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Jim Kirkland Establishes Endowment at UNCP

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Hard work, community and education are important to Jim and the late Evelyn Kirkland, and they wish to pay it forward by investing in the future of the things they value. They chose UNC Pembroke to establish the James Bryant Kirkland Jr. and Evelyn Johnson Kirkland Middle Grades Language Arts Endowed Scholarship. The perpetual endowment will benefit high-achieving education majors with demonstrated financial need. 

“We were delighted they recognized the value of UNC Pembroke and provided monetary support that will serve students for years to come. Anyone who knows Mr. Jim knows he lives life full of energy, humility, commitment and humor.  We are so fortunate they are part of our family,” said Alison DeCinti, Director of Development. 

Evelyn, who was a career teacher, passed away in 2013, and as Jim says: “We talked about this for a long time.” The Kirklands chose to invest in education because it was so important in their lives. 

Jim met Evelyn Johnson while they were students at East Carolina College (now University), and their 50-plus year marriage began shortly after graduation. Evelyn earned an undergraduate and graduate degrees in education at East Carolina. Jim, whose father was dean of the School of Education at NC State University, earned a business degree. 

“Evelyn was a believer when it came to education,” Jim said. “I believe in academic scholarships and helping students with college expenses.” 

Evelyn knew the importance of scholarships. She was one of the first recipients of the North Carolina Prospective Teachers Scholarship, the predecessor of the Teaching Fellows Program. The couple established a scholarship with the School of Education at ECU and then looked closer to home. 

“We watched Pembroke grow. For many years, almost since it opened, we were season ticket holders at GPAC, and I had a good relationship with two chancellors over the years,” he said. “It’s a great institution that’s helped a lot of kids make something of themselves.” 

For Evelyn, who taught in Greenville, Fayetteville and Lumberton, education was more than an occupation. She served on the Dean’s Professional Advisory Board of ECU’s College of Education. She was elected to ECU’s College of Education Educator's Hall of Fame, which recognizes outstanding educators. 

“For Evelyn, education was a calling, like the ministry; she had a calling from the get-go, from the 6th grade, to be a classroom teacher,” Jim said. “Even though she could have gone into administration with her master’s degree in school leadership, she never lost sight of the importance of the classroom teacher because they’re on the front lines.” 

With a family in the making (James Bryant III and Laura), the Kirklands came to Lumberton in 1967, and Jim managed the JC Penney auto center. When he opened K’Land Tire and Automotive in Downtown Lumberton in 1974, Evelyn returned to the classroom. In retirement, the couple traveled widely in the U.S. and Canada, and they continued to work in their church, First Presbyterian of Lumberton. Evelyn served as the moderator of Presbyterian Women, elder and the church’s wedding coordinator and Jim continues to run audio systems in the sanctuary. Jim is a lifelong member of the Lions Club. He is an elder emeritus of the church. He is also a member of ECU’s College of Education Hall of Fame.

The idea of “paying it forward” delights Jim. “When I meet scholarship recipients that’s what I tell them, he said. “I encourage other people to give. “You're not going to take anything with you; I’ve never seen a trailer hitch hooked to a hearse,” he laughs. “So why not give it to where it will do a lot of work. What you do now will live on for generations to come.” 

To contribute to the James Bryant Kirkland Jr. and Evelyn Johnson Kirkland Middle Grades Language Arts Endowed Scholarship or for more information about giving at UNCP, please contact the Office of Advancement at (910) 521-6252 or email advancement@uncp.edu.