Newark woman's $25-a-month gift to students goes a long way

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on October 07, 2014

Eddiemae Livingston, a 95-year-old Newark resident, has been giving $25 monthly scholarships to area college students for more than 50 years.

 

Every month, Eddiemae Livingston sets aside a $25 check after she pays all of her bills.

She places that check in an envelope, with a note of encouragement, and mails it to a young man or woman attending college, usually a student from Newark.

The amount may be small, but every cent of her one-woman scholarship program says a lot about this 95-year-old Newark resident, who lives in Court Tower Apartments.

“I help people who need help,’’ she says. “Our future depends on whether students are educated.’’

She doesn't have a process for who is selected. Forget essays and applications. You just have to be going to school. She normally picks one student per school year, but Livingston has paid for three students at the same time
for two years.

Livingston usually finds her recipients through passing conversations, such as one with a neighbor who happens to be talking about a granddaughter in college. When Livingston hears something like that, she insists on offering the scholarship.

That’s how it happened with Judith Preston, a friend who was about to send money to her granddaughter, Brittany McNeil.

“She (Livingston) said, 'You know what? I’m going to help you,’ ’’ says Preston, who remembers telling Livingston that it wasn’t necessary. “But you can’t tell her what to do. She’s such a beautiful person.’’

Livingston has been sending out her monthly stipends for more than 50 years, fulfulling a promise that she made in 1942. That was the year Livingston graduated from Benedict College, a historically black institution located 43 miles from Newberry, S.C., the tiny rural town where she was high school valedictorian.

The daughter of sharecroppers and one of nine children, Livingston couldn’t afford to pay for school and neither could her parents. But her mother 's cousin, Louise Gary, paid for Livingston to go to college and earn a degree in the then-segregated South. The gesture was Gray's way of thanking Livingston’s mother for raising her and a brother.

“I told her that I will never be able to repay you for how you helped me,’’ Livingston recalls. Gray's response was only that Livingston promise to help someone else in life when she had the chance.

Livingston has kept the pledge, not expecting anything in return. She doesn’t know how many students she has helped or how much money she has given over the years.

“Someone was nice to me, and I have not stopped being nice to other people, " she says.

It is Livingston's hope that McNeil, her latest recipient, will do the same. The 23-year-old senior at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C, says she’s not going to let Livingston down.

McNeil, who grew up in Irvington and Piscataway before moving to Pennsylvania, says Livingston’s generosity helps because she has struggled financially. The money comes in handy, she says, for transportation to work or to buy something to eat.

“Every penny counts,’’ says McNeil.

She’s one of Livingston’s favorites for a simple reason. McNeil continues to stay in touch, even though her two years of installments will end next May.

Ashlee Wright, 22, also is special to Livingston. Wright, who attended Rutgers University, hasn't forgotten about her benefactor, either. The Newark native graduated with a degree in accounting this year, and is still amazed that a sweet older lady would send her $25 every month for two years.

“This is definitely not your average scholarship,’’ Wright says. Most of them are one-shot deals and no one checks on you.

But Livingston does.

“In her letters, she would put quotes encouraging you,’’ Wright says. “When you have someone writing letters, saying you can do it and pushing you, you start to believe you can do it.’’

Wright, who works at PricewaterhouseCoopers, wants to start a scholarship for Newark students because many get discouraged when they see how much college costs. She says there’s a way to make it with available scholarships, but unique endowments such as Livingston's let students know there are people who care.

Newark Council President Mildred Crump remembers the first check that her friend of 60 years gave out. She said it went to a kid on Quitman Street who Livingston thought had potential.

“And sure enough, when he graduated high school, she gave him a scholarship,’’ Crump says.

Livingston, who graduated college with honors, understands the value of education, especially when it comes social justice and equality.

It's something she saw firsthand working for the federal government in Washington, D.C. It was 1947 and Livingston was a claims examiner for soldiers’ allowances in the Office of Dependency Benefits . The government was relocating her division to Newark but, she says, black employees were not included in the move, even though their transfers had been approved. She said the government told them their bus tickets for Newark had been purchased, but the employees learned that it wasn’t true.

Livingston says the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stopped the discrimination when it demanded that employees be given the bus tickets. “The NAACP intervened and I was sufficiently transferred,’’ she says.

She has been a dedicated member of the organization ever since and still attends monthly meetings at her building, where she heads the membership program.

Livingston may be 95, but she maintains a full calendar of activity after working 44 years for the city of Newark in various departments.

On Mondays, she plays bridge and the Pick 3 lottery game. Tuesdays, it’s Pokeno for nickels. Bingo is Wednesday and Friday, and sometimes, she’ll watch the New York Mets play during baseball season.

She uses a walker for balance, but her mind is sharp.

Even though she’ll say her memory is waning, she rattles off the NAACP story as if it were yesterday, sitting comfortably in the community room.

Livingston, who never married or had children, writes constantly — mostly poetry. She’s also written two books — one about bridge players; the other, poems for all occasions.

Here’s an excerpt from one about her birthday:

“My 95th birthday has come and gone, but the memories it's left still linger on. Everyone responded in a beautiful way and the part you played just made my day.’’

Livingston is a giving person, and these scholarships are just one of the ways she helps people financially.

Many others have benefited from her kindness through small loans to pay for such things as rent.

So, bravo, if you've been one of the recipients of such a loan and have paid her back.

Do the right thing if you haven’t.

She has another $25 check to write this month.

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