Opening Doors: Love for Elon sparks scholarship gift by alumnus

A longtime dedication to philanthropy paves the way to John H. ’66 and Faye T. Sellers Elon Engagement Scholarship. The "Opening Doors" story series celebrates the power of scholarships to change the lives of Elon students and the generosity of donors who make this transformation possible.

John Sellers can’t remember a time when he wasn’t connected to Elon. It’s an association that began through a church near where he grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia – that was in the 1950s. He eventually attended Elon, graduating in 1966.

<p>Faye and John Sellers.</p> <p>Photo courtesy of Barry Bradberry.</p>
He’s been a part of Elon’s fabric ever since as a vocal and consistent financial supporter of Elon’s athletics programs. He has fond memories of the football and basketball teams from his days as a student and after graduation. He often returns to campus with wife, Faye.

“After I graduated we tried to get down about every homecoming. I was a big sports fan and still am. I remember the old football stadium at Walter Williams High School,” John says. “I have great memories of the old gym at Elon. Bill Miller was the basketball coach. Jesse Branson was on the team, and Bill Morningstar. We would pack that gym.”

John’s love for Elon led to a lifetime of philanthropy in athletics. Today helping his alma mater combined with his career as the now retired director of financial aid at James Madison University, are the driving forces in a different type of gift — a $100,000 endowed academic scholarship to Elon. John and Faye recently endowed the John H. ’66 and Faye T. Sellers Elon Engagement Scholarship.

“It always gives you a good feeling when you’re able to make it possible for someone to go to college and finish their degree,” John says. “I dealt with thousands of students at James Madison. This was the start of my interest in giving scholarships to students so they’re able to get a degree.”

For John and Faye Sellers, Elon’s Engagement Scholarship program is a natural fit. Engagement Scholarships are designed for high-achieving students who embody the values and spirit of Elon University. Students receiving the Elon Engagement Scholarship are those interested in taking on the world and its challenges through involvement in studies abroad, internships, research and service learning. Engagement scholars are not merely spectators but participators with a goal of improving their communities.

“I always gave to Elon but felt like were in the position to do more and establish this endowment,” John says. “I believe that now Elon is starting to compete against schools like Davidson and Wake Forest for the best students. Those schools give very attractive scholarships to these very good students that may not be able to afford the experience. We felt like Elon needed to do that too.”

ELON FIRST got John’s attention when he was a child and attended Bethlehem United Church of Christ near Broadway, Virginia. He recalls visiting Elon starting in the 1950s through the Moonelon summer camps offered by the United Church of Christ. His father was in the furniture business and John also remembers accompanying him to the Furniture Market in High Point one year. That trip included his first tour of Elon.

“When I graduated from high school Elon was the only school I really applied to. That’s where I wanted to go,” John recalls. “When I arrived on campus Dr. (Earl) Danieley had just become president and the talk then was that he was the youngest president of a college in the country.”

After graduating from Elon with a degree in history in 1966, John moved back home to Virginia and continued his relationship with Faye. They first met in the eighth grade and have been married 52 years. John also decided to seek a master’s degree in history at James Madison University.

Upon completing his studies at James Madison, John taught elementary education while Faye worked as a nurse. They have a daughter and son – both graduated from Virginia Tech – and five grandchildren.

John spent 10 years in elementary education before accepting a position with James Madison working in its Early Childhood program. He moved into financial aid and spent his last 18 years there before retirement. John says he felt great rewards in helping students find an avenue to higher education.

Through the years, John remained steadfast in his support for both Elon and James Madison but his sports loyalties were tested in 2014 when the two schools became rivals in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“Who to root for? It’s a real dilemma. We belong to the Duke Club and the Phoenix Club. We go to all the pregame dinners and all that stuff (at James Madison),” John says. “When we play Elon I get the question about who I’m going to root for. My typical answer to that question is ‘I want both to play a good game.’ I try to keep things equal.”

JOHN SAYS he’s very proud of Elon and all the university has accomplished over the past two decades, which is another reason he wanted to make a gift for an endowed scholarship that will continue to help promising students enroll at Elon. The John H. ’66 and Faye Sellers Engagement Scholarship is a significant contribution toward Elon’s goals of experiential learning, growing its academic reputation and developing global citizens. He credits Carolyn DeFrancesco, Elon’s director of Planning Giving, for her guidance through the gift process.

The sense of community fostered by Elon students past and present makes an impression, John says.

“The one thing most important to me with Elon is the friends I have met and retained as friends,” John says. “I have about five or six guys that I have remained friends with ever since we graduated. We email each other all the time. To me that was another thing that I liked so much about Elon was the friendships we made there, not only students but faculty and administrators.”

It’s a tradition that continues. John counts Barry Bradberry, Elon’s associate dean of admissions and financial planning, among his friends. They met while recruiting students for their respective schools. John still looks forward to trips back to the Elon campus.

“I graduated 51 years ago and have kept a close relationship with Elon ever since. It makes me wonder sometimes why so many people that graduate 60 years ago from a school never returned. To me, that’s a little amazing,” John says. “My experience at Elon made me want to return and see the school.”