Back stories: Named scholarships represent lost loved ones, legacy of care
The roots go back nearly three decades for three VCU School of Social Work scholarships that honor two former faculty members and an alumna.
Family and friends have supported the legacy of these loved ones – and made a significant difference in the lives of current social work students – through the Pamela B. Nystrom Memorial Scholarship Fund, the Thomas Carlton Memorial Scholarship Fund and the Hans S. Falck Scholarship Fund.
Ongoing donations to these funds have also added to the School of Social Work’s $3.2 million in gifts and commitments during the course of VCU’s eight-year Make It Real Campaign.
Nystrom (B.S.W.’77/SW), an alumna with a passion for social justice, passed away in 1991. Carlton, Ph.D., a professor and associate dean who started at the school in 1973, passed away a year later.
The following year, Falck, Ph.D., retired from social work (and a dual appointment with the VCU Department of Psychiatry), but he remained active in social work until a stroke in 2002; he passed away in 2014.
‘Something that would endure’: Pamela B. Nystrom
Nystrom’s husband, Ben Stagg (B.A.’78/H&S), and their three daughters helped establish the fund in Pamela’s name in 2013. The scholarship provides needs-based support to an upper-level B.S.W. student.
“We really wanted something that would endure,” Stagg says. “If it helps somebody or a couple of people every year or two, then that’s what my wife would have wanted.”
Mary Newbould met Pam Nystrom in high school in Hampton, Virginia, and the two went to Longwood for college before Nystrom transferred to VCU to focus on social work. “Pam was always going to be a social work major,” Newbould says.
“Pam had a keen sense of justice and spoke against injustice wherever she found it. She believed that people had a duty to help others when needed. Pam was brave and caring, and she was one of the helpers in the world. She was ardent in her beliefs and kind to her family and friends. She would have loved meeting every one of the recipients of the social work scholarships. Just as she needed assistance getting her degree, she would be satisfied to know that assistance is now awarded in her name.”
Family and friends can be proud of the 2020-21 Pamela B. Nystrom Memorial Scholarship Fund recipient, Cedricka Alexander, from Lynchburg, Virginia.
“My ultimate goal is to be sort of a ‘renaissance woman,’ ” Alexander says. “I want to have many different skills and explore all the paths available to me. I want to pursue the traditional social work roles as a therapist or case manager, but also pursue other forms of social work in other settings.”
‘Helped in the healing process’: Thomas Carlton
Carlton’s family is equally proud of the Thomas Carlton Memorial Scholarship and worked in recent years to raise funds to push the initial endowment past the $25,000 mark so disbursements could be made to student recipients. They hope to increase the amount and/or number of scholarships that can be awarded each year.
“Tom would feel really honored and maybe embarrassed of this scholarship,” says his wife, Susan Carlton. Their son, Richard Carlton, agreed: “Both, but humbled.”
The family would like Carlton to be remembered for his commitment to education, particularly social work. As a young man, he taught English and history in the Philippines as a Peace Corp volunteer.
“This scholarship has helped our family in many ways in the healing process,” Susan says. “We still miss him terribly, it’s been almost 28 years. He would have loved to have seen and loved and hugged his four grandchildren.”
Says his daughter, Elisabeth Dowdy: “The scholarship means a lot to me and our family. It helps to remember, honor and keep his memory alive. Social work and service to others were so important to him and had a profound impact in our lives. The scholarship allows him to continue serving even after his death. I enjoy meeting the people who receive the scholarship and knowing my father helped them in their career in social work.”
The Carlton scholarship is awarded to a master’s student committed to health practice. The 2020-21 recipient, Devon VanBuskirk, is interested in oncology. “After school, I would love to work in a children’s hospital or on a pediatric floor,” she says. “I could also see myself working with patients getting chemo as well.”
‘We both were very proud’: Hans S. Falck
The Hans S. Falck Scholarship is awarded to registered doctoral students who have successfully passed their comprehensive examinations and are actively engaged in conducting their dissertation research.
Falck’s wife, Renate Forssmann-Falck, M.D., says the couple both enjoyed engaging with student recipients.
“When he was still alive, students would come to our house and would introduce themselves,” she says. “Since Hans passed, I always get something sent from their dissertations. I actually got one fairly recently, and I appreciate that very much.”
Harold Strauss, a former president of the Congregation Beth Ahabah synagogue in Richmond, initiated the scholarship in Falck’s name when he retired.
“We both were very proud of having this scholarship at VCU,” she says. “We were surprised when we learned of the establishment of the scholarship. Recently, I decided to continue with donations as long I can afford it.”
His groundbreaking work was on the concept of Membership Theory, which views members of society or groups as the fundamental interactive piece of the social construct. “Falck’s work was deeply rooted in his understanding and commitment to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase which translates as ‘repair the world,’ ” according to a biography published by VCU Libraries’ Social Welfare History Project. He published Social Work: The Membership Perspective in 1989, and it was translated into German in 1997 as Membership. Eine Theorie der Sozialen Arbeit.
“The essence of the book was to refute individualism and develop a new theory and practice for social work,” Forssmann-Falck says.
As a boy, his family escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 for America. He joined the U.S. Army in 1943 and became part of the famed “Ritchie Boys,” an intelligence unit based out Camp Ritchie, Maryland, that was made up primarily of German-speaking European immigrants, many of them Jewish. He served in Germany until 1946.
On the subject of having a scholarship named for him, Forssmann-Falck says her husband only sought attention for his intellectual ideas.
“On the one hand, (the scholarship) was very pleasing,” she says, “but on the other, he didn’t like very much this kind of public attention … too much attention. He was a very private person. With the exception of when it came to his thoughts, and then he was more than happy to share that whenever he had the opportunity.”