This is the time of year when we give thanks for what we have and when we think of giving gifts to others. Mary Kay Gentry-Bartko found a way to do both through her gift to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Financial Aid for Service office. This gift will go to scholarships that help today’s students succeed. 

“College has gotten so expensive, and there are so many young people who might not otherwise have a chance to go to college, so I thought well, ‘The church got me started. I can do the same. I can pass it forward,’” Gentry-Bartko said. 

Gentry-Bartko received a scholarship in 1953 and attended Queens College (now Queens University), in Charlotte, North Carolina, for two years before transferring to another school to finish her degree. For her first year, she received a scholarship from the Presbyterian Church.  

“I can’t remember how I knew about the Presbyterian scholarship except through some of our Presbyterian youth organizations or the church itself,” she said. “My parents could have afforded to send me to college but it was nice. It made it a little bit more affordable to have the scholarship.” 

Gentry-Bartko understood the opportunity she had in front of her back then. She grew up in a small West Virginia town where most families earned their living from the railroad or coal mining and not many people had the opportunity to go to college. Gentry-Bartko also says receiving the scholarship influenced her decision to attend Queens, a private Presbyterian-affiliated college.

“Had I not had a Presbyterian scholarship, I probably would not have ended up not at Queens,” she said. 

Gentry-Bartko went on to settle with her husband in a small town in south central Pennsylvania, where the couple has mostly attended the local Lutheran church. 

Now retired, the Gentry-Bartkos have been considering in recent years how to share some of the good fortune they have enjoyed. 

“My husband and I have decided instead of putting so many things in the will, it makes it rather complicated, so we decided why don’t we just start giving away money now when we can actually talk to people about it and find out what they’re going to do with it,” she said. “It’s just a much more personal thing to be able to do it now and to be able to talk to people about it. Instead of having the lawyer take care of it, we are.” 

While Gentry-Bartko initially thought of designating her gift to Queens College, she decided instead to try to find something that could benefit young people more directly rather than giving through just one school. She’d been away from the Presbyterian Church for a number of years, so it took a little homework to find the right contact. 

“I thought, ‘Well, you know, my scholarship wasn’t from Queens, it was from the Presbyterian Church,’ so that’s when I decided to get in touch with the church offices and got directed to Laura [Bryan of Financial Aid for Service] and that’s how I took care of it,” Gentry-Bartko said. “Everybody at the church offices has been very, very nice. [Laura] was very appreciative and I appreciate that.” 

Gentry-Bartko is also looking forward to hearing about some of the students who will be helped by the scholarships she is helping to provide.  

“I had the chance to broaden my horizons and it’s made me who I am today,” she said. 

The Gentry-Bartko gift was used to assist students like Cailee Anastas, a music education major attending Grove City College; Kirin Foster*, a psychology major attending Whitworth University; and Caroline Patton, a nursing major attending Queens University of Charlotte, among others. 

Another Queens University student, Hayley Pierpont, wrote: “I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support. God has been good in leading me to Queens University of Charlotte, but it is your kindness and help that has allowed me to stay. I have been able to pursue my dreams and gain an excellent education because of you. God bless all that you do!”

Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, North Carolina, where she is also secretary for First Presbyterian Church.

*Watch a video written and produced by Kirin Foster in response to the questions: What’s next for you? For the church? For the world?

Gifts to support scholarships for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members may be made to:

E052102 Scholarship for Seminary Students
E052103 Scholarship for Undergraduates

For more information, contact Laura Bryan by email or by telephone at (800) 728-7228, ext. 5224.