By Kathy Tatlow
The focus of the Summit College Club scholarship program has always been to provide scholarships to young women going off to college. Things have changed over the years, like the amounts awarded, the application, and even who is eligible to receive an award. But the focus is the same.
When College Club started giving scholarships, they could renew a recipient’s scholarship each year as the young woman continued toward a degree. At one point, the highest-ranking boy and girl at Summit High School received awards. Very often, three or four scholarships would be given along with an equal number of awards which were for a much smaller amount. Yet, when parents came to the ceremony they were just as thrilled, it seemed, for their child to be recognized.
When I looked back over some of the historical items and my notes, what struck me as a focal point was the award ceremony. For as long as I can remember, it was always referred to as the “Scholarship Tea.” There were some variations: one year it was a luncheon. In 1974 it was called the Annual Garden Party, and the candidates and their mothers were invited. There was a receiving line, so every member of College Club could meet the girls. Even though it was a garden party, it was very formal, it seems to me.
My first experience of the "Scholarship Tea" was at the home of Mary Tennant. It was in her garden, which was quite beautiful! The roses were blooming, and it was a really lovely ceremony. In 1992, I was on the committee for the first time. That year we switched to giving a long-stemmed rose instead of a corsage to each recipient. I found a note in the files: Each year the Chairman would submit a written report at the end of the year. That year, she wrote that a parent had told her how special the Tea was, that they had no idea how personal and rewarding the afternoon would be, and that it was better than any graduation award ceremony that the high school put on.
In 1995, I became Chairman. There was a long write-up about what I had to do, and the first thing was to set up a time for tea with Mary Tennant to ascertain the amount of her monetary gift for the year. At that point, it wasn't a scholarship. She gave a Creative Arts Award, and she gave the money each year. When I saw that I had to have tea with Mary, I thought “You're kidding!” And I asked, “Seriously, I have to have tea? Can’t I write her a letter or call her?” And they said, “No, it's very important that you have tea with Mary.” (Somehow I think the idea of having tea came from Mary.) And they said, “It’s also a good idea to make sure you have the check in hand before you leave, and to make sure it's signed because she is getting a little forgetful.”
So I called up and set up my date for tea with Mary. She lived in a stately home on Hobart Avenue. I was ushered into the living room, where tea was set up on a table in front of her sofa. Mary came in with her dog. A very large dog. She referred to the dog as Mas, and I've since learned that the dog's full name was Maxene Von Trop, and it was a Weimaraner. I just remember that it was large. We proceeded to have tea, and the dog would look at Mary with its soulful eyes and she would feed it chocolate cookies--while telling me that the dog really shouldn't have chocolate.
We had a lovely tea. I thanked her and said, “Now I need to get the check for the Creative Arts Award.” So we proceeded to the dining room where she found her checkbook. And then we got waylaid, because the dining room was very large, and it had one whole wall filled with pictures. I didn't know much about Mary except that she was a Daughter of the British Empire. But apparently she had been very involved in the arts, and had been an artist, dancer, and playwright. She knew a lot of people in show business. There were pictures of Mary with different theater people, music people -- a lot of famous people. We looked at the pictures together and she relived her whole career and experiences in the arts, which were very important to her. It was the first time I realized why the Creative Arts Award was her focus in the Club.
So I thanked her again for sharing with me her lifetime involvement in the arts. It was really, really interesting and I learned so much. But I before I left I wanted to get the check for the Creative Arts Award. It took a while for her to make out the check. Occasionally Mary would remember another story she wanted to tell me. But I made sure the check was signed, because a couple of years earlier it wasn’t and the chairwoman had to go back to have Mary sign it.
The whole experience changed from “You're kidding, I have to do this?” to a memory I'll always treasure. It was special in many ways because I learned a lot about Mary, and I’d never been to a formal tea with a Daughter of the British Empire. It became clear why she supported a Creative Arts Award. Before she died, Mary set up an endowment and it became the Mary K. Tennant Scholarship. In the beginning, it was given to somebody who was going to be studying the arts in college. Over time -- and I don't know quite how – the arts focus was dropped.
Looking back, we have held the “Scholarship Tea” or awards ceremony in Mary’s garden, St. John’s, and Christ Church. But Lile Hall at Christ Church became a favorite spot. It is such a beautiful space. There is a lovely, big table which was always set with flowers and refreshments. There used to be a crystal punch bowl, but over time it became a plastic one because the crystal was too hard to carry. But I remember there was talk: “Where is the punch bowl?” I'm not sure who has it now but in some years there was punch in the crystal punch bowl. Other times there were pitchers of iced tea or lemonade and cookies; I think things became more casual in some respects.
It always been an occasion where the girls are thrilled to be honored, but it’s the parents who are the happiest. I can remember some years when there would be maybe three or four scholarships, but then there would also be awards given out. The awards were for much smaller amounts of money, but they were received with just as much pride. The parents were thrilled to have their daughters recognized, and in a very special way. It was much more personal than a high school graduation.
When COVID came, we didn’t let that stop us. We went to Zoom for our meetings and all the interviews. It was a real learning experience. Jee-Hoon Krska taught me how to use Zoom, and we all gradually learned. When it came time to actually give out the scholarships, we wanted to do it in person—safely. So we came up with the idea of visiting their homes and giving them the scholarship on their doorstep or in the front yard. As a committee, we went to their homes – it was like a caravan! – with a great big bouquet of flowers. We presented them with a certificate, a check, and the flowers. One of our committee members spoke about their accomplishments. Sometimes there were siblings on hand, sometimes grandparents, sometimes dogs -- and always a lot of pictures.
This year, 2022, was exciting because it was the first Awards Ceremony in two years and we were able to celebrate all together as a Club. You could sense the enthusiasm in the room, not only among the recipients and their families, but also among our members. It always thrills me to see the girls who didn't even know each other, from different schools, chatting and developing friendships. One of the speakers this year was Anna Torrell, a 2021 Scholarship recipient. She spoke about her past year at college. Afterwards Anna thanked me for asking her to give the speech; I said it's so wonderful that she could be here because she received her award at home -- which was nice, but this is a different experience. And she said, “I'm so lucky to have had both, because this was so exciting: to come back and be able to share with the girls.”
The Scholarship Reception is such a special event. It’s the culmination of a year’s intense work by the Scholarship Committee. It is a recognition of exceptional achievement by young women. It is a celebration of the value we place on higher education. It brings Summit College Club into the community in an important and memorable way. For me, it’s one of the most important events of our year—and one of the happiest.