In one room, more than 100 hands went up. In another, behind a wall that muffled the sights and sounds of her future being decided, Pate Thomerson was shaking.
Thomerson is a senior at Western Boone High School and a caddy at Highland Golf and Country Club, and the two intersected on Feb. 4 when she and nine other Indiana high school seniors interviewed at Meridian Hills Country Club for an Evans Scholarship.
One by one, they were questioned by members of the Western Golf Association, which sponsors the four-year scholarships given to the best and brightest kids in the WGA’s caddy program. And one by one they left the room alone, having no idea if they’d said enough. Or too much.
Then they were told to wait. The answer – yes or no to more than $100,000 in free education, a mind-boggling, life-changing award – would come in the mail. In an envelope from the WGA.
For four days, Pate Thomerson shook as she went to the end of her driveway in unincorporated northwest Boone County, opened the mailbox and flipped through bills, magazine, junk. On the fifth day she texted her father, Bill, from school: Please get the mail. Text me if there’s anything from the WGA.
Her dad wrote back:
“If there is, I’ll bring you home to open it. We’ll say you have an appointment.”
A few hours later a teacher popped into Mr. Krueger’s U.S. Government class and told Pate her father was on his way to school. Looks like she has an appointment.
“I started shaking again,” Pate says.
Turns out Bill Thomerson had used the same ruse to get Pate’s sister, Page, a junior at Western Boone, out of school. Whatever was in that envelope from the WGA, the family was going to see it together. Pate saw her sister in the hallway.
“Don’t even go to your locker,” Pate told her. “Go straight to the car!”
We’re pleased to advise you that you’re an Evans Scholar and …
Pate Thomerson stopped shaking and started to cry.
* * *
Here’s what you need to know about the morning of Feb. 4 at Meridian Hills: Ten of the most impressive, most likeable, most terrified kids you’ve ever seen walked into that roomful of WGA members and poured out their hearts. One at a time we heard stories of financial distress and broken families. We heard about medical conditions. We heard about hard work and dreams, super grades and solid test scores and hours and hours of volunteer work. We heard from 10 great kids.
Pate Thomerson stole the show.
Again, 10 great kids walked into that room, but only one left it in tears. And by that I don’t mean Pate Thomerson was crying, though she was. I mean, the room was crying with her.
“That shows you what the Evans Scholarship means,” Jeff Harrison, the WGA’s senior vice president of education, said to the sound of sniffles after Pate had left the room. “You can see it right there.”
The night after her interview at Meridian Hills, Pate went to Grandma Caldwell’s house and told her how the interview went – how she was shaking, with a college scholarship on the line – and then listened as Grandma Caldwell explained why she hadn’t finished eighth grade. This was 1932. The Great Depression. Martha Caldwell walked to school, and her shoes were falling apart.
“She put cardboard in them,” Pate was telling me a few days later, retelling Grandma Caldwell’s story by phone. “By the time she got to the end of the road, the cardboard was soggy and hurt her feet. For Christmas she wanted shoes. When her parents got her a 60-cent hat instead, she stopped going to school.
“I’ve wanted to go to college so bad, but hearing that …”
Pate’s voice trails off. I think she’s crying. I think she’s not the only one.
* * *
Pate will go to Indiana University, where she plans to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in athletic training and a Master’s in physical therapy. She told WGA members she wants to help people who were born like she was, “athletes that don’t quite have a lucky body.”
She ran track and played softball, but soccer was her sport and she was good at it. So good that she played striker on the varsity as a sophomore, but her body was wearing down. Truth be told, her legs had been hurting for two years, but it was getting worse.
“I didn’t want to go to the doctor and be told something horrible,” she says. “I knew after I finished the season I would feel fine in a few weeks and I would be OK. Right?”
Evans Scholarship or not, Pate Thomerson was going to college. Her mom, Penny, was adamant about that. A Lebanon native, Penny Thomerson had gone away to Seminole Community College in Florida when one of her parents got sick and she had to come home. She stayed around here, marrying Bill and going to work for the U.S. Postal Service until having to retire because of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Penny Thomerson went back to college, got her Bachelor’s and a Master’s, and now does home visits as a social worker.
Pate was going to college – Purdue, most likely, since she could commute the 35 miles to West Lafayette – even if Penny and Bill Thomerson had to get second jobs to make it happen. Pate had spent four years as a caddy working toward an Evans Scholarship, with no guarantees but this: She was going to college. One way or another.
“We already had this discussion,” Penny says. “We’d have done whatever we needed to do to make (college) happen.”
Pate took care of it herself, driving 45 minutes each way to Highland every Saturday and Sunday of the summer. Her goal was to be one of the first five caddies at the course – it’s first come, first served – and to do that meant showing up at 6:30 a.m. So she did. She made honor roll all four years of high school and was president of Key Club. She volunteered at the Humane Society, the United Way, The Caring Center and the local library.
“I did everything I could to win that scholarship,” Pate says.
Including the interview on Feb. 4, when she nailed it. I mean, nailed it. Ten kids interviewed and ten kids nailed it, but nobody stuck the landing like Pate Thomerson, who reduced her audience to charmed tears.
When it was time to vote for recipients of the Evans Scholarships, Jeff Harrison of the WGA asked for a show of hands. He’d name a kid, then ask two questions: Yes? No? Only WGA members in the room could vote, not the media or other guests, so nine times I watched Harrison name a kid, ask for a yes, ask for a no. Nine times, I watched the hands go up.
For Pate Thomerson, it was unanimous. Pate was on the other side of the wall, not seeing what was happening when Jeff Harrison asked for a yes. I looked around and noticed that every hand in the room had gone up.
Find Star columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or atwww.facebook.com/gregg.doyel