Merle & Rosemary Palmer
Alfred & Mary Davis
Creating Hope & Opportunity Through Education
The story of Palmer Scholars cannot be told without sharing its beginning--one man’s very personal reaction that became a resolution, grew to commitment, evolved to a mission, and, through passion and hard work, became Palmer Scholars. Many of us have an inspired idea, but too few of us apply what it takes to nurture and develop that thought into something that touches and improves countless lives. Merle Palmer did.
While serving on a US Navy vessel during WWII, Merle observed sailors of color, perhaps more closely than he ever had in his hometown of Tacoma, WA. Up through the 1960’s most or many schools were segregated, if not by design, then by neighborhood distribution. It was rare for people of color to live in the same neighborhoods as whites, and district borders were often drawn to accommodate those social/economic divisions.
Living in the close quarters of a warship, Merle observed that his colleagues of color were assigned to very distinct duties...doing laundry, changing bed linen, swabbing decks, peeling potatoes and other kitchen duties. He also noticed that, no matter how well they followed orders and executed their jobs, his colleagues of color received little recognition and certainly no opportunity for promotion to a higher rank. This injustice disturbed Merle. Naval service was voluntary. These men had made the same commitment to their country and were exposed to the same dangers as sailors with white skin.
He saw their abilities ignored, their skills underutilized and their sacrifice less honored. Merle resolved to find some way….if he returned from the war….to right this injustice. After returning to Tacoma, Merle, a Christian and active member of a Presbyterian Church, began teaching Sunday School classes to young people at Reverend Al Davis’ Eastside Church. In Reverend Davis Merle found a colleague with a similar vision and interest in supporting youth. They would later work together toward their shared goal.
In Reverend Davis, Merle found a colleague with a similar vision and interest in supporting youth. They would later work together toward their shared goal.
One Sunday after class, Merle was talking to two Lincoln High School seniors and asked, “Hey boys, where are you guys going to college?” The boys were speechless. They looked at Merle like he was crazy. “College?? We’re not going to college!! We can’t afford college!!” Merle knew these boys and, like the sailors on the ship, knew they had what was required to do more, to achieve more. What they didn’t have was the opportunity or the support.
That day, Merle’s resolution began to evolve into the mission that would become Palmer Scholars. He discussed his vision with his wife, Rosie, who shared his commitment and would be his supporter in the years of work and effort that followed. That day, both agreed, they would finance a college education for these two young men, as well as provide them with the guidance and mentoring they knew would be needed, blazing the trail as the first Palmer Scholars.
In the fall of 1983 Merle and Reverend Davis inaugurated the Eastside Community Church Minority Scholarship Fund with six students and limited funding.
In the fall of 1983 Merle and Reverend Davis inaugurated the Eastside Community Church Minority Scholarship Fund with six students and limited funding. Located in Salishan, the largest public housing project west of the Mississippi built during World War II, the church had a congregation of, largely, low income families of color, and it had a strong youth fellowship program.
The program attracted students with viable high school grades, an elevated sense of morals, and dreams of improving their financial destiny in life. Few students, however, had the financial means to accomplish their goals. Merle and Reverend Davis decided to find a way to financially support these qualified and deserving students.
Funding gradually increased when the program incorporated in 1996 as the R. Merle Palmer Minority Scholarship Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. It had a 15-member board and served about 35 students.
To date, Palmer Scholars impacted nearly 600 students with an all time graduation rate of 83%!
To date, Palmer Scholars impacted nearly 600 students with an all-time graduation rate of 83%!