The Thomas L. Powell, Jr., Class of 1947, and Jane Cheever Powell Men’s Basketball Scholarship is the very first to be endowed by a former player.
By Meg Kimmel
It was actually Jane Cheever Powell’s idea to name something at Davidson in honor of her husband. She didn’t know much about the college when she married Tom Powell, a widower, in 1975, but as the years went on, she became curious about his college years. In her mind, a tribute to him should be a surprise, so she asked the Davidson research folks about her husband’s college experience.
Young Tom Powell ’47 arrived in fall 1941, lettered in freshman basketball, and joined a host of organizations both social and academic. A member of the debate team and SAE fraternity, he was also on The Davidsonian staff and the YMCA Cabinet.
Like so many of his schoolmates, Tom Powell’s college years were interrupted when America entered World War II in 1943. He answered his country’s call to service as a navigator-radar observer on a B-29 in the Army Air Corps. When Second Lieutenant Powell returned to Davidson in 1946, he immediately resumed a leadership role on campus.
Tom Powell delivered the salutatory speech when he graduated in 1947 with a degree in business and membership in two honor societies, Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa. Born in Houston, Texas, and raised in San Antonio, he returned home to embark on a successful career in insurance, but remained close to alma mater.
Jane Cheever Powell remembers visiting campus on a beautiful Sunday afternoon during Tom’s 25th reunion, forming a positive impression of her fiancé’s alma mater—and they returned for his 40th reunion. The more she learned about this small college in North Carolina, the better she liked the idea of surprising him with a gift to honor him there. She arranged to have his diploma replaced—the original had been water damaged. When she saw how much this meant to him, she inquired about opportunities to honor him at Davidson. Tom Powell had lived in Duke dormitory as a student—so a space in the new Dean Rusk Center seemed appropriate. She finally confessed her idea to her husband, resulting in the Powell Foyer and the Powell Atrium in what is now the Weinstein Center.
Jane Cheever Powell kept thinking. Basketball was one of her husband’s great joys. He had lettered on Davidson’s freshman team and played on SAE’s team. He played the game while in the Army, and coached basketball at his church as a young man. And the Powells—both enthusiastic sports fans—became very proud of the Wildcats’ national reputation and impressed with what Coach Bob McKillop had accomplished. McKillop often gets tips on prospects, but he says that Tom Powell sent detailed letters, “and his evaluations were always precise.” To boot, the Wildcats play in an arena named for one of Powell’s college heroes, John Belk ’43. Yes, basketball seemed right.
So Jane Powell endowed a men’s basketball scholarship in honor of her husband and all he had accomplished at Davidson. “He’s a wonderful man,” she wrote years ago to Sam Spencer ’40. She repeats those words today—emphatically.
There’s not much mor e to say, although Coach McKillop might disagree. Scholarships make a huge difference in a coach’s ability to bring the best possible team together to be consistently competitive at the level of Division I. And the Powell Scholarship—the first to be endowed by a former Wildcat player in support of a starting player—will hold a special place in McKillop’s heart. Athletes giving back.
“As Jane Cheever Powell has honored her husband’s career as a Davidson athlete and a Davidson scholar, she has strengthened our basketball program in an enduring, meaningful way, and provided an example to all Davidson athletes who seek a way to give back. I am so very grateful to Jane and Tom for such a significant and generous gift,” said McKillop.
Davidson Men’s Basketball Scholarships
Baker Basketball Scholarship
Thomas L. Powell, Jr., Class of 1947, and Jane Cheever Powell Men’s Basketball Scholarship
Wilson Family Foundation Scholarship
Courtesy Jane Cheever Powell