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Martha Callahan Grigsby is a woman always on the move. Her lifelong curiosity is expressed through her many interests and involvements – from a patron of the arts to helping people who grew up like she did obtain a college education. Martha is very candid about the people who had tremendous influence in her life.
Raised by her mother who worked in a textile mill in Piedmont, South Carolina, Martha knows the challenges many first-generation students face as they try to find funds to attend college and better their lives.
A good student in high school, Martha's teachers, especially her history teacher, Mrs. Parniece Brown Allen, recognized her abilities and wanted to see her reach her full potential. Mrs. Allen knew that meant she had to find a way to get Martha to college.
"Mrs. Allen pulled me aside my senior year to ask what I planned to do after graduation," said Martha. "She knew I didn't have the money for college but told me she had an application for Winthrop College on her desk and instructed me to complete it. I started to make a fuss, but one look from Mrs. Allen and I did what she asked. Mrs. Allen mailed my application and the following Saturday I took the South Carolina Entrance Exam at Clemson (there were no SAT tests in South Carolina at that time). When I received my acceptance letter from Winthrop I told Mrs. Allen I didn't have the money to go, but she told me, 'If I can get you there, Winthrop will keep you.'"
Martha was still concerned about money until again Mrs. Allen stepped in. "One day Mrs. Allen and the pastor of our church came to my house and handed me an envelope filled with the money I needed to pay for everything for one semester," said Martha. Martha recounted this story during the eulogy she delivered at Mrs. Allen's funeral in 2014. "Mrs. Allen literally strong-armed our entire church congregation to get me to college," said Martha with a smile during her eulogy. "She had more faith in me than I think I had in myself." She also said, "What I know is that it is not so rare to meet people who influence your life, but very rare to meet those who change your life. Mrs. Allen changed mine forever."
Another strong influence in her life was Mrs. Jean Richard Roddey, who was her supervisor and mentor throughout her days at Winthrop. Mrs. Roddey helped Martha get the coveted "Dining Room Scholarship" that paid for tuition, room and board and everything Martha needed to stay in school.
"Mrs. Roddey also hired me to work in her office," said Martha. "She was a 'shepherd' to the girls like me who worked in the dining room. She was such a strong advocate for those of us who needed financial help."
Martha graduated from Winthrop with a B.A. degree in Spanish in 1963. She pursued graduate study at the Monterrey Technical Institute in Mexico and later the University of South Carolina where she graduated in 1976 with a master's degree in Higher Education Administration/Student Personnel Services.
Martha feels Winthrop College, being an all-female institution during her college years, made her class especially close and cohesive. While attending her 45th reunion, she and her classmates decided that they would spend the next five years raising money for a need-based scholarship to be presented at their 50th reunion. The class, who celebrated their 50th reunion in 2013, exceeded their financial goal for the scholarship and have seen several students benefit from their gift.
Prior to obtaining her master's degree, Martha taught for almost 10 years in the public schools in Laurens, Greenville, Atlanta and Durham. In the mid-1980s she accepted a position with Midlands Technical College in Columbia and served in numerous positions including Director of Student Life, Director of Community Relations and Vice-President of Development. It was at Midlands Technical College that she met and married Robert L. Grigsby who served as President of the College for 20 years.
Grigsby was a Clemson graduate who earned a B.S. degree in Vocational Agriculture in 1947. Martha described her late husband as a very humble man who loved Clemson and education.
Martha reflected on her childhood and her lifelong connection to Clemson. "We were poor, but along with many people, our Sunday outings were to Clemson to buy ice cream or watch Lake Hartwell fill up with water," said Martha. "That was our 'big' entertainment in those days and we loved it."
She also attended football games and other events Clemson offered while married to Robert. They lived in Seneca for 20 years before moving to Clemson Downs in 2002. Robert passed away in 2007 and Martha continues to become more involved with her passion for education through need-based scholarships.
Recently inducted into the Legacy Society, Martha has created a bequest to Winthrop and Clemson. In her estate planning, she created The Parniece Brown Allen Memorial Endowment for Clemson's First-Generation program in honor of the teacher that helped change her future. She signed the legacy ledger at Fort Hill during induction ceremonies in 2015. She leaves a similar bequest to Winthrop in honor of her family, The Callahan Family Scholarship, that also supports first-generation students.
Today, she and close friend Dr. Philip Prince, who served as President of Clemson University from 1994 to 1995, remain heavily involved in life at Clemson. Martha has served on the Board of Directors for the Brooks Center for Performing Arts as well and the Center for Visual Arts.
"Philip has shown me the operational side of Clemson and I'm more aware of how Clemson is being shaped and the needs of students," said Martha. While Philip was President of Clemson the university went through a major consolidation of colleges – from nine to five. He also is close friends with former President Barker who, like Martha, is a first-generation graduate and a strong advocate of need-based scholarships."
Martha credits former President Barker with raising her awareness of the stress and challenges students with financial hardships continue to face despite student loans and other financial assistance. Martha says student loan programs don't solve all the problems of staying in school because these students are often stressed by juggling part-time jobs and academic studies – causing many to dropout before they graduate.
Martha has helped hundreds of students in her role as teacher, development director, volunteer and advocate for first-generation college students. Her experience as a student who had the ambition, but not the funds to attend college, drives her desire to give of her own resources to need-based scholarships.
"I was lucky that I had a very special teacher and a mentor who took it upon themselves to find me the money to go to school and stay in school," said Martha. "That jumpstart is the foundation upon which I was able to become a teacher, an administrator and so much more. I want every high school senior who wants to go to college to realize their dreams just like I did."
Martha says a quote by writer and author Ivey Baker Priest is a touchstone: "The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning." Martha knows that without the help of her teachers and others who supported her desire to go to college, her life would not have moved forward in the way she wanted. Martha Grigsby wants others to have that same chance.