SW Georgia Auburn Club gears up for 3rd annual Wester Scholarship Dinner

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Cleve Wester would be beaming.

And not just because his alma mater Auburn won its first national championship this past season since 1957 -- the year Wester, a former prominent Albany businessman, played for the Tigers.

"Cleve had a love for Auburn, a love for kids and a love for Southwest Georgia," said Hank Jester, president of the Southwest Georgia Auburn Club. "And knowing we're about to go into our third year of this -- especially coming off Auburn's first national title since when he helped them win it in '57 -- would've meant a great deal to him."

The "this" Jester speaks of is the Cleve Wester Scholarship Dinner, which will enter its third year Thursday when Tiger alums from far and wide will converge on Albany and Stonebridge Golf & Country Club for a night of reflection, celebration and remembrance.

Wester passed away just a few months after the inaugural dinner in 2009, but was able to see his Auburn friends and family come out in droves to support the cause, which awards one scholarship to a local Southwest Georgia student to attend school on The Plains for four years.

The student who wins the Cleve Wester namesake honor will be selected by the Auburn scholarship committee in April and be notified after that. Jester said the pool of candidates will come from a 15-county area in Southwest Georgia and be given "we hope around $4,000 or $5,000 for each semester," he said.

"The scholarship fund is endowed and after three years of raising money for it, it's up to $50,000 -- and we hope to get it to $75,000 by next year," Jester said. "The scholarship will then be awarded based on grades and need."

Jester than added with a laugh: "And of course, they have to use it at Auburn."

Wester wouldn't have had it any other way. The longtime Albany businessman -- whose famed tire shop on Oglethorpe Blvd., Cleve Wester's Tire Mart, is still going strong -- was a staunch supporter of Auburn athletics and the university as a whole long after he helped lead the Tigers to the 1957 national title as an offensive lineman.

His ties to the school were so strong that the first Cleve Wester Scholarship Dinner brought out Tigers head football coach Gene Chizik as the guest speaker. And although Chizik won't be able to attend this year -- "He's a little busy right now," laughed Jester -- this year's guest speaker will be the next best thing, assistant head coach Trooper Taylor, who will be joined by Tigers kicker Wes Byrum.

Byrum played the role of hero for Auburn when he booted a 19-yard field goal with no time left to beat Oregon, 22-19, in last month's BCS title game. Several other former Auburn greats will be on hand for the event, which kicks off at 6:15 p.m. with a social hour, followed by the dinner at 7 p.m. and Taylor's speech to close out the night.

And with all that's happened on The Plains in the last two months, there should be no shortage of items to talk about, including the Tigers' first national title in 53 years and the most recent hot topic, the poisoning of the live oak trees at Auburn's famed Toomer's Corner by a crazed Alabama fan.

"The (national title win) still feels great, but (the situation) with the trees has had some of us in tears," Jester said. "It's really disappointing. I hope there's a chance we can save them."

But of most importance is savoring another night dedicated to Wester.

"I told (Cleve's wife) Elizabeth that as long as she wanted us to keep doing this, we would," Jester said. "We'll keep it going just like Cleve would've wanted us to."