple and their business have made over the past two decades in support of university projects and students.

The Smiths hosted a holiday fundraising reception in December 2016 with over 700 guests who were invited to make contributions to UMES and Delaware State University. The guests' contributions were matched by the Smiths, who then went a step further and decided to establish scholarship funds at both universities, pledging $100,000 to each campus.

"We commit to supporting UMES students because we believe in the mission of the university, the impact it has on our region, and we want to do our part to help students graduate with their peers," said Bennie Smith.

Distribution of financial aid generated by the endowment could begin as soon as the 2019-20 academic year. Once the university has established criteria and is ready to award the money, undergraduates from all majors will be eligible, said a UMES spokeswoman.

UMES President Dr. Juliette B. Bell said she is most grateful to the Smiths for their generous pledge. "The endowed scholarship fund will greatly assist students with needed financial support," said Bell. "The Smiths want to see our students complete their degrees and become leaders in their chosen fields, just as they themselves have been."

Beyond their geographic proximity on the Delmarva Peninsula, UMES (1886) and Delaware State (1891) are both historically black land-grant universities and members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The Smiths have 13 funeral homes serving Delmarva, from Wilmington to Exmore, Va., including one in Princess Anne, Md.