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Preserving History, Creating Opportunity

Hesters stand on balcony next to totem pole.
Fueled by their passion for Native American culture, Belinda and John Hester (History ’72) have established a scholarship to help underrepresented students at NC State.

Inside the home of Belinda and John Hester (History ’72), you’ll find a vibrant celebration of Native American culture. A 16-foot totem pole takes center stage in the foyer, while paintings, prints and sculpted artifacts — each one carefully placed — tell stories of years past.

“For the most part, our art didn’t come from many galleries,” John says. “It came directly from individuals we met during our travels who were selling it on the streets.”

John began embracing Native American culture — a culture much different from his own — as a kid.

“You don’t want to lose their stories,” he says. “You don’t want to give up the lessons they’ve tried to teach us.”

buffalo skin hanging on wall
The Hesters have collected dozens of Native American paintings, prints and sculpted artifacts from their trips abroad.

It has since developed into a passion that he shares with his wife.

“The strong Native American culture that exists today should be celebrated and honored,” Belinda says.

The Hesters are now giving back to underrepresented populations such as Native Americans by establishing a scholarship at NC State.

“I think it’s really important to pay it forward,” Belinda says. “It touches so many lives.”

Supporting Underrepresented Students

The John F. Hester Scholarship provides support for undergraduates enrolled in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and majoring or minoring in history. Priority is given to students who are underrepresented in the NC State student body, such as Native Americans, or students who have demonstrated interests in Native American heritage. 

“Students become more well-rounded when they learn what went on before they got here,” John says. 

The first scholarship was awarded to Lorena Caudillo, a sophomore studying history,  who has big dreams of going to law school. She says financial support allows her to stay focused while building for her future.

“I want to help people, and I want to be a voice for people who lack resources,” Caudillo says. “I come from a background of adversity, but I was lucky enough to have access to resources.”

Belinda holding walrus artifact
Belinda Hester holds an artifact created by an artist in Raleigh, Newfoundland.

Caudillo says that her history major allows her to see the world through a different lens.

“I understand concepts, people and events after knowing their history,” Caudillo says. “I cannot imagine living peacefully  in the United States —or any country — today without knowledge of how the country developed.”

The Hesters hope their scholarship will open new doors for students who may not have had the opportunity to go to college otherwise.

“It’s important to encourage students to go beyond just their community,” Belinda says. “When we broaden our horizons, we all become more tolerant and accepting of others.”

Leading Lives of Service

The Hesters met as freshmen at NC State in 1968. Following in his family’s footsteps, John quickly found ways to serve, including as student senate president in 1971. He also became a leader in the nationwide effort to lower the voting age to 18. 

“NC State helped me argue a point and write a persuasive paper,” he says. “I became more polished.”

While pursuing a career as an attorney, John served on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Dean’s Board and the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity board of trustees.

wolf painting
The Hesters are charter members of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Belinda has also dedicated her life to serving others. A devoted educator, she was National Environmental Teacher of the Year in 1997 and served as president of the State 4-H Development Fund board of directors in 2010.

“4-H was really important in my life,” she says. “It fostered my development as a leader and helped me promote skills like food preservation and sewing.”

She has established two other endowments at NC State: the 4-H “Think Green, Go Green” scholarship in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Spears-Hester Environmental Scholarship in the College of Natural Resources.

The Hesters are also charter members of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. 

“We’ve found other ways to give back,” John says. “I hope that others will consider the same thing. Take some effort to start a scholarship. Create possibility.”