Hoytanna Lessley Benigar and Richard Ian Hart may come from different generations but they share the same dreams.
Benigar established the Hoyt and Beulah Lessley Endowed Scholarship at Rogers State University and Hart is the first recipient of that scholarship. They were introduced to each other recently at the University Office of Development.
“It’s a special moment when a benefactor and student meet for the first time,” said Dr. Danette Boyle, RSU vice president for development. “I’ve been privileged to witness this moment many times through the years. You have people who may seem different on the surface, but they’re coming together with a common purpose and shared goals.”
In this case, the common purpose is obtaining a college education.
Benigar’s parents, Hoyt and Beulah Lessley, went to college at a time when few others did. It was the 1930s and her mother, Beulah Moore, was one of nine children living on a farm in Sequoyah County, Okla.
“She picked cotton and saved her earnings to attend Northeastern State College in Tahlequah,” said Benigar.
After graduation, Benigar’s mother taught first through eighth grades in a one-room school house, living in a room adjacent to the school and chopping wood to keep it warm.
“She worked so hard to obtain an education for herself and help others achieve that same dream,” Benigar said.
Her father, Hoyt Lessley, returned to college later in life after a successful career as a businessman, making custom boots in his shop in downtown Tahlequah. He saved his money to attend Oklahoma A&M College in Stillwater (now Oklahoma State University), also earning a teaching degree.
Her parents eventually moved to Claremore to raise their family, where Major Hoyt Lessley taught accounting and business law from 1950 to 1968 at the Oklahoma Military Academy, the predecessor of Rogers State University.
“I established the scholarship endowment to honor their memory and commitment to education,” Benigar said.
She established the endowment along with her uncle and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Lessley, also of Claremore. Sam Lessley was Hoyt Lessley’s brother.
The scholarship will be awarded to freshmen who are graduates of a high school in Rogers County, have been accepted into the RSU Honors Program and who have demonstrated a financial need.
“I’m proud to be the first recipient of the Lessley Scholarship,” said Hart, an RSU sophomore majoring in medical/molecular biology and 2007 graduate of Claremore High School.
Hart’s journey to obtain a college education has also had its challenges. As an elementary school student, his teachers told his parents that his dyslexia would prevent him from going to college. However, he proved them wrong. He is an RSU Honors Student and member of the RSU President’s Leadership Class.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree at RSU, Hart plans on continuing his education in radiology. “Although I’m dyslexic, I’m good at looking at images and analyzing them,” he said. “And I’ve always been interested in helping people, so I thought radiology would be the perfect career.”
In his spare time, Hart is interested in archaeology and paleontology and would like to participate in archaeological research and mission work.
His father, Brian Hart, recently earned a degree in nursing from RSU and works as a nurse in Tulsa. His father and mother, Christa Hart, live in Claremore.
For information about establishing a scholarship, contributing to the Hoyt and Beulah Lessley Scholarship Endowment or applying for a scholarship, contact the Dr. Danette Boyle, RSU vice president for development, (918) 343-7773.