Donor Stories


The gift was given by Dr. Farren and Lynn Smith in honor of Olive J. Smith, Farren’s mother. The endowment will support Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars majoring in the sciences.

To learn more about the life of Olive J. Smith (written by Dr. Farren Smith), click here.


The Panhandle Gator Club hosted the ‘Orange and Boo’ mini-golf tournament on Saturday, October 25th at Pirate Island. The primary goal of the event was to raise funds and awareness for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program. The family event encouraged participants to come in costume and play a round of mini-golf for a great cause. Prizes were awarded based on best costume, team name, and overall scores. The event raised close to $2500 to support the program. We appreciate the ongoing support from our Gator Clubs! Here is a link to the news story about the event:



The university announced today a $10 million anonymous gift to support the Florida Opportunity Scholars program, which Machen created in 2005. The donors have requested that the program be renamed the Bernie and Chris Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program.

Florida Opportunity Scholarships support bright and talented students who might not otherwise attend UF because of financial barriers and are the first in their families to attend college.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has pledged $1 million — $200,000 per year for five years — in a challenge grant benefiting the endowment for the Florida Opportunity Scholarship program at the University of Florida.

The award is the first of its kind from the foundation to the university; its goal is to inspire others to give to the program.  The pledge is a four-to-one challenge grant, which means that for each of the next five years the university raises $800,000 in cash gifts, the foundation contributes $200,000. Each gift is leveraged by others to be worth five times its face value. If successful, the challenge will result in $5 million to the Florida Opportunity Scholarship endowment, which will provide scholarships to select students in the program each year, in perpetuity.

“The generosity of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation will translate into a new life for scores of students,” UF President Bernie Machen said. “I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you just give a young person the right opportunity and then step out of the way, they will amaze you. This challenge grant creates just that kind of opportunity.”

Florida Opportunity Scholarships support students admitted to the University of Florida on their own merit who come from low-income households and are the first in their family to attend college. The program ensures that qualified students have a chance to enroll at UF regardless of family income. The scholarship provides discretionary funds for students who are admitted but cannot afford the standard expenses of tuition, books, fees, meals, housing and transportation.

“The Florida Opportunity Scholarship program provides financial support to students who might otherwise not be able to afford a university education. It gives these students the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge for a successful career and life,” said Malcolm Macleod, president and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. “The Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program fits perfectly with the mission of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. The 4-to-1 matching by University of Florida demonstrates outstanding commitment to the Florida Opportunity Scholarship program, and we are proud to be its partner in this venture.”

The program currently supports about 1,400 students, or roughly 300 per class year. The program’s total operating budget was $8 million in 2011-2012, with average scholarships costing $6,000 per student per year. Needed scholarship support for the program will increase to $12 million in 2012-13 as a result of decreases in federal Pell Grant and Bright Futures Scholarship funding.

In the first two graduating classes, alumni of the program have gone on to graduate school, medical and law schools,  jobs with the Department of Justice, Department of the Navy and  companies such as Amazon and eBay.

With the assistance of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s $1 million pledge, along with other private donations, the Florida Opportunity Scholarship program will continue to change not only the lives of students across Florida but also the lives of their families and communities for the long term.

For more information, visit the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Web site at To listen to the WUFT story, please visit

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation is based in West Palm Beach and was founded by Theodore R. Johnson and his wife of 52 years, Vivian Chesley Macleod Johnson.  The Johnson Scholarship Foundation mandate specifically recognizes individuals who are ‘disadvantaged because of their social or economic circumstances’. Through the establishment of the Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson sought to help future generations of deserving people to educate themselves. 


The thought of retirees celebrating their birthday might bring to mind golf on the links or a nice dinner. But Paul Watford (BSBA ’68) preferred celebrating his 65th birthday this year by coupling his joy of donating to charity with his passion for hiking.

Forgoing the typical birthday party this year, Watford instead organized a fundraiser for the Florida Opportunity Scholars program. Friends, family and some of the scholarship’s recipients came out Nov. 6 to donate and hike the bleachers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“For years now, for my birthday I ask family and friends to give to charity instead of giving me a gift,” Watford says. “I thought it would be an ideal way to give.”

Watford, an avid hiker since 1992, enjoys going on expeditions and hiking to stay in shape. He’s traveled the world to climb in places such as Colorado and on such notable mountains as Mount Kilimanjaro. When at home in Gainesville, he keeps up his hiking by doing stadiums, which are stepping cycles up and down stadium bleachers.

To organize the fundraiser, Watford, whose actual birthday is Nov. 22, invited friends and family to come out and contacted the Opportunity Scholars program for help promoting the event. It was Watford’s idea to have participants give $10 for every stepping cycle completed.

“Don’t want to bankrupt anybody,” Watford says.

The event raised $500, and Watford and his wife matched that amount. Watford later received two $50 checks in the mail from participants, bringing the total donated to $1,100.

The money raised exceeded Watford’s expectation.

“I was assuming we’d get $200, so we doubled that amount,” Watford says. “I know some of my friends have never done stadium steps, so I didn’t want to kill them.”

Watford says he was impressed with the scholars who came out to greet the participants.

“They spoke well. They were appreciative of what we were doing,” Watford says. “Some actually did stadiums with us.”

Josh Cooper of Hallandale Beach was one of the scholars who came out to support the event. Calling Watford “a really cool guy” and “very hip,” Cooper commends him for organizing the fundraiser.

“I loved it,” Cooper says. “I wanted to do more, but he said five stadiums were enough. I still worked up a nice sweat. It wasn’t too cold, but it was nice.”

The money raised by event will go toward helping students such as Cooper, who is a sophomore health major.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go to the university without [the Florida Opportunity Scholars program],” Cooper says. “It’s helped me out a lot. It’s really been a rewarding program, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Watford was inspired to get involved with FOS after hearing about the work his daughter, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, did with minority scholarships in California. Already Gator Boosters, Watford and his wife, Deborah (BMUS ’90), were attracted to the Opportunity Scholars program for its emphasis on diversity, a subject Watford highly regards.

“I think it’s important to meet people from different backgrounds,” he says. “It helps people grow.”

Watford calls the program his “favorite charity to give money to,” having donated to them for the past few years.

“I think they’re doing an excellent job,” Watford says. “One of the things I enjoy about traveling is meeting different people from different cultures, and that’s what [the program] is trying to do.”

He thinks FOS could get a bigger audience with a stadiums fundraiser aimed at students and Gainesville residents. This fundraiser could incorporate fun, competitive games, Watford says, such as seeing who can run up the bleachers the fastest or who can jump up the farthest.

But until then, Watford is satisfied with his contribution.

“Anytime I can get 23 people to come from around the country to do steps with me is great,” he says.

Wade Millward* (2JM)

Learn more at


Many donors to the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program are UF alumni or private organizations, but some students are choosing to make a difference in the lives of their peers. In 2009, Matthew Wercinski and Jake Gipson wont the first National Guard FLW College Fishing National Championship on Fort Loudon Lake after catching three bass weighing 7 pounds, 11 ounces for a three-day total of 10 bass weighing 29 pounds, 10 ounces. The national championship, featuring a $100,000 first-place award, was a three-day nationally televised event that hosted the top 25 teams in the country. After their victory, Wercinski and Gipson decided to give back to UF, making a $40,000 donation to the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program.