Skip to main content

September 30, 2023

Guilford Lifts Up Benefactors Who Help Change the World

At a special ceremony in the Carnegie Room, Guilford benefactors meet some of the students impacted by their generosity.

On paper, Mary Ellen Cathey was the cook for the women of Mary Hobbs Hall. For 20 years she spun together meals for students. Meatloaf, fried chicken, tuna casserole and, of course, her famous cinnamon buns.

Guilford students and her children say there's not enough paper to measure the impact Mary Ellen, who passed away in 1999, had on them during her 20-year career at the College.

Lonnie Cathey (above left), one of Mary Ellen’s sons, says his mom was more than a cook to the residents of Hobbs.  “She was a mother for girls away from home,” says Lonnie. “She was a mother, a mentor, and an educator. “Classrooms only teach you so much. Mom taught those girls even more.”

On Friday, the first day of Guilford’s 2023 Homecoming & Family Weekend, Mary Ellen and nearly two dozen alumni and friends of the College were recognized at the College’s annual Scholarship Reception that celebrates the many donors who provide endowed scholarships, gap scholarships and make other unique programs possible.

One of those celebrated was Mary Ellen. In 1995, a group of Guilfordians who lived in Mary Hobbs in the 1960s and 1970s, created a scholarship in their friend’s name. The Mary Ellen Cathey Scholarship for Music is awarded to a deserving Guilford student pursuing a degree in Music.

Destini Nyorkor ‘24 (above center) from Columbia, Md., is one of the recipients. On Friday she met with Lonnie and his sister Sandra Roseborough (above right) to talk about her goals and, of course, Mary Ellen.

Destini, a Resident Assistant in Binford Hall, is a Vocal Music major who wants to help others as a music therapist. She enjoyed hearing the stories of Mary Ellen, who was Black and started working at Mary Hobbs in 1950 when Black students were not allowed to attend the College.

That didn’t matter to Mary Ellen, her daughter says. “Mom judged people by their hearts and she had a good heart herself,” says Sandra. “Mom didn’t see color. If you had a good heart and did your assignments in the kitchen, that’s all that mattered to her.”

Linda Mercer '69 lived in Hobbs. She says in her own quiet way, Mary Ellen -- "Mur" to those who lived in Hobbs -- "taught a race relations course in the kitchen of Mary Hobbs Hall."

"Many students came to Guilford from areas where they had little or no contact with other races, while others brought their own racial ignorance and prejudices with them to college," says Linda. "These issues were part of the news during the 1950s and 60s. Yet, like the calm eye of a hurricane, Mur just continued to care about, counsel, and love her girls, regardless of background or race."

Destini says it was nice hearing stories of the woman who made her scholarship possible. “It was lovely getting to meet her children and learn a little more about her,” says Destini. “I’m blessed to have friends like Mary Ellen in my life so I can imagine why she was so special to so many students.”

The evening was also a chance for Guilford to thank its many benefactors. “They’re helping Guilford continue its mission of providing a transformative education,” says LaDaniel Gatling II, Vice President of Advancement and Alumni Relations. “Our students are going to change the world because of the generosity of our benefactors.”