Author: Brian Koonz
DANBURY -- Long before Bernard McFadden was named chairman of The Hord Foundation, he shared a single Bunsen burner with a classroom full of kids in South Carolina. They all huddled near the blue flame -- just to get a closer look, just to get a whiff of the outside world on science day.
The conditions were hardly ideal, certainly nowhere near the educational bounty in Fairfield County, where Bunsen burners are often doled out one to every two or three kids.
But in the segregated South -- in an all-black school -- it was all McFadden knew.
"There was another school down the road that was all white," recalled McFadden, 52, a Newtown resident. "We would drive past their school with the beautiful lawn and the beautiful playgrounds and just shake our heads.
"Our school was dilapidated. We would get their old stuff, all the hand-me-down equipment and everything. It was supposed to be separate but equal. Really, it was separate but unequal."
In those days, segregation didn't just hit home. It hit like a punch in the stomach.
Still, McFadden never forgot the flame of education, no matter how small it flickered inside a single Bunsen burner. It's a good thing.
These days, McFadden is the keeper of the flame for The Hord Foundation, a Danbury charity that's awarded more than $2 million in college scholarships to minority students. The foundation was started in 1993 by Noel Hord and his late wife, Cora.
"Even though the scholarships aren't a lot of money -- the average one is $1,500 -- they do make a difference," McFadden said. "Kids will say, 'Mr. McFadden, that $1,000 allowed me to buy a computer.' Or, it gave them the means so they didn't have to work two jobs at school."
In September, McFadden and his wife, Betty, will have two children in college: Matthew, a senior at the University of Virginia, and Nikia, a freshman at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
McFadden knows how hard it is to fund education.
"When I was a kid, we didn't have the advantages of a lot of schools. But what we did have were role models and that was very important," said McFadden, a longtime executive with Pitney Bowes. "The principal, the assistant principal, these were strong, male, black role models. That was a real phenomenon back in the late 1960s.
"We had two institutions in our lives: church and school. That was it, but it was enough. There were always people who looked out for you, people who wouldn't let you get off the beaten path."
It's still a blueprint for success nearly 40 years later.
Suddenly, McFadden and the Hord Foundation are the ones looking out for minority students in greater Danbury. They're the ones with a vision and a compass. But it wasn't always that way for Bernard McFadden.
The youngest of 12 children, McFadden grew up on a tired farm in Kingstree, S.C., a small town nestled between Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
"My father had a ninth-grade education, but he was probably the smartest man I ever knew," he said. "Even though he never had the opportunities I did, education was always a priority with him.
"He was superintendent of the board of trustees of our local school system. We always had principals and teachers coming to our house, trying to get counsel from him and trying to learn from him."
Maybe McFadden's father never walked across the stage with a mortarboard on his head, but he never let that stop him.
Or his children.
"When we were growing up in the rural South, education was the key," McFadden said. "It wasn't just your ticket out. It was the only way out.
"You saw people with an education -- teachers, nurses, professional people -- and you saw people without an education who were working in the fields, farming. You saw both sides. They were right there in front of you."
As much as McFadden is the face of The Hord Foundation, he's proof that a college degree is a launchpad to a better life.
After graduating No. 2 in his high school class, McFadden went to Providence College on a generous scholarship, thanks to an English teacher who saw promise in him and picked up the phone.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself going from South Carolina to Providence, R.I., to attend college," he said. "But fortunately, I had people who were willing to help me get a degree."
It's no different with The Hord Foundation.
Along with its scholarship program, The Hord Foundation also oversees the Hord Academy for at-risk, school-age children.
Ultimately, The Hord Foundation programs aren't a safety net, but rather a springboard.
"Education is still the best road to a better life," McFadden said. "If we can help local kids take that path, I believe we're doing something right."
By the numbers
The Hord Foundation's annual scholarship awards program is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Western Connecticut State University's new Westside Campus Center in Danbury. Since its 1993 founding, The Hord Foundation has awarded more than $2.2 million in scholarships to local minority students. Last year, 90 Danbury-area students received Hord Foundation scholarships, which ranged from $500 to $5,000.
Not just scholarships
Although The Hord Foundation is perhaps best known for awarding $250,000 in scholarships each year, the foundation is also involved in several other projects.
The Hord Academy: A program that offers academic support to students from kindergarten through middle school regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity.
Career seminars: The Hord Foundation conducts two seminars each year to expose middle school, high school, and college students to the diverse career opportunities in Greater Danbury.
Networking opportunities: The Hord Foundation offers unique networking opportunities between scholarship winners and many area companies, including Boehringer Ingelheim, CL P, Pitney Bowes and Pepsi Bottling.©
Copyright, 2005, The News-Times (Danbury, CT)
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To promote the education and enhance the career opportunities of young people of African-American descent by providing post-secondary school scholarships.
The Hord Foundation, Inc is approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (C) (3) tax-exempt organization, and all donations
are tax deductible to the extent provided by law. The Hord Foundation Federal Identification Number (EIN) is 06-1359296.