BY FRANK SHALA
Throughout 60-plus years of marriage, George and Viola “Vi” McLoughlin have led long, successful lives. What they are most proud of, though, are the opportunities to help provide college access for students, especially those that might not have had a chance otherwise.
George, 94, and Viola, 91, have been retired for nearly 30 years, but their impact is still felt throughout the Valencia community. The scholarship that is in their name is a special one.
The George and Viola McLoughlin Scholarship has been especially tailored to meet the needs of the non-traditional student, especially an individual who may not qualify for other, more restrictive programs. Such applicants include those with a checkered academic record, recovering substance abusers, homeless people, survivors of domestic or sexual abuse, mid-career workers looking to upgrade or retool, single parents, and those seeking re-entry to society after incarceration.
They seek to serve deserving individuals who don’t have a safety net and need just one more shot to succeed.
“It seems that for the majority of scholarships available, you have to be a part of a certain group, a certain degree path,” George says. “There aren’t many that help kids who need a second chance.”
Both George and Vi have strong roots in education. George taught at Valencia for 16 years, from 1969-1985. George started when the school was only in its third year of existence, and he jokes that the school was still in portable buildings. Viola was a Seminole County elementary school teacher, and eventually advanced to assistant principal at Red Bug Lake Elementary.
The pair began their scholarship in 1997 and together they have provided countless students that second chance to pursue something bigger than they imagined possible. Their philanthropy includes daughter, Priscilla, who helps choose their scholars. The support and willingness to help their students is something that emerges when you hear the McLoughlins share stories of lives they have touched.
A Persian student brought them an authentic rug when he returned from vacation in his homeland after George helped him find a car to get to school. A Vietnamese couple walked to the McLoughlin home in Maitland with a full, home-cooked meal after George anonymously bought them a Christmas tree.
“I hope that anybody that goes into education goes in with a sense of mission,” George says with emphasis. “The students I taught were really a pleasure, especially the first wave of them.”
“We both started in life very serious about our religion,” Viola adds. “We can relate with students and families who never thought of going to college.”
George was the first in his family: He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Boston University and a doctorate in education with a minor in music education from the University of Kentucky. When George was teaching at Asbury College, Viola decided to start college at age 40.
Viola had earned a secretarial degree and worked as an executive assistant. She would eventually earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Asbury and her master’s degree in education from Rollins College.
“One thing that’s changed in the last 30 to 40 years is that kids didn’t necessarily grow up with the idea of going to college,” George explains. “But today the opportunities are there if kids will take them. “All the students have to do is try,” his bride quickly chimes in.
Both George and Vi know that sometimes individuals just need that little push, that nudge to get them going. They preach on the opportunities that exist and the people and resources available to help those who are willing to put forth the effort.
“The best advice is to say, ‘yes.’ Things will come along, certain opportunities, and you just have to say ‘yes,’” George adds. “Basically the only thing we ask is that our students are capable of doing their work, and that they be motivated.”
The couple is so proud of the work Valencia president Sandy Shugart has done to maintain Valencia’s focus on students, something George says sometimes lacks at the bigger colleges and universities. They believe the philanthropic foundation has been set for their mission to continue for years to come.
Vi jokes that she nearly forgot to share the most important factor to longevity: “When people ask us what have we done to live a long, healthy life, all I can think of is that we did live rather simply – out of necessity at times, but we don’t have expense taste. It’s the simplicity. It has its beauty.”
To learn more about the McLoughlin family, please visit this article, which appeared in the Valencia Foundation annual report.
Frank Shala is a Valencia College journalism student.