Columbia High Scholarship Fund Celebrates 100 Years With ‘Lightning Strike’ of Donations


Former BOE member Rowland Bennett announces new Dedicated Scholarship.

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The Columbia High School Scholarship Fund celebrated its 100th anniversary on Saturday, September 23, with an exciting announcement capping a year of major donations that bode well for the next 100 years of the fund.

Former South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education member Rowland Bennett announced that he was donating $20,000 for a new dedicated scholarship — the fourth such scholarship created in this centennial year.

Despite his many years serving the community — including on the BOE and as the Maplewood Memorial Library’s director — Bennett told the guests assembled for the annual CHSSF Red & Black Gala at the Maplewood Club, “The question is, how do you want to be remembered.” He then took out a plain white envelope. “I can’t think of a better way to be remembered than to have a scholarship given in your name.”

Rowland Bennett

According to a release from the school district, moments earlier, CHSSF President Madeline Tugentman had said that donations given at the fund’s highest threshold – the Dedicated Scholarship, which has a minimum donation of $20,000 – are as rare as lightning strikes. Three Dedicated Scholarships had been donated during the past year: the Moussa Fofana Memorial Scholarship, the Dr. Bruce I. Jacobs Scholarship, and the South Orange Civic Organization Scholarship.

When Tugentman saw the contents of the envelope Bennett presented to her, she exclaimed, “Lightning has struck a fourth time.”

The announcement reportedly brought many attendees to their feet, as Tugentman told Bennett, “Through helping students, you strengthen our community.”

In its 100 years of existence, CHSSF has helped generations of students meet the cost of going to college. The organization, run by a volunteer Board of Trustees, has awarded $2.6 million dollars to 2,063 CHS graduates during the past 25 years. During the past school year, the fund awarded $258,000 to 115 graduates.

One of those graduates, Jean-Pierre [last name withheld], told his story about how his scholarship enabled him to begin his education at Essex County College, where he plays on the men’s soccer team.


“Without this scholarship, I would not be able to attend school full-time,” said Jean-Pierre, who immigrated to the United States from Haiti two years ago and aspires to be a psychologist. “My family and I are so appreciative of the support your organization has given to me.”

Eileen Collins Neri, Executive Director of the Achieve Foundation, said she was the first person in her family to graduate from college and that CHSSF scholarships helped her and her brother achieve that goal in a family that was living paycheck to paycheck.

“College truly was life-changing for me,” Neri said. “I was pretty low-key in high school. When I went to college I really bloomed. I came out of my shell. I became a student leader. It really shaped who I am today.”

The Unaccompanied Minors, a CHS a cappella group,  performed “Sucker” by The Jonas Brothers.


Other dignitaries in attendance included N.J. State Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis, and South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, South Orange-Maplewood Schools Superintendent Dr. Ronald G. Taylor, and CHS Principal Frank Sanchez.

For more information about CHSSF visit:

Photo and video credit: Paul Brubaker, Communications Director, SOMSD.

Eileen Collins Neri, Executive Director of the Achieve Foundation who had received a CHSSF scholarship that helped her graduate from Muhlenberg University.

The Columbia High School Scholarship Fund Board of Trustees

Supt. of Schools Dr. Ronald G. Taylor

CHS Principal Frank Sanchez

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