A drunk driver killed Patsy and Don Lee’s daughter Melinda in 1994.  Photo by James Coreas

A drunk driver killed Patsy and Don Lee’s daughter Melinda in 1994. Photo by James Coreas

This month’s Advocate magazine features a story about memorial scholarships, which often help Lake Highlands students afford college. Scroll down to read the text; here is an update: Lake Highlands students DeMarkus Taylor and Kayla Banks each were awarded a $3,000 scholarship provided by Don and Patsy Lee, whose daughter Melinda died in the mid 90s. They quickly started up a scholarship fund in her memory. Of the two recipients, Don Lee says, “Both have good grades, both are involved in school affairs, both have great recommendations and both have a financial need. Both will be attending Texas Tech.”

Lee reminds us that the Lake Highlands Exchange Club scholarship ceremonies and breakfast is coming up: May 15 at 7 a.m. at Lake Highlands United Methodist Church. He says the Exchange Club will present 56 awards totaling $136,000. 

Parents cope with grief by creating memorial scholarships 

It is easy to picture Melinda Lee — 20 years old with a gentle smile, porcelain complexion, blonde curls — chatting with her sorority sisters as she drove away from the club that October night in 1994, unaware of what fate loomed on the road.

Wayland Leroy Lamb, 32, was drunk and distraught following a fight with his wife, according to court documents, when he barreled past the red light into their car.

All three girls were injured, Melinda beyond repair.

The next 54 days, Melinda lay in a Lubbock hospital, and her parents watched her die.

Melinda Ann Lee

Melinda Ann Lee

“She was on a ventilator, so she was unable to eat, drink, speak or breathe on her own the entire time,” her father Don Lee says. “Yet, she was conscious and alert most of the time. Just stop and imagine if you think you could exist in this type of condition for 54 days.”

It is painful to talk about the details, Lee says, but he and his wife, Patsy, never want people to forget the lasting and far-reaching agony that can result from one decision to drive while intoxicated.

The Lees describe their daughter’s killer, who served 20 prison years, as “lost,” and someone they are now trying to forget.

They intend to keep Melinda’s memory alive. A plaque near the front door of their Lake Highlands home reads, “In Memory of Melinda Ann Lee.” Family photos — many including a young Melinda — cover living room tables, walls and shelves; Melinda, Patsy and her other daughter, Jennifer, all share the same golden locks and fair skin.

For years after Melinda’s death, until health issues began holding them back, the Lees worked tirelessly to help reduce drunk driving by speaking at Mothers Against Drunk Driving events around the country and writing letters to the media.

“I have spoken to offenders, talked to a lot of people with DWI charges who admitted a drinking problem,” Don says. “Amazing how many there are out there who can’t control their drinking but who still get behind the wheel of a car.”

The Melinda Lee Scholarship, which has helped 37 students and counting afford college, is perhaps their late daughter’s most-enduring legacy.

“Amazing how many there are out there who can’t control their drinking but who still get behind the wheel of a car.”

In 1996 the Lees launched the scholarship fund, from which they provide two yearly scholarships — one through the Lake Highlands Exchange Club and the other through Texas Tech University — to LHHS students who want to attend Tech.

“We make payments to an endowment fund every year and our goal is to have it reach the point that it will be able to provide a scholarship of about $10,000 each year forever,” Don says.

“It gives us a good feeling,” Patsy adds. “And it gives people a way to remember Melinda.”

The Exchange Club and Tech select the respective awardees. “We have been pleased with the recipients and we try to keep up with their progress,” Don says. He shares a letter from 2009 recipient Josh Evans.

Evans notes that he graduated with honors from the Texas Tech School of Engineering and was going to work for Exxon Mobil. Because of the Lees’ scholarship, along with other scholarships, he was the first person in his family to complete college.

“He will never know how much that letter meant to us,” Don says.

Every year, organizations such as the Lake Highlands Exchange Club, Lake Highlands Women’s League and The Lake Highlands High School Wildcat Club work with individuals and foundations to provide hard-earned college scholarship dollars to dozens of students.

