Launched in 1975 with no dollars in the endowment, today, with generous gifts coming from the Oneonta Club membership and others recognizing its importance, the Philip V. Swan Oneonta Scholarship annually presents $10,000 scholarships to three South Pasadena High seniors and $1,000 scholarships to a pair of teachers in the South Pasadena Unified School District.
The three scholarship winners – Kate Ba, Natalie Terhune and Bethany Chen – were honored last Monday night along with Oneonta Club Teacher of the Year honorees Liza Robinson, from Marengo Elementary School, and Oliver Valcorza, representing South Pasadena High School.
It all began 43 years ago when Swan became the driving force behind the Foundation as its founder. Good friend Ross MacMichael was at his hip much of the way serving as president of the Foundation for 22 years.
Both passed away in the past year, leaving an enduring legacy that has won the support of the community, coming together to honor the scholarship winners at a highly anticipated awards dinner every spring.
“I would like to recognize and honor two truly great men I have had the privilege to call friends,” current Oneonta Club Foundation President William Cullinane told a large gathering inside Gray Hall at Oneonta Congregational Church who applauded the merits of the three standout students and two teachers during this year’s event. “One of the gifts they left behind was the standard of excellence on which they never compromised.”
Cullinane now strives to maintain the high excellence that Swan and MacMichael set, noting: “We owe them a great deal of gratitude.”
He stressed that “these two gentlemen cannot be replaced.”
The Philip V. Swan Oneonta Scholarship is not based on GPA or test scores, explained Cullinane, telling those in the audience that it recognizes students who display a passion or commitment for something. “We are looking for the person that will achieve and one day make a difference in the world,” he said. “When that day arrives for Bethany, Kate and Natalie, which surely it will, all of here tonight can look back and say we contributed in some small way to their moment.”
Bethany Chen has passion for science and math, the latter sparked by former South Pasadena Middle School teacher Doug Buhler. “Her love of chemistry was ignited by some amazing high school teachers,” said Cullinane. “Bethany considers the lab a special place where she can explore the what if’s of chemistry with her mentor.”
Chen is a black belt in Hapkido, the captain of the ladies varsity golf team, traveled to Romania on a medidal mission, won the Aspirations in Computing Award from the National Center for Women and Information, and volunteers at the L.A. Food Bank and for the Special Olympics.
She plans to pursue chemical engineering in college with an emphasis on medicine.
As a future business leader, Kate Ba found a passion by focusing on business management at South Pasadena High. She has placed first in the SkillsUSA competition, earning the right to compete at the national level. In her junior year, she joined the school’s Varsity Virtual Enterprise Team. As a senior, she was selected as the CEO of the Varsity Virtual Enterprise Team, which is a top honor on campus.
She is also the administrator of Calculus for a Cause, a bi-annual math tutoring fundraiser with all proceeds donated to local or global organizations. Ba also worked at the South Pasadena Public Library as a volunteer leader. She is also an accomplished pianist, enjoys drawing, watercolor and oil painting.
Cullinane said Natalie Terhune “embodies what Philip Swan envisioned when he started the Foundation. Her incredible passion and drive that began as a 6th grader for the forensic sciences is something to behold.”
Terhune, explained Cullinane, grew up in “a remote area of Florida’s Panhandle 90 minutes from what most of us would call civilization. Going to college in this region was the exception and not the rule. Part of the reason her family came to California was to improve Natalie’s educational opportunities. In her first science project at middle school she filled balloons with fake blood and dropped them out her sister’s window to measure blood splatter patterns on the driveway apparently creating quite the mess.”
Terhune then began mummifying hot dogs in sand or mulch “to begin studying the effects on deteriorating tissue, growing a strong stomach in the process,” said Cullinane with a laugh.
During the summer before her sophomore year, Terhune attended a crime scene investigation program where Cullinane said she was given the opportunity to meet experts in the field. She later attended the local FBI Teen Academy.
“Natalie’s teachers taught her to never stop asking questions, let alone settle for a single explanation,” said Cullinane. “She went on to volunteer at the USC Keck Hospital in the fresh tissue dissection lab where cadavers are used to teach medical students.”
He called Terhune “a most intriguing individual,” adding: “If you look up the Philip V. Swan Oneonta Scholarship in the dictionary, there’s a good chance you’ll see Natalie’s picture.”
Cullinane said the three scholarship winners are a reflection of the educational system in South Pasadena. “All of us here tonight would like to thank the teachers and staff for their dedication to our students,” he said.
Oneonta Club Teachers of the Year
Two teachers enjoyed the spotlight at the dinner. Robinson, who was selected as the Elementary School Teacher of the Year, teaches third grade at Marengo. Valcorza, a social studies teacher and academic advisor at South Pasadena High, was chosen the Secondary School Teacher of the Year. Robinson and Valcorza were selected by their respective schools to receive the prestigious award from the Oneonta Club Foundation.
“The awards are the club’s recognition of outstanding educators within our highly acclaimed local school district,” said Oneonta Club President Alan Erlich. “The members of the Oneonta Club are proud to recognize these dedicated individuals and their commitments to the students of South Pasadena.”
William Cullinane contributed to this article.