Career educator and Sampson County native Katie Morgan, now of Buies Creek, an alumna and longtime supporter of East Carolina University, received a big surprise from the university, thanks to one of her former students.
What she called “the biggest shock of my life,” came during a small private luncheon arranged by a university staffer. Mrs. Morgan said Cynthia Adams, the university’s major gifts officer, invited her and her daughter, Mary Morgan, to eat at the Greenville Country Club.
Also attending was Kennith Whichard and his wife, Coral, of Greenville. Whichard, now a commercial land developer, had been one of Mrs. Morgan’s students in 1954 when she was teaching at Grimesland High School in Pitt County.
“We had the nicest lunch and just laughed and carried on,” Mrs. Morgan said.
Then Ms. Adams casually told her, “’By the way, I have something for you.’”
It was a certificate declaring the establishment of the Katie Earle Owen Morgan Scholarship, which was endowed with a $50,000 gift from the Whichards.
“Tears,” she said, simply, of her initial reaction. “I couldn’t read (the certificate) anymore. I got choked up.”
The benefactors allowed Mrs. Morgan, the wife of former U.S. Sen. Robert Morgan, to establish the criteria for the scholarship. So it will be based on leadership potential and character. And it will go to North Carolina students who are seeking degrees in education.
Mrs. Morgan, the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Calhoun Owen of Roseboro, said her former student “was quite an artist.”
“One day I was up at the blackboard and I thought I had everyone’s attention. I did that teacher walk” through the classroom and discovered that Mr. Whichard was busy drawing. “He was sketching a likeness of me that was in the school yearbook.”
That yearbook, by the way, was dedicated to Mrs. Morgan, who taught five years at that school. After class Mr. Whichard gave her the sketch. After he graduated Mrs. Morgan didn’t see her former student until a class reunion 40 years later. While they did keep in touch after that, she said the scholarship endowment was still a big surprise.
Said Whichard of his former teacher, “Somehow we just hit it off, we were close.”
“I thought about her over all the years like a lot of students do about their teachers,” he added. “Back then I was not the brightest kid in the class, I did have the intelligence; it’s just one of those things, you grow up in the country. She kind of brings you out of things, I guess. … Anybody would have to love her, you know. And my wife just loves her to death.”
This was not the first time Mrs. Morgan has been honored by East Carolina, of which she is a distinguished trustee. In 2007 she was recognized as one of ECU’s “100 Incredible Women. She was inducted into the ECU College of Education Hall of Fame in 2002. She is also a member of Delta Kappa Gamma International Honor Society for Women Educators.
An innovator in the field of education, Mrs. Morgan wrote the project proposal and implemented the first federal program adopted by Harnett County Schools: The Neighborhood Youth Corps in 1966.
In 1976 Mrs. Morgan was honored as North Carolina’s Volunteer of the Year because of her work with the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and for helping to establish the North Carolina Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
She has been appointed to various organizations including the Governor’s Council for Persons with Disabilities, the Governor’s Advocacy Council for Child Abuse, and President’s Committee for Handicapped Persons and the National Special Olympics Committee. She currently serves on the North Carolina Veterinarian Medical Board.
Mrs. Morgan has also been presented the Order of the Longleaf Pine, one of the state’s highest honors.
Still, she once told an interviewer for an ECU publication that, “My greatest accomplishment was involving my daughters, Margaret M. Holmes and Mary Morgan, successful lawyers and mothers, and foster son, Rupert Tart, successful businessman and ECU graduate, in our civic, social and political endeavors throughout the years, which helped instill in them the value of community service.”
She and Sen. Morgan are both lifetime members of the ECU Alumni Association, members of the Chancellor’s Society, among other campus groups.
Mrs. Morgan graduated from Roseboro High School in 1942 before earning her undergraduate degree in French and English from ECU in 1946. Then in 1954 she earned a master’s degree in English, supervision and administration, also from ECU.
Her first teaching assignment was at Dunn High School, where she taught from 1947 to 1949.
Her career also took her to Atkinson High School, Warsaw High School and Fayetteville Senior High, which later became Terry Sanford Senior High School; this is where she was teaching when she and Sen. Morgan married. While at Grimesland High School she also supervised student teachers for ECU. She also taught at what was then LaFayette High School in Harnett County before taking a succession of administrative posts with the Harnett County Board of Education, from which she retired in 1987.