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Old Promise Gives Bartlesville Woman Free Tuition

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Mary Beaman is about to start college at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Mary Beaman is about to start college at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
Old family photos show Albert Pratt, who was a missionary and loved the Bartlesville university. Old family photos show Albert Pratt, who was a missionary and loved the Bartlesville university.
University officials found proof of the 30-year-old promise. University officials found proof of the 30-year-old promise.

By Dan Bewley, The News On 6

BARTLESVILLE, OK -- A promise made more than 30 years ago is giving a Bartlesville woman the chance for a free education.

All it took was a little digging through some old files and a belief in commitment.

Mary Beaman is about to start college at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, something she wasn't sure would happen after being laid off earlier this year. But thanks to her grandfather, it's now a possibility.

"He was a very caring man, strong morals," Beaman said.

Albert Pratt was a missionary and loved what was then Bartlesville Wesleyan College. In the early '70s Grandpa Pratt gave land in Wyoming to the college.

All he asked in return was that his grandchildren attend the school for free. The deal was sealed with a handshake.           

"College is not cheap, especially when you're laid off," Beaman said.

More than three decades later, Beaman called the university, said she wanted get her degree and asked about the free tuition.

"Well, I wasn't sure how we were going to prove it," said Andrea Zepeda, business affairs director.

Zepeda was assigned the mission to determine whether the promise was true.

"We started asking people that had been around for a while," she said.

One call led to another, and one file led to another. Suddenly, there it was.         

"I dug deeper in the files and found a piece of paper about it," Zepeda said.

She found a document from 1989 that took the 1970s agreement from a handshake to concrete evidence, enough proof for university President Dr. Everett Piper to honor the decades-old promise.

"This is a Christian institution, and the right thing to do should always prevail," Piper said.

The story doesn't end there. Mary has eight brothers and sisters, and Dr. Piper says if they want to go to the school, the doors are open.

"A handshake is a handshake; your word is your word," Piper said. "We made that commitment. We will honor it."

Without it, Beaman says, a college degree wouldn't be possible.

"It's a wonderful thing that a person can go to college that otherwise couldn't," she said.

The tuition is worth $17,000 a year. Beaman will need about 2 ½ years to get her degree. She wants to be a teacher.

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