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Retired teacher creates an education fund for students who don't get straight As

After retiring to the Sunshine Coast, Mary Lou Owen went back to school to learn how to build a website and found friendship along the way. From the friendship came a unique gift for future students.
Mary Lou Owen and Becky Wayte met when Wayte taught Owen how to build a website. Since then, the two have developed a friendship -- and have an education fund named after them for Sunshine Coast students.

A new education fund for students at Capilano University’s Sunshine Coast campus won’t go to the typical grade-A student, as per the wishes of a local donor. 

When Mary Lou Owen moved to the Coast full-time, she had 32 years of teaching behind her. During her decades-long career, she’d worked with students who had faced barriers: living in the foster care system, a bad home life and low grades.

Now she’s created a perpetual fund to give such students a financial boost. Pupils earning As have many opportunities to apply for scholarships, so Owen wanted to focus on those who aren’t the typical funding recipients. As a teacher turned student, Owen has seen how some students earn high marks with little effort while others work hard with less success, and may face more barriers along the way.

The teacher becomes the student

Just before the pandemic, Owen went back to school — as a student. She wanted to build a website to reconnect with her former classmates who she grew up with from kindergarten through Grade 9 at Gorsebrook School in Halifax in the 1950s. Although she’d once taught a computer course to elementary school students, Owen said they probably knew more than she did. Then she met Becky Wayte. 

Wayte, who has since retired from more than 30 years of teaching, taught computer and math literacy to Adult Basic Education and Pathways to Higher Learning students at Capilano University's kálax-ay Sunshine Coast Campus. As Owen sought to reconnect with her peers of the past, she and Wayte formed a new friendship over many hours spent together in front of a computer. Owen’s project continued with Wayte’s above-and-beyond help, as Wayte realized Owen struggled with online learning and found safe ways to accommodate her. 

Wayte describes Owen as her most “persistent” pupil and probably worked the hardest, spending thousands of hours learning the skills she needed to build her website.

Of Wayte, Owen says, “She's wonderful. No matter how many times I asked, she answered. She wasn’t frustrated answering the same question.” 

The website helped Owen speak with some friends for the first time in more than 60 years. And during the pandemic, the launch could not have had better timing. Having only just made the leap to full-time residency on the Coast, Owen found herself unable to go out into the community to meet people. Wayte became the only person in her bubble.

Owen created many pages on her website, full of materials from yearbooks as well as more general information about what it was like growing up in the ‘50s. Former schoolmates told her they spent hours reminiscing through the information.

The gift of education

Now, Owen’s $40,000 gift will create two perpetual funds of $500 each (or more, depending on the interest rate) for students living on the Sunshine Coast. The funds will be known as the Mary Lou Owen Educational Fund and the Becky Wayte Educational Fund — and the first recipients will soon be notified. To ensure that her donation could be used right away (rather than waiting for the next school year to begin), Owen donated an additional $1,000, which will soon be hitting two students’ bank accounts. 

The donation is specifically not a bursary or scholarship, as those often require a minimum standard grade for students to be eligible. Students are eligible if they attend the kálax-ay Sunshine Coast Campus on a full or part-time basis, with preference given to second, third or fourth-year students. Preference is also given to students who are in or have been in foster care and have faced or are facing significant barriers in their path to higher education. 

“It doesn't mean they're not smart, because they don't get those marks, but they may not be your typical fit into that little narrow box,” Wayte said.

When asked what she thought of Owen naming one of the funds after her, Wayte said she was holding back tears. 

“Becky's done so much for me. And she's been here 30 years — everybody knows her in Sechelt,” Owen said. “So I wanted it to go as a thank you for what she has done for me.” She added that Wayte’s name will also be recognizable in the community. 

“I wanted to see the results of the money before I die, rather than leaving it in my will,” Owen added.

Find the application for the funds online.