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Winthrop professor lives on in foundation

In the Furr house in Chester - a rural farmhouse that lost a daughter and granddaughter almost three years ago in a Charlotte car crash caused by cars racing at 100 mph - some days are better than others.

Wednesday was one of those days.

Because after 72 hours of driving more than 1,000 miles around South Carolina and North Carolina, Sharon Furr finished giving away a bunch of money in the name of her late sister, Cynthia Furr, and Cynthia's 2-year-old daughter, McAllister, known as Mackie.

Cynthia was not just an English professor at Winthrop, or a high school English teacher before that. She was an inspiration to her students to become teachers, better teachers - teachers who changed the world one kid at a time.

Scholarships and grants, for the second year in a row, were given out to students and teachers. More than $12,000, all of it donated to the CindyMackie Foundation, created to honor both Cynthia and her daughter, was just plain given away.

"My sister was so many things - teacher, singer, musician, mentor," said Sharon Furr, whose driving passion remains that foundation she started. "These scholarships mean her legacy stays alive in each person that we help."

The crash in April 2009 on N.C. 49 just north of the state line shocked the community at Winthrop University, where Cynthia Furr was a beloved member of the English department.

It also stunned many in Charlotte, where Cynthia had taught high school and attended Queens College.

Nine people - including students needing money for college and teachers trying to help students, from little kids to big kids - were awarded the grants. Six awards were presented last year.

Recipients this year were Wendy Winn and Sydney Phillips, Lancaster County's Andrew Jackson High; Sydney Zazzaro and Jessica Davies, Clover High; Emily Wenning, a teacher at Holy Trinity School in Charlotte; Kelly Martin, a student at Western Carolina University; Rebekah Kerr, a student at Clemson University; Craig Davis, band director at York Comprehensive High School (for a grant to buy instruments); and Jennifer Cannon, fourth grade teacher at Lewisville Elementary School (to purchase books for her students).

Cynthia Furr was not just a teacher of literature, a lover of reading and learning who passed along that love to others. She was a teacher of future teachers just like herself.

For the second year in a row, Cannon, a Winthrop graduate and Furr student, received $1,000 to take her rural Chester County students - many for the first time - to a Rock Hill bookstore. Each student will get about $30 to spend on books.

Furr was "an amazing person and teacher," Cannon said. "I try to live up to her standards as a teacher every day. She gave her students the best that she had."

Another person died in that terrible crash - 13-year-old Hunter Holt from Clover. About six weeks ago, one of the defendants in the criminal case from the crash was sentenced to just more than four years in prison after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

A second defendant driving another car that day, charged with murder, is awaiting trial in Charlotte.

All of those crash details - the deaths of Cynthia and the baby and Hunter Holt, plus the stress of the courts - has weighed on the Furr family. The crime-scene crash photos were so brutal that the images were kept under seal in court.

But the family's way of dealing with the terrible loss has been to continue to honor Cynthia's legacy through these scholarships. The foundation will hold a fundraising gala June 9 to kick-start next year's scholarship season.

"These first two years of helping people are just the beginning," Sharon Furr said.

Cynthia Furr, who died at 45, was a teacher and a minister of music at her church. Music, the arts were always a part of what she taught to students and future teachers.

This was a woman who came from a blue-collar family and worked through college, then taught high school at Olympic High in Charlotte while putting herself through graduate school at Winthrop. She then taught future teachers at Winthrop and earned a doctorate at the University of South Carolina.

Music was one way Cynthia became great and shared greatness. Nobody understands that better than Craig Davis, who teaches band at York Comprehensive High School.

The $1,000 the school received from the CindyMackie Foundation will help pay to replace aging instruments.

"What we teach our students is an appreciation of music that they can carry with them every day of their lives when they leave this school," Davis said. "This is a great honor to be awarded the grant. A child will hold an instrument in his or her hands."

That is exactly what her sister tried to do, Sharon Furr said - show young people a door, open the door, and let the student - or future teacher - walk through it with poetry or music in the air.