New MCC Foundation scholarship pays tribute to Texas native

Barbara Jeanne Kurtz Freese

“I couldn’t think of a better way to really honor who she truly was.” 

That’s what Cindy Chisolm said her reason was for establishing two $1,000 scholarships through the Meridian Community College Foundation in memory of her mother, Barbara Jeanne Kurtz Freese. 

Freese, who was described as a lifelong learner, was a retired Texas and Louisiana teacher who died in December 2020. She was 92 years old. 

Growing up on a farm outside of Floresville, Texas, during the Great Depression, Freese and her eight siblings helped with the chores that included feeding and milking the cows, taking care of the chickens and picking cotton. They also would walk three miles to a one-room schoolhouse. 

Freese, though, desired a different life. 

“There must have been a teacher or a subject that captivated her that made her want to be more than just a farmer’s wife or settle for that lifestyle,” said Chisolm. “Something that appealed to her.” 

Chisolm speculates a teacher saw Freese’s ambition and set in motion a change for her life.

“I do know she played basketball, so somebody saw something in her and wanted to help. And they wanted to make sure she got to a university,” Chisolm said. 

The local superintendent’s family invited Freese to live in their home to help with the chores and the children. “They would see to it that she would graduate from high school with everything she needed,” Chisolm said. The superintendent’s family also made sure Freese got small jobs here and there to pay for books and tuition.  

Chisolm explained, “She must have known it was up to her if she was to become educated to the point where she could have a career and support herself.”   

She attended what was called Southwest Texas State, now known as Texas State University at San Marcos. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Freese began teaching elementary school in Runge, Texas, where she met her future husband, Olen Freese. The Freeses lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, and New Orleans, where Freese earned her master’s degree in elementary education when she was in her 50s. The couple later returned to and retired in Texas. 

Chisolm said her mom never bragged about it, but she had a history of making donations to a teachers’ association. “She believed in helping others in the same kind of ways in which she was helped,” she said. 

“I think she felt like she wanted to give back because somebody made sure she got what she needed,” Chisolm said. 

She added, “that was just a part of her makeup.” 

The new MCC Foundation scholarship is earmarked for students majoring in education and transferring to a four-year university. The scholarship will be awarded to MCC students later this semester.

Leia Hill, vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of the MCC Foundation, said it is an emotional experience when people reach out to establish memorial scholarships.

Hill added, “We know Mrs. Chisolm’s mother meant the world to her family. Education is the gift that lasts a lifetime, and a memorial scholarship provides a meaningful way for a family to honor their loved one while carrying the legacy forward to future generations of students.”