Sumners Foundation reaches major milestone

By Amanda Sexton Ferguson
Editor and Publisher
The Winona Times

WINONA – The E.H. Sumners Foundation has topped $100 million in tuition payouts for students in Webster, Choctaw, Montgomery, Attala and Carroll counties, according to John Sumner, attorney for the foundation.

“When we set [the Sumners Foundation] up, we couldn’t imagine it would ever pay out that much,” he Sumner said.

The E.H. Sumners Foundation was established in 1977 by Mary P. “Ging” Sumners to honor her husband, E. H. “Harry” Sumners, and his wishes to give something back to the communities he loved – the gift of higher education.

After his freshman year in college in 1905, Harry Sumners, an Indiana native, was forced to leave the James Milikin School (now Milikin University) in Decatur, Ind., and return home to help support his mother and younger siblings.

Sumners’ father was in the timber business before he died of yellow fever in the Mississippi Delta. Harry Sumners followed in his father’s footsteps and began his own timber business. He eventually came to Mississippi and settled in the Stewart area, where he established his first sawmill. Over time, he acquired large holdings of timberland in Montgomery, Carroll, Choctaw, Attala and Webster counties.

Harry Sumners and his timber business prospered, but according to his nephew John Sumner, he felt he could have been even more successful in business if he had the opportunity to complete his college education.

John Sumner recalled that his uncle once said, “I made what I have off the sweat of the brow of the people of these fine counties, and I want to give something back to them to help them with their education.”

Years after his death, his wife, Ging Sumners, granted her husband’s wishes and established the foundation. The foundation provides part or all tuition, books and fees to Mississippi State University, University of Mississippi, Millsaps College, University of Mississippi Medical Center or Holmes Community College for any student with at least a one-year residency in one of five counties in which Sumners’ land is located and maintain a “C” average while at college.

According to John Sumner, when the foundation was established through Deposit Guaranty National Bank (now Regions Bank), approximately 20,000 acres of timberlands lying in five counties were deeded to the bank as trustee for the foundation. Eventually, the timber was sold to Weyerhauser Corp. for around $23 million. Currently, Weyerhauser is under a 40-year lease of the lands, and when that lease ends, the land will return to the foundation replanted with 2-year-old plantation pine trees.

The trust agreement states that none of the land can ever be sold, and the income received must be used for the education of students.

Today, the foundation’s principal is $95 million, with approximately $5 million paid out each year for higher education.

John Sumner explained that each institution gets a certain allotment each year, and student payout is based upon how many students from the five counties receive funding each year. For example, John Sumner said students at Mississippi State received $2,500 per year, $5,000 at Ole Miss and $32,000 at Millsaps.

“Someone living in these counties would be foolish not to take advantage of the Sumners Foundation,” John Sumner said. “We have so many local success stories.”

John Sumner explained that local high school guidance counselors have been diligent about informing seniors of the help they can get through the foundation. He also said the foundation is available for non-traditional students as well. He said those interested should check with the financial aid office at one of the participating institutions.