The donation of a lifetime

Scholarship: A banking executive's widow provides money for the future of 26 Baltimore County kindergartners.

October 15, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

The autumn after Stephen Shock's premature death in January 2002, his widow and his mother resumed their Tuesday morning routine of reading to a class of kindergartners at Halstead Academy, in Baltimore County's Hillendale neighborhood.

As only bubbly 5-year-olds could, those 26 children gave Molly and Betty Shock an escape from their grief and helped them begin to heal.

"That class was so full of joy," said Molly Shock, Stephen's widow. "Many times in my week, that was the most joy I had."

And so Molly Shock, who lives in Stoneleigh and turned 50 last week, is donating $50,000 to establish a scholarship fund for the pupils in that class to further their education after high school - be it for Harvard tuition or truck-driving training. She calls the money "a drop in the bucket" in comparison with what the children gave her and "my 50th-birthday present to me."

Molly Shock said she was able to make the donation because her husband, senior executive vice president at MBNA America, left her and their two teen-age sons well-off financially when he died at age 49 of cancer treatment complications. Most pupils at Halstead come from low-income families.

Yesterday, 15 Halstead first-graders and their parents gathered back in their old kindergarten classroom to say thank you to "Mrs. Shock and Mrs. Shock," presenting Molly Shock and her mother-in-law with cards and memory books they made.

Schools Superintendent Joseph A. Hairston called them "a model of the human spirit."

"I'm a single mother of five, and you have no idea" what this means, Tonia Hill said as she gave Molly Shock a hug. "You're such a blessing."

Shock was gracious, but also insistent that the children are the ones deserving of thanks. The children were not quite sure what they had done to merit such attention.

Hill's son Emmanuel, 6, had this explanation:

"We're going to be on TV because we're special."

Why is that, Emmanuel?

"We all follow directions."

Emmanuel had heard something about getting money to be whatever he wants to be when he grows up. That will be helpful, he said, because "I'm going to be everything when I grow up, even a superhero."

Other aspirations among the group include teacher, preacher, doctor, police officer, movie star and cheerleader.

Emmanuel and his classmates just remember the fun they had when the two Mrs. Shocks would call them out of their class, one by one, to sit in rocking chairs in the hall and read whatever book they had picked out that week from the school library or classroom collection.

Molly Shock said they quickly figured out, "the longer the book, the longer we're out in the hallway."

Molly and Betty Shock began volunteering as readers in Gwendolyn Smith's kindergarten class at Halstead nine years ago, when Molly and Stephen Shock's younger son was in kindergarten himself.

The Shocks' only connection to Halstead was that they attend the Loch Raven United Methodist Church, which at the time was encouraging its members to "adopt the local public schools," Molly Shock said.

She and her mother-in-law, who lives in Loch Raven Village, will continue to read to a new class of kindergartners this year.

Smith and Halstead Principal Jill Carter said yesterday that, through the years, the Shocks have helped dozens of youngsters learn to read. Carter said many Halstead parents must work two or three jobs to make ends meet and can't spend as much time in their children's classroom as they would like.

Molly Shock has notified all 26 families that their children will be eligible for the money regardless of where they are living in 12 years. The only requirement is that they earn a high school diploma. She will determine how much each child gets, depending on tuition costs.

She said she decided to go public with her story in the hopes that others will contribute to the Shock Scholarship Fund, which is administered through the Baltimore County Education Foundation and is designated only for members of that kindergarten class of 2003.

"The class just touched me, helped me heal," she said. "I certainly can't repay what they gave me."

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