Originally from the Northwest, Aaron “AJ” Johnson found a home here and put down roots.
Those roots became even more long-lasting recently as Johnson’s People’s Food Warehouse Scholarship joined the ranks of 68 others as permanently endowed athletic scholarships at Northwestern State University.
The People’s Food Warehouse Scholarship will be awarded to a Demon baseball player, which reflects the relationships Johnson has built throughout the years.
“I’ve always been close to (NSU head baseball coach) Bobby (Barbier) and before him (former head coach) Lane (Burroughs),” said Johnson, a co-owner of the scholarship’s namesake business. “A long time ago, Greg Burke spoke to the Lions Club about the (Demons Unlimited) Foundation and how giving a little bit a month ultimately gives you an endowment. I’m a finance guy. When you look across the Southland Conference, having a foundation with money in it makes a difference. I’m just doing my part to give back to the community and do something good for athletics at Northwestern.”
Johnson’s relationship with the baseball team and staff has been mutually beneficial and appreciated by the coaches and players.
“Aaron Johnson and his family have been a big part of our program for many years,” said Barbier, who is in his fifth season at the helm of his alma mater. “We couldn’t do the things we do without him and people like him, who are so generous with their time and money. We want to thank him and Lisa for always being friends and taking care of NSU Demon baseball.”
During the time Johnson and his family have donated to the DUF, they have received intangible benefits from the relationship.
“It’s one of the advantages of living in a college town,” Johnson said. “You develop relationships with the coaches and players. It makes it more fun to watch any sporting event when you have at tie to the players. You care about it – not that you don’t otherwise – but it gives you a different perspective when you have a relationship with the players.”
A minimum commitment of $10,000 is required to create an endowment fund. It can be established with an outright gift — such as cash, stock transfers or property sales, a life insurance policy — or can be included as a provision in a will or bequest. Arrangements can be made to fund an endowment over an extended period of time, like Aaron did with a monthly contribution which he started many years ago.
Endowed scholarship donors are invited annually to Northwestern State’s Scholarship Banquet, where they meet and have dinner with their respective scholarship recipient or recipients. It is a cherished event for both donors and student-athletes.
Normally an in-person event, the banquet shifted to a virtual format in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Scholarship recipients sent thank you videos directly to their benefactors in lieu of the in-person event.
Johnson’s scholarship was established through the “Perpetually Purple” program, which is managed by the Demons Unlimited Foundation. Its goal is to grow the endowment, through outright donations or deferred gifts, to more than $5 million.
Earnings from the 69 permanent funds that comprise the current $2.1 million endowment total are utilized to balance the Athletic Department’s annual scholarship budget.
According to Director of Athletics Greg Burke, “Current endowment funding ensures that all 14 NSU sports can continue offering the maximum number of scholarships permitted by NCAA guidelines. Being able to do so is paramount to sustaining a high level of competitiveness but more importantly, continues to provide opportunities for young people to receive a scholarship which can lead to earning a college degree. Based on the fact the five-year NCAA Graduation Success Rate of NSU Athletics is at an all-time high of 82 percent over the past five years, endowment funds are a worthwhile investment.”
A fundamental goal of the initial push is to reach the $5 million milestone, allowing the endowment to completely underwrite book scholarships for all NSU student-athletes, an expense currently paid by annual gifts to the DUF, he said. Annual gift revenues will then be redirected to more significantly enhance facilities, bolster recruiting budgets, retain or hire outstanding coaches, and offset ever-increasing scholarship costs.
The endowment principle remains intact for perpetuity with a maximum of five percent interest income used for the intent designated by the donor who establishes the fund.