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The entry for Catherine Williams (top row, center) in the 1932 edition of the North High yearbook.

At North High School, students are known as the Polar Bears. In the future some North students will earn a new title: Williams Scholars.

It is an honor made possible thanks to the generosity of two distinguished North High alums and their gift of more than a half-million dollars to establish a college scholarship for North graduates.

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Paul Williams featured with the Class of 1939 in the North Oracle yearbook.

Dr. Paul Williams graduated from North in 1939, going on to Drake University and then Meharry Medical College, a historically Black medical school in Nashville, TN. A veteran of World War II, he settled in Los Angeles where he practiced psychiatry. In September 2017 Dr. Williams passed away, at the age of 96, and left his estate to his older sister.

Catherine Williams earned her high school diploma from North in 1932. After a career as a dancer she returned to school, earning a BS from Drake University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Iowa. From there she went on to serve the people of this state for many years, retiring in 1981 as the deputy commissioner of the Iowa Department of Social Services. She received many honors over the years, from an honorary doctorate from Simpson College to the distinguish alumnae award from Drake to being inducted into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame.

Last May, Catherine passed away at the age of 105. In her will were specific instructions: establish the Paul and Catherine Williams Scholarship at North “for graduating minority students for continuing their education at post-secondary school studies.”

On Monday, an attorney and banker representing Ms. William’s estate paid a visit to North High, where they presented a check in the amount of $558,348.27 to principal Ben Graeber and Heather Isaacson, president-elect of the Polar Bear Scholarship Fund.

“We are overwhelmed with his donation to North High School. The gift will absolutely and undeniably change the lives of current and future Polar Bears,” noted principal Graeber. “We will uphold the high standards that Ms. Williams had for herself. She and her family were all very successful in life and we want to catapult other young people to have that same trajectory.”

Added Isaacson: “The North High School Alumni Foundation, by way of the Polar Bear Scholarship Fund, is honored to steward Ms. and Dr. Williams’ legacies with this annual scholarship to North High graduates pursuing their post-secondary educations. Our students will benefit from the financial awards they bestow, as well as the gift of knowing this brother and sister team from North High led remarkable lives and chose to ensure more Polar Bears are supported in their dreams. They personified the Polar Bear Way: Courageous, Passionate, Relentless. The ripple effects of their generosity will last for generations.”

The new scholarship will be renewable, so that students of color will receive financial support for subsequent years provided they remain in good standing at their college or university.

At the check presentation it was noted how diligent and precise Ms. Williams was in her work to improve people’s lives. She and her brother set high standards that will no doubt continue on in the lives of current and future Polar Bears who are honored as Williams Scholars.

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