Pinto Woman drives on (while helping others)
Mar 5 2013
By Josh Howell-Davis
Eighteen years ago, Gray Conway was a single mother of four relying on public assistance. She decided she needed a new career and thought that she would become a teacher, so she would have a similar schedule as her children. She wasn’t sure how to get started, so she joined the Moving On Program at Rogue Community College and never looked back.
She didn’t become a teacher as planned, but today she is the facility coordinator for the Illinois Valley Learning Center, as well as founder of the Suzannah Stuart Cubbage GED Testing Fee Scholarship. She is also a member of numerous associations and has dedicated her life to improving the lives of others.
“Education is like surfing,” she says. “You finish riding one wave and then here comes another one.”
Conway began her college career in The Moving On Program. Located on the Grants Pass Campus, the program provides knowledge and information to people with limited income and little or no knowledge of where to begin their academic careers. It also helps people with career exploration, exposing them to non-traditional occupations, filling out scholarship applications, and helping them through the first stages of their education.
After the Moving On Program, Conway started to work in student government early in her academic career and eventually was elected Commissioner of Representation. She says this gave her, “…a broad and sturdy foundation and a deep understanding of college and how it works. I learned who does what, what people needed and where they could get it.”
Eventually this led to her current position, where she has been since 2002.
Located in the town of Kerby, just outside of Cave Junction, it’s easy to drive by and not notice the RCC-Kerby Campus building. The facility offers a direct link to the TRiO-EOC program. It is a federally-funded program and offers help to first generation students, low- income students and disabled students.
All of the services are free and include—but are not limited to—helping with financial aid applications, locating and applying for scholarships, educational and vocational planning, and assisting with college enrollment forms. Many don’t know where to get started and this program is aimed at helping those who have little background on how college works.
“We’re stuck in our own perspectives,” Conway says. “College opens us up to the bigger perspective.”
The facility has a computer lab for students and the facility’s location in Kerby can also help locals save time and money on gas by not having to drive all the way to Grants Pass.
She says she has to work within the financial limitations of what she calls “budgetary famine” to provide the best service possible. She loves her students, saying that helping people is her “soul food” and it is a “delight” for her to make a difference in people’s lives and to get paid to do it.
After Conway’s mother died in 1999, she decided to start a scholarship in her mother’s name to help people pay for the cost of the GED testing fee. Created in 2000, the scholarship was created to honor her mother in a “lasting way.” To date, it has assisted 165 people, from all RCC campuses, in paying for the ever-rising testing fee.
Started with only $495, the scholarship now has over $9,000 and twelve scholarships were awarded during the last academic year.
Creating the scholarship has also helped Conway realize her own dream of becoming a philanthropist.
“I thought you had to be rich to be a philanthropist but I realized you don’t,” she says laughin. “You just have to organize people in the right way.”
The scholarship is replenished largely by RCC staff members who elect to donate to it through payroll deduction. In addition, some staff members make donations in lieu of birthdays or other gifts.
Currently Conway is in the process of turning the scholarship into an endowment and to award scholarships with money earned from the interest. Right now she says she’s, “…working hard and crunching numbers” and hopes to create the endowment on September 6 of this year, her mother’s birthday.
In addition to all her other awards, Conway has also received the Associated Students of RCC Emeritus Award in 1997. She says that at that point she and former dean of students, Tenison Haley, were the only two people to have received the award.
On the plaque inscription, her name reads, Gray “Pinto Woman” Conway. She says the nickname was given to her because she used to drive a brown Pinto station wagon.
“That car saved my life,” she says. She says she was in a severe accident and the steel front-end of the Pinto saved her. “I walked away but the Pinto went to heaven.”
Conway was a woman who needed to help herself. Perhaps that is one reason she is so adept at helping others.
“Life has become less about me and more about the generations to come,” she says.
Josh Howell-Davis is a student in J225-Introduction to Journalism.
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