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The Charles B. Keesee Education Fund Supports Baptists

Behind a plain door in an unassuming office on Main Street in Martinsville sits a charitable powerhouse that has donated more than $52 million to support Baptist education.

The Charles B. Keesee Educational Fund was recently honored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the College at Southeastern with their President’s Award.

Since 2006, the Keesee Fund has given more than $20.2 million to support thousands of Southwestern students in their education, according to a Southwestern States news release. This year, the Keesee fund awarded more than 1.6 million scholarships to more than 320 students from the Southeast.

With the additional $5 million gift from the Keesee Fund, Southeastern is creating two new scholarships that will provide $250,000 in scholarships each year. The first of these scholarships, the Binkley-Keesee Scholarship, is named after the Keesee Fund and Southeastern’s second president, Olin T. Binkley. The second scholarship, the Vernie Lewis Scholarship, is named after longtime Keesee administrator Vernie Lewis and will financially assist the student population of the Southeast.

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The Keesee Fund began by providing loans for education in Baptist schools and changed to providing grants.

In 1890 Charles Keesee moved to Martinsville where he made his fortune as one of the founders of American Furniture. The Keesees had no children themselves, so they decided to start a foundation to help educate people entering the Baptist ministry, Education Fund Vice President Charles B. Keesee said. , Douglas Ramsey.

The Keesees were members of First Baptist Church in Martinsville, so Baptist ministry is what the foundation focuses on. “He [Keesee] looks like they had these preachers who came… and he was always impressed with their passion, but they lacked education,” Ramsey said.

The fund was established in 1941 after Kessee’s death in 1940. When his wife, Olivia Simmons Kessee, died, she also left money to the fund. Charles Kessee was from North Carolina and Olivia Kessee was from Floyd. This is one of the reasons the foundation’s assistance began in Virginia and spread to other states, but remained based in the same neighborhood.

The fund began by providing loans to students who attended a Baptist university in Virginia, primarily Bluefield University and Averett University. The student would then repay the loan unless he entered the ministry and remained in the ministry for at least three years, in which case the loan was forfeited.

“It was a way for them to help educate the students,” Ramsey said. “They could also help people get into the ministry…I think Mr. Kessee would be very surprised if he was here today and saw what has been done and how far it is, because now it’s not is no longer the case.”

The model they are working on now is based entirely on scholarships for students seeking an education to work in paid Baptist ministry, which means they intend to enter the church staff, the missionary work or other professional service in the Baptist ministry. Students from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia may be eligible.

The fund once provided aid for master’s degrees, but has also expanded to scholarships for doctoral degrees. Recipients should seek specific degree programs with areas of study in topics such as divinity, Christian education, church music, cross-cultural studies, church planting, Islamic studies, missiology, worship and more which are listed on the fund’s website

Applicants must submit an application with references, essays, financial information, proof of Baptist church membership, attend school in person, and students must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5 . Students must reapply each year, and scholarships are available for up to eight semesters for masters and six semesters for doctorates in ministry.

Students must also attend the following schools: Duke University Baptist House of Studies, Campbell Divinity School, Gardner-Webb Divinity School, Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Rawlings School of Divinity at Liberty University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and John Leland Center for Theological Studies.

The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Vernie Lewis Scholarship benefits students from Campbell University, Gardner-Webb University, and the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School. Lewis was an employee of the fund from 1970 until 2019, when she had to stop working due to cancer. She died in 2020.

The fund also provides scholarships to Fork Union Military Academy and Hargrave Military Academy, Averett University and Bluefield College, where the money goes to the colleges and they are responsible for selecting the students.

Current members of Keesee’s Board of Directors include Reverend Douglas T. Ramsey, G. Paul Fletcher, Dr. David D. Burhans, Betty B. Pigg, Martha W. Medley, Georgia P. Compton, Reverend John T. Fulcher, Ryan R. Hutchinson and Dean Andrew H. Wakefield.

. Sandra Prillaman is the Managing Director of the Keesee Fund.

As of October 31, the value of the fund is $65 million and staff members are in the process of approving spring 2023 grant applications. Beginning with the 2022-23 school year, the fund awarded scholarships to over 16,000 students since its inception for a total of approximately $51,921,000 in scholarship aid money, excluding money used for loans in the past.

“Apart from supporting Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program, no other group has had a greater impact on the Southeast and its students than the Charles B. Keesee Educational Fund,” said the president of the southeast, Danny Akin.

In addition to scholarships, the Keesee Fund has contributed to technology and audio-visual upgrades in Southeast classrooms, library resources for Southeast prison programs, and scholarships for mission trips and tours. in the Holy Land for students from the southeast.

Monique Holland is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at [email protected] or 276-734-9603.