Single mom wins BPW 'Pioneer Scholarship'

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— Kelda Combs had a good day, which is going to be the beginning of a good life.

Not that her life was bad before, because it wasn't, but Combs just got a boost that means the difference between good and great.

Combs, 24, was named the first recipient of the Yampa Valley Women's Pioneer Scholarship, given by the Yampa Valley Business and Professional Women's Association, to use for her education. She was going to receive $300, but that number doubled when the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club matched it.

It may not be much, but it's a darn good start for this single mother who wants to get her bachelor's degree in education and be an elementary school teacher.

"It's going to be great to have my son look up to me and say 'Good job, mom. Thanks for doing this for me,'" a tearful Combs said at a BPW luncheon Thursday when she accepted the money.

The Pioneer Scholarship was started earlier this year by the BPW, modeled after the Colorado BPW scholarship, which provides seed money for women of non-traditional college age who want to get their degrees.

Jeanne Whiddon of the BPW said they planned on taking a bit longer to give out their scholarship, but when she overheard Combs talking at Norwest Bank, where she is a teller, about some books being late, her ears perked up. She went right up to her and asked what her books were for and knew she had the perfect scholarship candidate on her hands.

"She's doing it the hard way and sometimes that means more," Whiddon said.

It has not been an easy road, Combs admitted.

"It's been really hard not having my degree. Most of my friends have graduated and moved on and it's hard to look at them and say 'Gosh, I wish I had that,'" she said.

Combs was born in Alaska, but upholds the "pioneer" in the name of the scholarship. Her father's family settled here in 1890 and has been in the Yampa Valley ever since. Combs was raised here and played basketball at Steamboat Springs High School, from which she graduated in 1994. She earned a basketball scholarship to Mesa State College, but was sidelined by an injury.

Combs also got married when she was 19. Two years later, she and her husband divorced and she found out she was pregnant. She came back to Steamboat, had her son, Tatum, in November 1998 and went to work at the bank two months later.

Leaving school was very hard, she admitted, but she was faced with a pregnancy and a failing marriage.

"It wasn't worth it," she said about trying to manage school at the same time.

Combs never lost sight of her original goal, which was to be a teacher. She said that two local teachers influenced her and took her from a student who struggled to one who succeeded. Her third grade teacher at Strawberry Park was Mr. Austin, who no longer works for the district, and she said he made her want to learn by including all students. He made her like school, she said.

Her other major influence was Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher Kevin Ford, who was also her basketball coach.

"He was the one who really inspired me. His classes were so hard, he made me want to learn," she said. "He got me on the right track."

Combs originally wanted to be high school history teacher, but when she had Tatum, her sights moved to elementary school. She started taking classes through Regis University in Denver last fall and still has her credits from Mesa State. She plans on student teaching in the fall after a summer of classes and earning her degree in December 2001. Combs most definitely has a plan.

The classes are not cheap, however, but this $600 puts a dent in the costs.

"Just paying for books helps. Books are $300 per semester," she said. "Today's money could pay for one class."

She is taking correspondence classes through Regis, in a program that allows her to take classes at other schools, including Colorado State University and University of Northern Colorado. Staying in Steamboat was incredibly important to her, she said. She was going to move to Greeley at one point, but realized she would lose her support system.

"To know that the community is supporting me in this is great. I'm not out there by myself; there's a whole community behind me," she said.

While Combs relishes the new group of fans, she said that she has been supported along the way by her parents and family and her co-workers Cheryl Spahr and Angel Cooley.

Her mother, who was surprised when a BPW member called her and told her about the scholarship, said this is just what her daughter needs.

"I do think this is going to give her a push," she said. "She's a little burned out. This is going to give her another boost to get it going."

This scholarship, and her son.
"I feel like I have to do this for me," she said. "But he is the inspiration."


-- To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail jbartlett@amigo.net

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