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Newspapers typically shy away from "check passing" photos; grip-and-grins, they are called. But we made an enthusiastic exception last week because the number on the check was unique: $500,000.

That was the amount of money transferred from the Pine Bluff Educational Endowment to the Simmons First Foundation.

The route the money took has been long and winding, but that simply shows that the people who were entrusted with its collection and safekeeping never veered from their mission to be good stewards.

The story starts back in 1999 when it was determined that Pine Bluff needed a private educational alternative that extended through high school. Local leaders were interested in the idea as was the Catholic church. The upshot was a fundraising campaign that led to the purchase of 30 acres and the construction of St. Joseph Catholic High School at 1501 West 73rd Ave. The educational endowment owned the land and facility, while the church created an endowment for the school as well as ran it.

Years later, St. Joseph Catholic Church determined that it was no longer feasible to continue operating the school. Ridgway Christian School then leased the facility, and after that, Southeast Arkansas Preparatory High School became the tenant.

Where things really picked up speed was this spring when Friendship Education Foundation bought and took over full operation of the campus.

As Mac Bellingrath, president of the endowment, said, the timing was perfect.

"We were very fortunate that the Friendship Education Foundation came along," he said. "They said they were very interested in buying the facility and improving it, and we said that sounds good to us. It just all worked out."

From the rent the Pine Bluff Educational Endowment had collected over the years and the sale of the property, the endowment -- with the help of a reduced fee from their lawyer and accountant, Bellingrath said, with a laugh, -- was able to write the check for a cool half-million dollars. And then, with no more need for the money, they decided to donate it.

Asked why they chose the Simmons First Foundation, Bellingrath said his foundation could have given the money to any nonprofit corporation it wanted. But they chose the Simmons Foundation because it was uniquely positioned to continue putting the money to work for the same purpose for which it was originally raised.

"We knew we wanted to do something that was true to our original commitment, which was to better senior high education here in Jefferson County," Bellingrath said. "The Simmons foundation was really the one with the flexibility to do the most with it."

Bellingrath said that if there was a need at the Art and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, or some other educational entity or The Generator, for instance, the Simmons foundation can make the money happen.

In that way, Bellingrath said, the Pine Bluff Educational Endowment was able to "make the biggest impact for those senior high school students" in the area.

No doubt, he is right. And we imagine that the individuals and businesses that proudly stepped up and gave the money that it took to create a high school back then are now smiling that the proceeds from their generosity live on in perpetuity as an educational endowment of the Simmons First Foundation. Thanks to Bellingrath and the current and former endowment board members who took care of those initial investments all these many years. A happy ending it is.


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