MELBOURNE, FLA. — Gaye Montgomery, the daughter of barrier-breaking Florida Tech student Julius Montgomery, has established an endowed scholarship in her father’s name at Florida Tech that will support students from historically marginalized groups.
Her $100,000 gift will create the Dr. Julius Montgomery Scholarship Fund. Students who receive this support, which may be provided each year until their graduation, will be known as “Dr. Julius Montgomery Scholars.”
“I had two amazing parents, and after they each died, I wanted to do something that would not just memorialize them but would capture and pay forward some of the best of who they were,” Montgomery said. “As a couple and individually, some of the best of who they were came in the area of education.”
Gary Grant, senior vice president for development, said Florida Tech is honored to offer a scholarship fund named for such a pioneering spirit.
“The scholarships provided by this fund will stand as a testament to Dr. Montgomery’s lifelong pursuit of educational opportunity for himself and his children and his legacy of service to the community,” Grant said. “We thank Gaye Montgomery for her generosity and her belief in the transformative power of higher education.”
Julius Montgomery, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 90, was a trailblazer two times over.
In 1956, nearly a decade before the Civil Rights Act made equal employment opportunity the law, Dr. Montgomery made history as the first African-American professional in America’s nascent space program when he was hired as an electronics technician at Cape Canaveral.
Two years later, in 1958, Dr. Montgomery became the first black student to sign up for classes at Florida Tech, which at the time was called Brevard Engineering College and was based in space provided by Brevard County schools. When the district discovered that an African American would be attending classes in its building, they told Florida Tech founding president Jerome Keuper that if Montgomery did not withdraw, they would evict all students from the classrooms.
Dr. Montgomery met with Keuper and agreed to withdraw. The president promised him a place in the university once it had its own home. In 1961, when the university’s Country Club Road location was secured, Dr. Montgomery enrolled in classes.
Gaye Montgomery wants the fund to help make college a reality for those for whom it might not be otherwise.
“A college education can literally change the trajectory of an entire family. My dad was the oldest of 12, and I am sure his going helped pave the way for some of his siblings and other members of his extended family to go to college,” she said. “Helping people make that first jump is particularly important to me because the dividends are just so high from that initial push.”
After her mother Gertrude died in 2003, Montgomery established a scholarship in her name in the Virginia Community College System.
Montgomery, a retired corporate executive who served with the Fortune 150 company Altria for 20 years, said she benefited from financial aid during her time in college and at law school but still required loans. Paying back those loans influenced her career choices.
She hopes the Dr. Julius Montgomery Scholarships can allow for a clearer path forward for recipients.
“You can really follow your heart – subject to being able to support yourself – if you don’t have loans to pay back. So this scholarship helps give people more choices regarding how they live their lives and the basis upon which they make decisions,” Montgomery said. She added, “There is time enough for making decisions based on things other than what you think best serves your own personal development. So if this scholarship forestalls that time for a few years, then it will be successful.”
For more information on how to support future Dr. Julius Montgomery Scholars, please visit www.fit.edu/giving/what-to-support/dr-julius-montgomery-scholarship-fund/.