Keeping a Moravian Education Within Reach
Carolyn Felker ’68
“There are a lot of things that I can’t do—I’m physically limited—but I can write a check. It makes things happen.”
It’s 1958, and Bethlehem is in the midst of the Eisenhower recession and a strike by the steelworkers’ union. To avoid excessive unemployment claims, instead of laying off workers, Bethlehem Steel executives implement a “share the work” campaign and ask employees to reduce their hours by one or even two days each week. For Carolyn Felker, whose father was a steelworker who could not afford to save, this made a higher education seem out of reach.
The nearest state school was over an hour away, which meant the additional expense of living away from home. Local private colleges were too expensive, but applying to Moravian meant she could remain a “townie.” But how to afford the $1,200-per-semester tuition in those days?
Family members encouraged her to apply, and she received an early-decision acceptance letter that required a $50, nonrefundable deposit to hold her place. Even that amount was unattainable, so she did not respond. Shortly after, a call from Moravian, an offer of financial aid, and a Comenius Scholarship gave this first-generation college student the opportunity of a lifetime.
The Comenius Scholarship is the namesake of John Amos Comenius, regarded as the father of modern education and a symbol of the principles upon which Moravian University was founded. “John Amos Comenius is my patron saint. He made my career possible,” Felker says. “My entire four years at Moravian cost $2,000 with aid and my scholarship.”
Although Felker was initially an English major, Dr. Margaret Gump, then a professor of modern languages, persuaded her to major in German, saying, “English teachers are a dime a dozen.” Felker had four years of conversational German in high school, so it seemed a natural transition. The move paid off, winning Felker a teaching position in the Upper Darby School District, where she remained her entire career as a teacher and administrator.
“John Amos Comenius is my patron saint. He made my life possible.”
Philanthropy was new to her, but she knew she would always pay forward what Comenius gave to her, if even a little bit. “I was a moderate giver since graduation, but I heard [retired Director of Planned Giving] Patty Price speak at homecoming in 2011, and I realized an endowment award would be possible,” Felker remembers.
“I was also inspired by the movie Hello, Dolly!” says Felker. “After Dolly asks Horace Vandergelder to marry her in the feed store, he stops treating his clerks poorly. All of a sudden, he invests in them dressing better and they take on more responsibility. Dolly asks Horace why the difference in his spending, and he says, ‘You see, Dolly, I’ve always felt that money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless you spread it around, encouraging young things grow.’”
In 2011, Felker decided to encourage growth with the Felker Family Endowed Scholarship in honor of her parents, who she says sacrificed so much for her. In 2012, its first award of $2,000 went to a student-athlete whose mother had died and father became homeless.
“Guided by his coach, he became a real team player and a hard worker. Teamwork is what Moravian is all about,” says Felker. “He graduated with significant student loans but paid off almost everything in six years,” Felker recalls. “We are still in touch today.”
Every semester since that first award, a Moravian student has received support from Felker’s scholarship. “I have a blast spending money for charity and doing different projects,” she adds. “There are a lot of things that I can’t do—I’m physically limited—but I can write a check. It makes things happen.”