A Santa Monica couple have created scholarship funds to help increase educational opportunities for African-American students at Santa Monica College.

Joe and Nancy Owens, a retired couple who live in the Sunset Park area of Santa Monica, established the Nancy and Joe Owens Opportunity Fund for incoming African-American high school students in 2006 and have recently created a similar fund for continuing African-American students.

The two funds together are endowed with a total contribution of $90,000 that will provide scholarships to SMC students ranging from $500 to $2,000 each. Six students have received scholarships so far, an SMC spokesman said.

“We’re extremely excited about the additional scholarship the Owenses have funded and we look forward to an even longer relationship with them as our students achieve their successes,” said Chip Potts, interim executive director of the SMC Foundation.

The Owenses say they will never forget how scholarships helped them achieve fulfilling careers and lives, and they hoped to provide similar opportunities for college students.

“My wife and I both believe in higher education and we both wouldn’t have been able to do what we did without scholarships in college,” Joe Owens said.

Joe Owens said he was able to attend Texas A&M University thanks to a scholarship from the W.P. and Bulah Luse Trust Fund. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1961 in electrical engineering and went on to earn a master’s in electrical engineering in 1963 from the University of Illinois, where he met Nancy.

Nancy Owens earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and her master’s degree from the University of Illinois, both in home economics.

The couple knew they wanted to provide scholarship funds but the details of their donation needed to be fleshed out. A few years ago, Joe Owens said he read the book “Blood Done Sign My Name,” which deals with the 1970 murder of Henry Marrow, a black man in Oxford, N.C., that helped galvanize the civil rights movement throughout the state.

“That inspired me to say I wanted to do something for people worse off than me,” Joe Owens said. “I grew up in the segregated South and I saw how black people were mistreated. So I thought of African-American kids and I wanted to do something locally and that’s what made me think of Santa Monica College.”

The couple has also endowed scholarships at other colleges and universities and has provided scholarships to nephews and nieces, as well as great nephews and nieces.

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