Scholarship presentations — which take place each May in school auditorium ceremonies or celebratory breakfasts — are filled with smiles, expressions of gratitude and tears of joy.

Several of those scholarships are “memorial scholarships.” It is a bittersweet realization: for each student embarking on a new chapter thanks to a memorial scholarship, there is typically a story of a life cut short.

The North Texas-based Lone Star Wind Orchestra, in collaboration with Ann and Pat Stewart, for example, will award its first Jack Stewart Memorial Scholarship this May.

Jack Stewart

Jack Stewart

Jack Stewart was an accomplished musician and the 2013 salutatorian at LHHS. Last year, Stewart was one of two Baylor students killed in a midday crash while en route to an International Clarinet Association meeting in Baton Rouge.

During his senior year at LHHS, Stewart won the inaugural Lone Star Youth Winds concerto and played two years with the youth orchestra. In his honor, the nonprofit orchestra created the Jack Stewart Music Changing Lives Endowment Fund, from which the scholarships will come.

Jack’s parents choose the scholarship recipients.

“The scholarship honors Jack’s enduring love of music, dedication, talent and artistry,” they wrote in an announcement of the scholarship. “And it is a tribute to his selflessness and pays homage to his compassion for others and the assistance he so eagerly provided to countless people in his short life.”

More memorial scholarships:

Kelsey Kidd

Kelsey Kidd

Kelsey Kidd was a 2001 LHHS graduate and a Texas Tech student who studied journalism and loved Aerosmith, Steel Magnolias and horseback riding. In the summer of 2005 she died in a car crash. Ten years later, her friends still leave notes on the wall of a memorial website. (“Kelsey, I miss you so much. Our reunion was not the same without you!” “Kelsey, I watched Steel Magnolias today and thought about you!” Kelsey, they remade Steel Magnolias. The Horror!”) She also is immortalized through the Kelsey Kidd Memorial Scholarship for LHHS students entering Tech.

John Stallings was an outstanding choir member, track athlete and scholar at Lake Highlands High School in the 1980s. The Texas A&M student died in a 1986 car accident. His parents established a memorial scholarship that to date has paid $65,000 to LHHS students who demonstrate musical talent and leadership abilities.

In 1996, a speeding police car crashed into and killed LHHS students Katie Finley and Megan Jones. Accident reports showed Katie was at fault, information that made nothing easier for the devastated family and friends of the popular and active teens. Through the Lake Highlands Wildcat Club, the Katie Finley Scholarship offers thousands of dollars toward college tuition each year to one LHHS student.

Mike Oglesby was a longtime member and past president of the Lake Highlands Exchange Club. He and wife Jeanenne started a scholarship in memory of their son, Jason, who accidentally drowned in a swimming pool. After Mike died in 2013 from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Jeanenne added a scholarship to commemorate her husband.

The 1st Lt. Jeffrey Titus Memorial Scholarship honors the memory of LHHS graduate Jeffrey Johnson who was killed in a car wreck.

Susan Kane provides an award in memory of her husband Jeff Kane, former principal of Forest Meadow Junior High.

Joan and Alan Walne donate a generous annual scholarship in memory of Alan’s parents Frances and Herb Walne.  

Bob Potts, longtime Exchange Club member and proprietor of Potts and Associates and The Store Decor Company, donates thousands of dollars worth of scholarships each year in memory of his first wife Data Jo Potts, who died in 1995 of lung cancer.

Other notable scholarship contributors include Sally and Jim Nation, Cheri and Eric Luck and Wade Smith, an LHHS graduate who became a successful professional football player.

Lake Highlands High School students  should talk to an academic counselor about available scholarships — it is impossible to list them all here. Lake Highlands Exchange Club member Don Lee notes that there is an abundance of college money available for students and that “the biggest challenge is getting them to apply.” The Exchange Club and the Lake Highlands Women’s League raise funds throughout the year and give away hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to LHHS graduates, in addition to overseeing several memorial scholarships. In 2014, the Women’s League presented 33 scholarships, and the Exchange Club awarded 50. Learn more at lhwl.org and lhexchangeclub.org. For information about 2015 awardees, click here.