Choir students currently attending Lake Highlands High School were not yet born when John Stallings sang in the A Cappella Choir and pop music ensemble Espree.
But they know his name. And his face. And his legacy.
The John Stallings Scholarship, established after his death in 1987, honors valuable contributions to the LHHS choral program. Plaques with Stallings’ picture and the recipients’ names hang on the choir room wall.
“From the time they enter as sophomores, my students want to see their name on that plaque before they graduate,” choral music director Michael O’Hern says.
Stallings graduated from LHHS in 1986. In February 1987, while in his freshman year at Texas A&M, he died in a car crash.
Mollie McCollough, who had O’Hern’s job at the time, suggested to Freeman and Barbara Stallings that they establish the scholarship, O’Hern says.
“She, along with John’s parents, wanted to do something to remember John in a positive light,” he says. “He was a kid who not only excelled in music; he got good grades, he was an athlete, he was an exceptional young man.”
The program has awarded more than $40,000 in scholarships, usually $500 or $1,000 each, since the first one in 1987.
“At that time, I think we thought it might last five years or so. It’s been such an amazing thing that it keeps going,” Barbara Stallings says. “It doesn’t contribute as much to their college anymore, but it seems to be an honor.”
The scholarship lives from year to year on donations without the support of a permanent endowment. The amount of money available determines the number of recipients.
Barbara Stallings’ college roommate, Jean Durfee of Virginia, funds one scholarship each year. Over the years, classmates, parents and friends have organized fundraising events.
The Lake Highlands Area Choir Booster Club would like to see the scholarship endowed to ensure that it lasts, says fundraising committee member Rick Hawkins. The group hopes former students, parents and neighborhood residents and businesses will step in to help, he says.
“There’s probably people who would be interested in donating if they just knew about it,” he says.
Recipients are chosen based on involvement and contribution to the choir program, academic standing, financial need and interviews. Barbara Stallings serves on the selection committee as a non-voting member.
“They’re all not only bright and accomplished, but they’re really good people,” she says of the students.
Selections are announced during the school’s awards night in May. Each year, the Stallings family holds a reception at their home for the applicants. Some of the same people who came the first year still attend, Stallings says.
“Some parents would find it hard to stay involved,” O’Hern says. “But they are at every concert, every Espree show, every choir banquet. They are still very active.”
When O’Hern taught at Lake Highlands Junior High, he created an award there in John’s name, Barbara Stallings says. She credits him and McCullough, the former choir director, for keeping the scholarship going.
“This is a way for the whole community to keep John’s memory alive,” O’Hern says.