'Nothing Got Frances Down'
Brenda Yelvington and Lavon Morton honor a friend’s memory with a unique scholarship
“She needed someone to honor what she had done for this community and for her students,” says Brenda Yelvington of her friend Frances Ralston, who taught accounting at Westark’s University Center and briefly at UA Fort Smith. “The university and those students were her life.”
Yelvington, who taught alongside Ralston, was certainly in a position to know. “Frances and I were the entire accounting faculty,” she says. The two also happened to both be working on their dissertations for doctorates from the University of Mississippi, and they quickly became friends. Ultimately, they would accept their degrees at the same ceremony.
More than anything else about Ralston, it was her determination that Yelvington admired. “Frances had a medical condition that kept her from driving,” she says. “She came to work on the bus, carting all those books and all those papers. Then one of the students or I would take her home in the evening. She had a hard life, but nothing got Frances down.”
A single mother, Ralston had one son who didn’t live in the area. “She loved him dearly and talked about him all the time,” says Yelvington, “but the students were her family too. She loved to bake for them—brownies and cinnamon rolls. She thought everybody was special, and she had a heart for the students that struggled.”
Then, on the first day of the 2004 summer session, Ralston wasn’t there to meet her class; she had passed away unexpectedly in her home the night before.
When Yelvington, now co-owner of Omega Sound in Fort Smith, and her husband, Lavon Morton, an Arkansas Best Corporation executive, decided to make a gift honoring Ralston, they knew exactly how to do it. “I wanted to honor Frances with money going to someone that’s trying to live the life that she not only lived but excelled in,” says Yelvington. The Frances B. Ralston Scholarship is awarded to single mothers studying accounting with financial need and a GPA of 2.75 or higher.
Of course, the purpose of the gift is twofold—first to honor Ralston, but also to benefit the community. “UA Fort Smith is a great asset to this region,” says Morton. “It’s always been an opportunity for young people that live here to get a good education close to home, and now it’s starting to get a reputation and really attract people for the quality of the programs. And we want to support that any way we can.”