While teaching a Sunday school class, Sen. J. Robert Hooper noticed the difference a specialty school made in the life of one of his students.
He saw how being able to learn helped the boy in everyday life, said his wife, Shirley Hooper.
"Bob was all about helping to make sure that everyone has a chance in life," said Shirley Hooper. Her husband died of colon cancer on Jan. 25 in his Street home, at the age of 71. "And he strongly supported education."
As a result of his dedication and support of the Highlands School, a scholarship is being established to honor him. The Highlands School is an independent, nonprofit school in Bel Air that serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade with language-processing deficits, dyslexia and other learning differences.
"We wanted him to know the difference he made for the children," said Kathy Casey, the school's development director for the past six years.
The former Republican legislator will be honored at a dinner reception hosted by the Highlands School on Friday at the Residents' Club at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace. All proceeds from ticket sales will fund the initiation of the scholarship.
The idea to start the scholarship stemmed from the late senator's longtime support of the school and area children, said Patricia Bonney, the school's executive director.
On one occasion, school officials approached members of the state Senate and appropriations committee in Annapolis to request funding for the new facility, which opened in the fall of 2007. Hooper introduced each student who attends the school to the senators and committee members, Bonney said.
"He championed our cause," Bonney said. "He made each child feel like they were important to him."
When the school held the ribbon-cutting for its new campus, Hooper attended even though he was ill, Bonney said. "He wasn't well enough to stay long," she said. "Everyone wanted him at their openings and events, and he made the time to come to our school."
Hooper, who helped create the county's first youth soccer league, was elected to the state Senate in 1998. He retired in December.
Shortly after Hooper, a Baltimore native, announced his resignation from the state Senate in November 2007, Bonney approached him about the school's desire to start the scholarship. "He had tears in his eyes when I told him," she said.
"His response to the news was, 'It's about the children and watching them become a success and learn to read.' That's what's so important about the job the Highlands School does," Bonney recalled.
He also asked that the scholarship include his wife's name, she said.
The school's mission and philosophy is a win/win for students and community, Bonney said.
"Anyone in the community who supports what we're doing gives our program integrity," she said. "Senator Hooper was well-known and well-respected and he has helped us through the years. He stood up for the students of the future."
The scholarship will be used to assist any student who is eligible to apply for aid, she said. The school offers three other scholarships: the Beth Maahs-Hoagberg scholarship, named for one of the school's founding members; the George Buckless scholarship, named for the president of the school's board of directors; and the Emma Grace Bonney scholarship, named for Bonney's granddaughter. Like those three, the new scholarship is needs-based, Casey said.
The amount of the individual scholarship awards has yet to be determined. Historically, the school has distributed needs-based scholarship funds to 30 percent of the student population, amounting to more than $800,000 over the 12 years since the school opened.
Last year, a total of $176,880 in scholarships was awarded to about 22 students who could not otherwise afford the school. The school costs $24,500 per student, Bonney said.
Shirley Hooper said she was flabbergasted when the school made the announcement to honor her late husband.
"His record proves what he's done," she said. "I think this scholarship is a lovely way to carry on his legacy. He left quite a footprint in Harford County."
The event begins with cocktails at 6:30 p.m. Friday. A presentation about Hooper will be given at 7:30 p.m. with Sen. Barry Glassman serving as the event's master of ceremonies. The honor guard from Boy Scout Troop 973 of Bel Air will present the colors.
Other program participants include Sen. Nancy Jacobs and members of Hooper's family.
Contributions to the Sen. Bob and Shirley Hooper Scholarship Fund may also be sent to The Highlands School, 2409 Creswell Road, Bel Air, 21015.