Hardin Scholarship makes lasting impact for Louisiana High School graduates

Pam Todd-Watts, center, smiles with her two daughters, who each received the Hardin Scholarship at Louisiana High School. They are both attending Central Methodist University and following their passions to be mascots, which began with Katelyn Watts dressing up as the mascot for Louisiana Bulldogs. Loni Michelle Watts, left, takes on the role of Eddie, and her sister, Katelyn, portrays Ella.

LOUISIANA, Mo. — Silent film stars Cam and Gloria Hardin left a legacy on the Silver Screen and an enduring impact on students’ futures in Cam’s hometown of Louisiana.

Neil Cameron Hardin Jr. began his journey following his father’s lead as an attorney, before heading to Hollywood to star in his first film, “The Broken Coin,” in 1915. Cam, as he was known, met his wife, Gloria, while they worked together at Balboa Amusement Producing Company. After starring in multiple films, the couple returned to Louisiana in 1921, beginning the momentum for a scholarship which benefits Louisiana High School graduates to this day.

Gloria Hardin told people to “try to leave things a little better than you found them.” When she passed away in 1989, she left $1.7 million in a trust. The interest is used to provide scholarships each year to LHS graduates.

Pam Todd-Watts, a 1988 LHS alum who has served on the school board for about 10 years, said students submit an essay on a different topic each year. The school board consists of alumni and one LHS teacher whose children are alumni as well. If a board member has a child vying for the scholarship, they abstain from voting on the numerically-designated essays.

Todd-Watts said the Hardin Scholarship has made a big impact for her two daughters, Katelyn Watts, 22, and Loni Michelle Watts, 20. Katelyn Watts donned the mascot outfit for the Louisiana Bulldogs, and she received the Hardin Scholarship upon her graduation. Her mom remembers the exciting sequence of events, beginning with the fun memories as mascot at LHS.

“She went to Central Methodist in Fayette, and she said ‘what do I have to do to wear a mascot costume?’” Todd-Watts said, noting they had a surprising response when she demonstrated her passion for the job. “They said, ‘we’ll give you a scholarship if you’ll be our mascot.’ That’s how it went down.”

Loni Michelle also received the scholarship, and attends CMU with her sister. They’ve taken on the roles of Eddie and Ellie for the Central Methodist University Eagles. Recently, Katelyn Watts presented a proposal for her Master’s Degree, and she is now in charge of coaching and recruiting the mascots at the university. The school is paying for her Master’s degree. She graduated last year, and she is teaching special education while pursuing her Master’s degree.

Todd-Watts said the number of students who have been affected by the scholarship is almost impossible to count. Due to the pandemic, the Hardin Scholarship “seemed especially generous this year,” with scholarships assisting several students.

She stressed how the board members work hard each year to be as fair as possible to each student as they award the scholarships and decide upon the amount given.

“I know for a fact — my kids — it’s helped out tremendously,” Todd-Watts said. “Any amount you can get helps out, but we’ve been very blessed in Louisiana School District.”

Todd-Watts said she makes it to every event involving her daughters at CMU. She is proud to be “momma Eagle” as her children continue on their path toward success. And she was quick to recommend students look into the Hardin Scholarship by reaching out to Emily Calvin, a fellow LHS alum and the guidance counselor at the high school.

“I just encourage all kids to apply, because you never, ever know,” Todd-Watts said. “Just apply, apply, apply. Get the scholarships. They’re out there. They’re waiting for you, and this is one that’s close to the heart. It comes from the school, per se. Get out there and get it done.”

Editor’s Note: Brent Engel contributed to this report. His story, “Silent film stars leave lasting legacy,” appeared in the June 24, 2014 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post.

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