New scholarship aids Harrison County students earn nursing degrees

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Clarksburg-native Mary Ann Yambrick Sharp never attended Fairmont State University and was unable to become a registered nurse because her family could not afford college.

But thanks to Sharp and her daughter, Kristal Ayres, several nursing students from Harrison County pursing a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Fairmont State will be eligible for a nearly $5,000 scholarship to help them through their junior and senior years. The Sharp’s family created the Mary Ann Sharp Scholars fund to honor her and to help other disadvantaged, high potential students achieve their dream of a career in nursing. 

Through the scholarship, four juniors and two seniors from Harrison County will be eligible for the scholarship in fall 2020, and the same four juniors will receive the scholarship as seniors in fall 2021. 

“A great education that leads directly to lifelong career opportunities is the ultimate gift,” Ayres said.  “We hope that the recipients, when they have the opportunity, will ‘pay our gift forward’ to others in need.”

Sharp, the only daughter of a coal miner, attended Victory High School and dreamed of enrolling at Fairmont State University but couldn’t. As a 5-foot, 95-pound adult without a college education, she knew she would have to be more determined, more creative and have higher energy than her peers to avoid being underestimated and overlooked.  

All those qualities were essential when, as a young mother of two, she revisited the idea of a nursing career—but with a twist.  Sharp and her husband started a temporary placement agency for nurses which combined her husband’s expertise in the temporary help industry with her passion for nursing. 

Starting with just a home office, they launched S.R.T. Medstaff in the Baltimore/Washington market. The directors of nursing at several area hospitals were reluctant to give her a chance until she promised “never to disappoint.”  Nurses were thrilled to choose their own schedule and make more per hour, so they recruited their friends.  At a time where there were no cell phones or internet, determination, perseverance and tenacity turned her dream into reality. 

S.R.T. Medstaff became one of the largest temporary help agencies for nurses in the United States.  It attracted the attention of a publicly traded company, and Sharp sold the business.

“Mary Ann Sharp’s story is truly inspirational, and we are forever grateful to her and Kristal for making the dream of a university education and a lifelong career in nursing a reality for Harrison County students,” said Julie R. Cryser, Fairmont State Foundation president. 

Sharp retired to Florida to enjoy being with her children and grandchildren, as well as playing tennis and golf. She visited Clarksburg regularly over the years, has wonderful friends there, loves pepperoni rolls from Tomaro’s bakery, and knows that Ritzy Lunch has the best hot dogs.

Sharp was diagnosed with a terminal disease several years ago, but Ayres has continued and pursued her philanthropic interests. 

“Everyone has to make their own choices with regard to charitable giving, but helping a talented young person receive a superior education is a gift that lasts a lifetime,” Ayres said. “Education is truly the gift that keeps on giving.” 

Kristal is married to Jon Ayres and has two children, ages 23 and 21. Kristal is passionate about education, holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership, and leads a client success team as the chief services officer with BrightBytes, a research-based educational technology company. 

Her husband has been in the field of education for more than 25 years and has been a high school and college baseball coach for 30 years. Kristal’s oldest child, Thomas Ayres, earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice and is currently a police officer in Marietta, GA.  Saira Ayres is 21 years old and is finishing her senior year at Florida Gulf Coast University studying Psychology. 

This gift was made through the Fairmont State Foundation Inc., the non-profit organization that solicits and administers private donations on behalf of Fairmont State University.