A $3.1 million gift from the estate of an Amite County native will allow students in need to pursue an education at the University of Southern Mississippi for years to come, university officials said.

Retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Lamar W. Powell was inspired to make the contribution when he returned home for a family reunion and learned of the story of Oseola McCarty and her generous gift to the university.

McCarty worked as a laundress until her 80s and gave her life savings of $150,000 to the school to support students in need.

Inspired by McCarty’s gesture, Powell called the USM Foundation  and sent a check for $30,000.

Powell, who died at the age of 97 on Dec. 30, 2015, directed the remainder of his trust go to Southern Miss and South Carolina State University.

USM has received $3.1 million from Powell’s gift, with $2.9 million coming from his estate and trust.

The gift will create scholarship opportunities for students with financial need, as his desire was for students “to get an education, strive for the top, save all you can save, and give back when you can,” university officials said.

The Lamar W. Powell Scholarship Endowment provides incoming freshmen a four-year scholarship to include the JUMP program, which is an early-start curriculum.

The first group of freshmen to benefit from the gift start school in the fall.

As the program matures, Powell’s philanthropy will grow to provide scholarships for 80 students per year, university officials said. The program will also include unique opportunities for peer engagement, academic support and skill development.

“Mr. Powell will long be remembered for his service to our country and his vision for higher education in Mississippi,” said Stace Mercier, executive director of the USM Foundation. “His generosity is astounding, and to learn how Ms. McCarty inspired him is such a beautiful story. These were two individuals who never attended Southern Miss, yet were so passionate about contributing to its mission.”

Powell was born Jan. 4, 1918, in the Jerusalem community outside Liberty.

One of seven children, he was raised on the 80-acre farm passed down through two generations of his family. The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was the catalyst for his enlistment in the Civilian Conservation Corps and later the army.

Powell served in the Pacific Theatre in World War II and on Okinawa during the Korean War.

Throughout his military career, he took correspondence business courses at the University of Chicago, which sparked his interest to dabble in the stock market. This led to constant and consistent investments in the market over time, slowly accumulating into financial success.

Powell retired from the army after a 23-year career and went to work with the State Department.

University officials described him as an avid believer in giving back and an advocate for higher education.

Founded in 1959, the USM Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to serving the University community by overseeing fundraising efforts to raise private support for scholarships and other academic needs at Southern Miss.

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