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Milton and Denice Johnson Donate $10 Million to Create Bridges to Belmont Scholarship Fund

Stratford/Belmont graduate ‘pays it forward,’ giving back to community/alma maters

A Stratford High School and Belmont College graduate giving back to his alma maters… A Peabody College alum and long-time teacher offering a gift to support deserving students… a couple who passionately believe in—and have personally experienced—the power education can have to dramatically change lives for the better.

Meet HCA Chairman and CEO Milton Johnson and his wife Denice, who announced in Summer 2015 they were donating $10 million to Belmont University to create the “R. Milton and Denice Johnson Bridges to Belmont Endowed Scholarship Fund.” Launched in 2013, the Bridges to Belmont initiative was designed to enroll qualified, high potential students from Metro Nashville Public Schools who may not have previously been able to consider Belmont as an option. Bridges Scholars are currently selected from four Metro Nashville Public Schools—Stratford, Maplewood, Whites Creek and Pearl Cohn—and most of the scholars are first-generation college students.

Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher said, “Milton and Denice showed their generous spirit from a young age, becoming supporters of Belmont right out of college and continuing their giving ways by serving on our Board and offering their time, energy and resources to countless activities across our campus. This gift raises that commitment to an even higher level, which demonstrates yet again their enduring dedication to education, philanthropy and this community. What makes this gift even more special is knowing the Johnsons’ story, knowing that Milton himself—a worldwide leader in healthcare and a pillar of Nashville—was once offered a similar opportunity through a Belmont College scholarship.”

Milton Johnson attended Nashville’s Stratford High School, working multiple jobs to help his single mom support their family and forgoing many of the typical extracurricular activities most teenagers enjoy. It was a habit he continued during his tenure at Nashville State, balancing the weight of a full-time job with the stresses of completing college courses, believing education could someday catapult him into a different situation. He also began dating Denice at that time, who was studying at Peabody to be a teacher and who shared Milton’s passion for the power of education. Milton’s hard work paid off when he was offered an academic scholarship to what was then Belmont College, paving the way to an accounting degree and rapid career advancement in Nashville’s healthcare industry. Today’s announcement allows the Johnsons to “pay it forward,” giving potentially hundreds of young people an opportunity to better their situations and follow in the Johnson’s footsteps.

“As a high school student, I faced similar challenges as many of our Bridges to Belmont scholarship recipients,” said Milton Johnson. “I was blessed to have people in my life, like my mother, who believed in not only the value of education but also in my potential. Their encouragement, guidance and belief in me gave me confidence that with hard work and a scholarship from Belmont, I could achieve greater success than I ever thought was possible. That’s why Denice and I are pleased to provide this gift to the Bridges to Belmont program. My Belmont scholarship was a life-changing experience for me, and we want other Nashville public high school graduates to have the same opportunities at Belmont. We want these students to know that Belmont believes in them—we believe in them—and there are no limits to what they can achieve in life.”

Denice, who graduated from what was Madison High School in Nashville, added, “Education is the foundation for anyone to help themselves to get ahead in life, to better themselves. And for us, we believe ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ We feel that strongly. We have been very fortunate in our lives so giving back is just not a question. And anybody who steps on the Belmont campus would be in awe of what they see. The students here are just unbelievable and are clearly in such a supportive Christian environment. We are honored to be a part of the Belmont community.”

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