Mildred Lynch Ellison and Dixie Sharp Pugh Memorial Scholarship honors love for grandmothers
When Tennessee Tech alumni Greta Day, `99 accounting, and Robert Pugh, `99 history, decided to establish a scholarship at their alma mater, they knew they wanted to name it in memory of two of the most important people in their lives: their grandmothers.
Day says her grandmother, Mildred Lynch Ellison, was an honest, dependable, thrifty Christian woman.
“She was funny and feisty and headstrong until the very end,” Day said. “I tell people all the time that I inherited my lead foot along with my sense of duty and capability from my Mamaw. She didn’t have a lot of money, so she had to be resourceful. She really shaped a lot of who I am, and I learned so many life skills from her. She gave me a sense of confidence that I’m capable of doing anything.”
Pugh says he too learned a sense of duty, work and sacrifice from his grandmother, Dixie Sharp Pugh. His grandmother lived on a farm and worked as a rural mail carrier for the post office.
“It was not an easy life,” Pugh said. “Money was tight, so my grandma worked a lot. Most days she’d leave by 4 or 5 a.m. to get the mail and start her route. She worked however long it took to do the job. I learned from my grandma that you sacrifice and work for the things that are important to you.”
While Day and Pugh attended Tech at the same time, were in the same honor society, knew a lot of the same people and both graduated in 1999, they didn’t actually meet until years later when they were living in Peoria, Illinois. Their conversations shifted when they realized they both attended Tennessee Tech.
“Tech brought us together without bringing us together,” Day joked.
While Day and Pugh received scholarships at Tech, it was not enough to cover all of their expenses. Day worked 40 hours every week throughout her last three years of college, and Pugh delivered pizza from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. several days each week.
“I didn’t exactly grow up in a financially-stable environment,” Day said. “If it hadn’t been for the financial assistance I received, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college. Or, I’d like to think I still would have gone, but it would have been a lot harder and taken me a lot longer.”
Day and Pugh credit their grandmothers’ encouragement and an education from Tech for their career success. Day is a senior income tax manager with Deloitte Tax LLP, and Pugh is the vice president and trust officer for Argent Financial Group.
“I remember so many of my professors and advisors making the time to talk with me,” Pugh said. “Everyone took the time to get to know you. Everyone cared about everyone, and everyone wanted to make a difference. There are a lot of schools that don’t provide nearly the quality of education that Tech provides, and they cost a lot more money. Tech is a great institution.”
Day added, “My education at Tech gave me the background and tools I needed to be successful. I was well-prepared with the basics, and that helped springboard me into other things. Tech — and Cookeville in general — was a great place for me to spread my wings. It wasn’t too overwhelming for someone from a small town. I loved everything about Tech — my entire experience there. I am really appreciative for the life I have, and it all started with Tech.”
The Mildred Lynch Ellison and Dixie Sharp Pugh Memorial Scholarship is awarded to incoming freshmen in any major. The only requirement is that the student must have financial need.
“I personally have always felt like an underdog, so I’m always rooting for the underdog,” Day said. “I want students who may not have the financial means their peers have to know that we are rooting for them. Tech did that for me, so maybe I can do that for somebody else. It’s paying it forward.”
Pugh added, “Higher education is expensive. The decisions students and families have to make are stressful. We hope in some small way that this scholarship relieves a burden and a little bit of stress. This scholarship gives an opportunity to get a great education at a great school — it’s an opportunity that someone might not otherwise have. My advice for the students who receive the scholarship is this: If things are rough, stick with it. It will get better. Don’t give up. What you are doing is worth it.”
Dixie Sharp Pugh passed away in 2013 and Mildred Lynch Ellison in 2015, but Pugh and Day know their memories will live on through this scholarship.
“We want to honor them because they had such an influence on our lives,” Day said. “My grandmother was always amazed at the big dreams I had, but it was thanks to her that I could have those big dreams. I think if she knew that I established this scholarship for her, it would blow her mind. She would be so proud.”