Paying It Forward: Kent Quesenberry’s Family Creates Scholarship to Support Blue Collar Students

A family of six and their dog gather at Christmastime in front of a fireplace.
At their last Christmas together with Kent in 2020, the Quesenberry family gathers. Back row from left: Wesley Turpin (Jessie’s husband), Kent, Kerry Martin (Billie’s husband); front row from left: Jessie, Joni, and Billie. Photo courtesy of the Quesenberry family.

There are few roads in the New River Valley (NRV) that do not have a house for which Kent Quesenberry of Riner did the plumbing. As a Master Plumber and Class B contractor, Kent could often be seen leaning on his shovel at a worksite, taking the time to get to know everyone and to pass along advice and encouragement.

“He was an awesome person and had a hello for every single person he met. He made it feel like you had known him your whole life,” said Billie, one of Kent’s daughters. “He was always a jokester, always laughing, and always had a twinkle in his eye.”

After Kent passed away unexpectedly in 2021, his family discussed how best to honor his legacy and continue to impact the community that had given them so much through Kent’s business. They thought about conversations that Kent and his wife, Joni, had when Billie and her younger sister Jessie were both in college at the same time. Kent and Joni had discussed how they wanted to eventually help other blue collar families navigate paying for college, especially because both of their daughters benefitted from scholarships.

Kent Quesenberry. Photo courtesy of the Quesenberry family.

Eventually, Joni reached out to the Community Foundation of the New River Valley (CFNRV) to gather information about setting up a scholarship fund, but life got busy, and the idea was shelved for the time being. About a year after Kent’s passing, they reached back out to the Foundation.

Since 1994, the CFNRV has worked with donors to establish endowed funds that award grants to nonprofits and scholarships to students. A new fund is considered fully endowed when it reaches a specific minimum – $15,000 for scholarships – but the amount varies based on the type of fund. Once the fund becomes endowed, the money is invested, and the earnings are used to award grants or scholarships for the purpose set by the donor. Today, the Foundation manages more than 200 endowed funds and has given out $8 million to nonprofits and students in the NRV.

“Everyone at the Foundation made this a welcoming and supportive experience. The Blue Collar Scholarship would not be a reality without their help,” said Joni. “Learning all the rules and laws involved in setting up a scholarship would be overwhelming without their expertise and guidance. With the Foundation at our side, we now feel like the scholarship will continue to grow and be around for generations.”

Together with the CFNRV team, Joni, Billie, and Jessie worked out the parameters of the fund, to provide scholarships to students in the NRV from blue collar families to pursue a degree at a 2 or 4-year college, university, trade, or technical school. The scholarship selection criteria include demonstrated financial need and a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Preference is given to students already in college. This is one of more than 50 scholarship funds at the CFNRV, each with specific criteria developed by the donor to help the CFNRV Scholarship Committee select recipients each year. Many of the funds are created in honor of a loved one like the Blue Collar Scholarship.

“We’re a blue collar family and it is very close to our hearts. We learned that being a second, third, and fourth year in college makes it much harder to get scholarships,” said Jessie. “We want to help families like ours by helping their kids go to college or further their education in whatever way.”

The Quesenberry family have been surrounded by the support of their community since Kent’s passing, with many individuals and businesses contributing to the scholarship fund. With dozens of donations coming from the community, the fund reached the endowment minimum in the fall of 2023 and will award its first scholarship in 2024. But the Quesenberry family is not stopping there. They plan to continue to grow the fund with the goal of giving out larger scholarships with each passing year.

As Kent’s family reflects on the future, they hope that the scholarship comes to someone at the right time and helps them do something – just like scholarships did for Billie and Jessie. All three women find comfort in knowing they are helping to continue Kent’s legacy of encouraging people along their path in life. They hope that receiving a scholarship from the fund inspires those students to one day help others in a similar position and that it continues to grow each year.

“It would be our greatest joy to know that Dad’s legacy will continue and enable others to continue their education,” said Billie.

To learn more about this scholarship or to donate, visit givelocalnrv.org/story/Bluecollar. For more information about setting up a scholarship fund, contact the CFNRV team at cfnrv@cfnrv.org or 540-381-8999.

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