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Scholarship fund honors grandmother who inspired grandson’s success

by the College of Education at Illinois / Feb 5, 2018

Larry D. Jackson and Mamie B. Jackson

The memory of Mamie B. Jackson is strong on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus thanks to a College of Education at Illinois scholarship for undergraduates, which was established by Mamie’s grandson, Larry D. Jackson, in 2014.

The 46-year-old Larry was raised by Mamie in Champaign, right across the street from Edison Middle School, and was exposed throughout his childhood to all the great opportunities available at Illinois. Eventually, he became a College of Business graduate and established the Mamie B. Jackson Memorial Scholarship Fund to help underrepresented students who want to become elementary education teachers. Larry was presented with the scholarship opportunity by a family friend and a former College of Education staff member, Debbie Morgan.


I saw it as a good opportunity to invest in the youth who are the educators of the future, and it's something my grandma always pushed. I did it in honor of her.Larry D. Jackson

“My grandmother is actually laid to rest in the cemetery across the street from the College of Education, so it all just clicked for me,” Larry said. “I saw it as a good opportunity to invest in the youth who are the educators of the future, and it’s something my grandma always pushed. I did it in honor of her.”

Mamie was born in Tunica, Mississippi, in 1928. She never attended college but possessed a strong work ethic and gregarious personality that influenced Larry greatly. Throughout her life, she had a passion for helping underprivileged youth achieve higher education. In addition to working as a cook at the University of Illinois for many years, the community-focused Mamie was a housekeeper for various Illinois professors.    

During his childhood, Larry recalls touches of academia and inclusiveness within his household, partly due to his grandmother befriending many accomplished people. One of those individuals— Chester P. Siess, a professor emeritus in civil engineering—had a major influence on Larry’s academic growth.

When Larry started high school, Mamie enrolled him in the U of I Upward Bound program, pushing him to do well academically and exposing him to college life.

“She pushed me to work, from paper routes at age 9 to working as a supervisor at IMPE (the IntraMural Physical Education Building) at age 20,” he said. “Also, my grandma was really, really good at building relationships of all nationalities, all races, and all different levels.”

Even before he was an Illinois student studying business, Larry said IMPE—now known as the Activities and Recreation Center—was the place to be on campus. As a teenager who played basketball there, he met and got to know scholars and African-American campus leaders, which included Dean James D. Anderson of the College of Education. Sometimes members of the late-1980s Flyin’ Illini basketball team were seen running up and down the hardcourts.

“The gym was the unifier,” Larry said. “The campus is big. I would have no idea who lives at FAR (Florida Avenue Residence Halls), but you’d go to the gym and everybody came through IMPE in those days.”

In 1993, Mamie became sick and eventually passed away at the age of 65, while Larry was still in college. Fortunately, since he lived in town, he was able to help care for her.

“I’m a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. The brothers really stepped up and supported me during her sickness and death,” he said.

Larry now lives in Atlanta and has worked for 18 years at Coca-Cola, where he oversees small-store businesses in more than 40 states. He has returned to C-U in recent years to attend two Student Recognition Brunches hosted by the College. At the events, he met the student recipients of his scholarship, one of whom presented him with a football that had autographs of the Illini football players.

After years of big-city living, residing in places such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami, Larry looks back on Champaign-Urbana as a quaint college town that spawned fond memories he will forever cherish.

And some of his most special coming-of-age thoughts are of Mamie.

“Her gift was that she befriended a lot of people, so that nobody was a stranger,” he said. “I think her personality fed into me as well.”

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