Billy Joe and Bernice Ellis Irwin Scholarship

The Billy Joe and Bernice Ellis Irwin Scholarship benefits full-time nursing students from Rusk County who maintain a 3.0 GPA and are studying in the Richard and Lucille DeWitt School of Nursing.

Billy Joe grew up in Laneville. He received a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from SFA in 1938. Billy Joe served in World War II in France, England and Germany. After returning home from the war, he received his Master of Science in agriculture from Sam Houston State Teachers College.

A member of the Masonic Lodge in Laneville and Sharon Temple Shrine in Tyler, Billy Joe was a founding member of the Rusk County Mini Patrol and served on the Divan.

Bernice Evelyn Ellis graduated from New London High School in 1931. Just after her 18th birthday, Bernice left New London to pursue her passion — nursing. She attended and graduated from Scott and White School of Nursing in Temple in 1945.

Often called “Bea” by her colleagues, she worked at Henderson Memorial Hospital for many years. In 1962, Bernice became director of the Henderson Memorial Hospital Vocational Nursing School where she taught for 22 years.

After retiring from the hospital, she joined Visiting Nurses of East Texas, a home health care agency, where she served as regional director in 1986. Bernice was a member of the Daughters of the Nile of Sharon Temple.

Billy Joe and Bernice married Dec. 11, 1945. Until Billy Joe’s death on Jan. 17, 1984, the couple lived in Laneville. Billy Joe and Bernice enjoyed many exciting years as members of Sharon Temple Shrine Club.

Bennett and Rhonda Montes Scholarship

The Bennett and Rhonda Montes Scholarship supports deserving students majoring in astronomy, engineering or physics.

Bennett retired from SFA’s Department of Physics and Astronomy after serving 35 years as a scientific machinist. During his decades of service, he fabricated and machined thousands of pieces of equipment, including a 41-inch telescope, which is housed at the SFA Observatory.

Rhonda retired after 17 years with the SFA Health Clinic, where she worked as a medical records technician. She cherished her years working there with students, doctors, nurses and staff members.

Bennett and Rhonda are Nacogdoches natives and remain active in their community.

The couple’s family includes two sons, Michael and Matthew. Michael and his wife, Jennifer Criss Montes, an SFA graduate and Nacogdoches dentist, have two children, Lillian and Anderson. Matthew, also an SFA graduate, and his wife, Wendy, a dental hygienist, reside in Katy, Texas.

Jack and Cheryl Nelson Scholarship

The Jack and Cheryl Nelson Scholarship supports School of Music students majoring in piano.

The scholarship was established in loving memory of Cheryl, who passed away in October 2013.

Jack and Cheryl were lifelong members of North Street Church of Christ, where Cheryl served as the church pianist and was active in numerous church activities and social clubs. Cheryl loved God, her husband, children and grandchildren.

She also enjoyed spending her golden years on their family farm, located in Cushing. Jack served almost 25 years as the director of the SFA student center auxiliary services before retiring from the university in 2005.

The couple was married almost 50 years and have two sons: Jack Nelson Jr., and his wife, Melinda, and Keith Nelson.