Ray and Donna West, Midland, have been named recipients of the 2018 Pacesetter Award, according to a South Plains College press release. Over the past 12 years, they have helped nearly 120 students through the scholarship endowments they have established at South Plains College.
Ray graduated from Muleshoe High School, while Donna attended school in Beaver, Oklahoma. The two grew up in families where a college education was not just a dream, but something to aspire to, even though neither set of parents ever reached that goal. Ray and Donna’s own college experiences taught them the value of hard work and perseverance, qualities thy hope they have inspired in the students who benefit from their philanthropy.
The pair met while they were students at the University of Oklahoma. Ray obtained his bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering in 1959, a year after Donna earned a bachelor’s degree in education.
“Mom and Dad only had an eighth-grade education, but there was never any discussion that I wasn’t going to college,” Ray said. They lived a hard life, and they wanted us to go to college. I was the first one in my family to go to college, and my brother followed me. But I don’t think he would have gone if I hadn’t.”
When Ray was 20 years old and Donna was 19, the couple married. They were still students. Ray worked in the oilfields during the summer to earn money. His course load did not allow him the opportunity to work during the semester.
“We had good parents behind us then,” Donna said. “When we told them we were going to get married, I mean that was not a happy hour. Because I think they thought we were going to quit – but we didn’t.”
During Ray’s last year of college, Donna worked as a teacher. She stopped teaching when their first son was born. She then worked as a substitute teacher for a year while Ray began his career as an engineer and consultant.
“The oilfield has always been up and down for years,” Ray said. “When I started college, you had a pick of jobs. But when I graduated from college, you couldn’t hardly get one. This other guy and I had interviews during our junior year waiting to receive a letter rescinding the offer, but it didn’t happen.”
Ray worked for the Pure Oil Company for seven years. After Pure Oil merged with Union Oil and Gas, Ray tried consulting for a while. He later went to work for Bill Roden, and stayed with that company for seven years. Roden then merged with Houston Natural Gas, the forerunner to Enron. Ray left to operate his own company, E.R. West Engineering, Inc., which he operated until his retirement in 1985.
The philanthropic relationship between the Wests and South Plains College developed when the couple learned of the college’s partnership with the Muleshoe community to provide nurse education to staff the Bailey County Hospital. In 2007, the Wests donated $100,000 to the Muleshoe Educational Foundation to provide scholarships for Muleshoe residents to enroll in the nursing program SPC was delivering to Muleshoe via interactive television. These funds were later granted to the South Plains College Foundation to create and administer the Ray and Donna West Scholarship in Nursing.
“It was important to us that there were scholarship opportunities for those kids,” Ray said. “And, it’s become even more important today.”
Donna added they began helping students when their own children started college. Their children are Denzil Ray West of Midland, Theron Lynn West of Rockport, Sandra Kay Rasavage of Midland and Theron Ray West of Norman, Oklahoma.
The Wests have established seven additional scholarship endowments at South Plains College. In February 2010, they established the Ray and Donna West Scholarship for U.S. Veterans and the Ray and Donna West Bailey County Scholarship. In March 2011, the couple created the Scholarship for American Heroes Endowment. The couple established the Ray and Donna West Pre-Engineering Scholarship in September 2012, the Ray and Donna West Physical Therapist Assistant Program Scholarship in 2013 and the Ray and Donna West Scholarship in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in December 2014. Most recently they endowed a new scholarship program to benefit students studying photography.
To fund these scholarship programs, the Wests have contributed $320,000, which also resulted in an additional $170,000 in matching funds from the U.S. Department of Education Strengthening Hispanic Serving Institutions Program for a total of $490,000.
“I do love the fact that South Plains College lets you do other things,” Ray said. “You don’t have to get a Ph.D. in psychology; you can learn to be a welder or a diesel mechanic. South Plains College teaches a lot of things that other schools don’t teach.
“The only reason I went to college was to make a living,” he said. “I know and have read about people who have three degrees from Harvard and can’t get a job. That’s not my idea of an education. My philosophy is that degree is to help you make a living.”
According to Donna, the Wests have received numerous cards and letters from the students who have benefited from their scholarships. Each year, they attend the Annual SPC Scholarship Recognition Banquet, where they meet and get to know the students they are helping.
“I always have a wonderful time meeting the students and getting to know them,” Ray said. “At the end of the evening, I’m always glad we went.”
Ray and Donna West will celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary in June 2018.
The South Plains College Foundation joins the many SPC students whose lives will be changed as a result of generosity of this extraordinary couple, and gratefully recognizes Ray and Donna West as a Pacesetter for 2018.