Honoring a WKU and CHF Legend
Mary Elizabeth Combs Hawes Sample was born in Gamaliel, KY on May 10, 1935 to James Wesley and Ora Mae Taylor Combs. Mary Sample began her long-running Hilltopper legacy when she came to WKU to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Education. Upon graduating in 1957, Mary continued her student career and earned her Master’s in 1959. As a college student she worked for Dr. Kelley Thompson, and upon graduation, she taught business education at College High School for five years.
After a brief stint teaching elementary education in Western Kentucky, she began working in 1966 as a Staff Assistant for Dr. Dero Downing, then Vice President of Administrative Affairs at WKU. She served as Secretary to President Dero Downing for 10 years, as Treasurer 1982-1995, and as Executive Secretary of the College Heights Foundation Board of Directors from 1987 to 2014. Through her time at CHF, Mary worked alongside three different Foundation presidents: Dr. Dero Downing, Dr. Alex Downing, and Dr. Donald Smith.
During her time working, she was known to everyone as a diligent and hard worker, often working much more than required, and as a generous and compassionate person, willing to help anyone in need and kind to all she came across. To honor her incredible legacy at College Heights Foundation, the conference room in the Foundation’s building was named after her. After transitioning to part-time status in 1998, she fully retired in 2014, having worked at WKU for 55 1/2 years.
Mary was also an active member outside of her career. She attended Lifeway Community Church in Plano. She formerly was a member of Forest Park Baptist Church where she sang in the choir and taught various mission programs. In 2013, Mary received the Summit Volunteer of the Year Award.
Mary was devoted and loving wife to Tony Gray Hawes until his passing and then to Irvin B. Sample until his passing in 2015. Though Irvin was not an alumnus of Western Kentucky University, he was equally as supportive of the school as his wife was. Mary was also mother to a daughter and several step-sons, grandmother to eleven grandchildren, and great-grandmother to five great-grandchildren. She and her husband Irvin were both Cupola Society members and Mary was also a member of the President’s Circle.
To further their generosity to WKU and its students, Mary and Irvin established the Mary C. and Irvin B. Sample Student Aid Fund in 1979. The fund now also serves as a memorial to both Irvin, who passed in October 2015, and Mary, who passed away in November 2016. Through this fund, WKU students are provided assistance and the incredible legacies of Mary and Irvin Sample live on in perpetuity.
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