Reverend Jean McAnulty Smith ʼ65 and Lydia Johnson ʼ12, MFA ʼ15 met for the first time in 2012 at Butler’s Scholarship Celebration. Johnson was the first-ever recipient of the Reverend Jean McAnulty Smith Scholarship, and the pair were introduced over breakfast at the annual event where scholarship recipients and donors have an opportunity to meet. Nearly a decade later, Smith and Johnson maintain a close friendship and have recently established a new scholarship together in Johnson’s name to continue passing on the gift of a Butler education to the next generation of students.
Smith was originally inspired by her daughter to consider establishing a scholarship at Butler in 2007. Smith already felt deeply connected to Butler through her service as a Trustee for 12 years and as a current Emeritus Trustee, but her daughter suggested that being a scholarship donor would allow her to connect with individual Butler students in ways she might not otherwise have the chance to do. Though she has met nearly all of her scholarship recipients through the years, Smith says her relationship with Johnson has been a particular joy.
Johnson recalls her excitement at having the chance to meet Smith for the first time as a student in 2012, though she didn’t anticipate the long and meaningful relationship that would develop out of the encounter.
“She didn’t exactly say, ‘Hey, let’s be friends for 10 more years, or longer!’ but Jean is very good about keeping in contact with people and encouraging them as they reach different milestones,” Johnson says. “She is a really good friend, so she was always checking in on me and inviting me to things and seeing how I was doing, even after I graduated. We just stayed in touch because Jean is that kind of person.”
After earning her undergraduate degree in English, Johnson went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Butler in 2015. She now serves as Chief of Staff at Indy Reads, a local nonprofit working to provide literacy, English language, and job readiness training for Marion County residents. She also works as a freelance writer and poet, and teaches classes at the Indiana Writers Center. Smith has been a steady friend through it all, introducing Johnson to many of her own friends and inviting Johnson to be her guest for various events and outings, including Butler basketball games and visits to The Cabaret downtown.
“There are so many things that Jean has introduced me to just by asking me if I wanted to come along,” Johnson says. “Every time I hang out with Jean I learn something new, I’m doing something new, I’m meeting new people, or we’re simply learning new things about each other. I’m just grateful to be along for the ride. She’s consistent and very loyal, and that’s something that I really admire about her.”
After the launch of the Butler Beyond comprehensive fundraising campaign in 2019, Smith says she was considering a gift to the campaign and had planned to add to her existing scholarship fund. Instead, Smith says the idea to create a new scholarship was once again inspired by her daughter, a fundraising professional, who encouraged her to think more creatively about what impact she would like to make with her gift. She suggested a new scholarship in Johnson’s honor that would allow Johnson, a former scholarship recipient, to begin building her own relationships with Butler students as a donor.
“My daughter said, ‘Mom, just think what it would be like for Lydia, at her age, to start forming the kind of relationship that you two have had for all these years,’” Smith says.
Johnson says she was initially taken aback by the idea, and was moved by Smith’s willingness to include her in the process of giving back.
“It didn’t make sense to me at first that someone who had the money to start a scholarship would just decide, ‘I don’t want to do this for myself, I want to do this for someone else so they can create a legacy of their own,’” Johnson says. “I could not grasp that. I didn’t think I’d have the capacity to do something like this until much, much later in life. So having the chance to do this now, with Jean’s help, is amazing. It means so much to me and my family.”
After absorbing the idea Smith was proposing, Johnson knew she wanted to honor her grandparents through the new scholarship. Huyle and Lillie Johnson were born in the 1920s in segregated Tennessee and did not have the opportunity to attend college, though they faithfully supported their children and grandchildren in pursuing every educational opportunity available.
“They believed education gave them more options, and would give their children even more options because they would have greater opportunities,” Johnson says. “So they were always encouraging us, ‘You’re going to go to school; you’re going to go to college; you’re going to make something of your life.’ They successfully shepherded us in that direction without having had those experiences themselves.”
Officially established earlier this year, The Huyle, Lillie, & Lydia Johnson ʼ12, MFA ’15 Scholarship Fund will support students with financial need, with preference given to first-generation students who graduated from Indianapolis Public Schools or are recipients of the Dr. John Morton-Finney Diversity Scholar Award or Indiana’s 21st Century Scholarship.
While Smith was the lead donor on the gift to establish the scholarship, Johnson’s family members have already begun contributing to the fund, and Johnson herself hopes to keep the fund going for future students.
“One of the things I appreciate about Jean, in addition to her being such a loyal friend to me and other people, is how much she values legacy,” Johnson says. “She’s always talking about her father and her brother and other family members, and that’s something that I really value as well. This scholarship is giving me the opportunity to have a legacy of my own at Butler, and I am beyond grateful to her for making that happen.”
Johnson says she looks forward to meeting the recipients of the scholarship and serving as a mentor for those who may be open to it. More importantly, she says she looks forward to seeing future students take hold of the same opportunities that were afforded to her as a scholarship recipient.
“Jean’s scholarship came to me at a time when I really needed it, and so I just hope that whatever funds we’re able to give to students helps to relieve some of the financial burden of getting their education, and helps them be just a little bit more focused on getting their degree instead of paying for it,” Johnson says.
Smith hopes other alumni see the value in investing in student scholarships, and the potential they provide for engaging in meaningful ways with Butler students.
“It’s a chance for those who have graduated from Butler and have done well to not only be able to give back, but it’s a wonderful way of staying connected with the school beyond just writing a check,” Smith says.
The Huyle, Lillie, & Lydia Johnson ’12, MFA ’15 Scholarship Fund will be awarded to the first recipient in the fall of 2021. Next year, for the first time, Smith and Johnson will have the chance to return to the place they first met, this time attending Butler’s Scholarship Celebration together as donors.
“This is Lydia’s story,” Smith says. “I’m very proud of her, and I’m just excited that I’ve had a little part in her life.”
Student Access and Success
At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.