First Cleve Wester scholarship handed out Thursday night

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- You could almost see Cleve Wester smiling Thursday at Stonebridge Country Club.

The Southwest Georgia Auburn Club presented the first scholarship in his name after years of work to honor the former prominent Albany businessman and Tigers football player who passed away two years ago.

Lillian Harvey of Baconton, the recipient of the inaugural Cleve Wester Scholarship, will move onto the Plains on Sunday to begin her academic endeavor. Wester's love for his alma mater and helping others were the catalysts for a scholarship endowment that club members plan to continue for years.

"He'd have that same smile that he's always had," SWGA Auburn Club President Hank Jester said of Wester. "He would be the happiest one in the room."

That was a bold statement considering Harvey was pretty elated after she was chosen from a pool of SWGA students by the Auburn University Alumni Association based on grades and financial need.

"I was completely surprised," said Harvey, a Baconton Charter School grad and aspiring psychology major. "I got the plaque in the mail and didn't even know what it was (at first). I'm very honored that I received this scholarship. It helps. Every bit that you get for college helps."

The SWGA Auburn Club held its 3rd annual Cleve Wester Scholarship dinner and quail hunt back in February, which raised enough funds to award the first scholarship. Wester was a starter on the 1957 Associated Press national championship Auburn team under coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan. He owned Cleve Wester's Tire Mart in Albany and was one of the most-liked businessmen, and people for that matter, in the community.

Former Auburn quarterback Ben Leard, a Georgia native who starred at Hart County, spoke to the crowd of about 75 Tigers fans Thursday. While football and the Auburn quarterback battle were the topic of conversation (he likes junior Barrett Trotter to win the QB race), his thoughts came back to Wester.

"He's a man that left a strong, strong legacy," said Leard, whose grandfather is from Albany and passed on stories about Wester. "I think he'd be very humbled."

Leard also had words of encouragement for Harvey as she heads off to college this weekend.

"She may be able to come back one day and give toward the next recipient of the scholarship," he said. "Hopefully it comes full circle."

Wester's legacy that Leard spoke of lives on thanks in part to the SWGA Auburn Club's work over the years to establishment the scholarship fund. Jester said the 4th annual scholarship dinner and hunt will be scheduled in late February or early March to work around the Auburn coaches' schedules so they may attend as they have each year.

The culmination of that work could be seen in Harvey's smile as she was greeted by the SWGA Auburn faithful.

"She's going to a special place, and she's got a scholarship in honor of a special man," Jester said.