Helping People Finish What They Started

On the long drive home together from the beach, Martin Nystrom staved off the usual fatherly lectures. Instead, he enjoyed his son’s company, just the two of them. Joseph, age 24, controlled the radio, and pried at his father to share his appreciation for country music. He worked his way from Tyler Farr to Dierks Bentley and gained some measured success by the end.

The family home was undergoing a floor renovation, so they took an opportunity for a short vacation to the beach. Martin and his wife Jennifer invited Joseph to join them. They were surprised that he agreed, even embraced the time together, despite having an independent life. “Joseph really engaged with us. We went out to dinner, played shuffle board, and watched movies. He seemed to relax and favor us with his presence,” Martin shared.

Two months later, in October 2017, Joseph’s life was cut short when he was killed by a drunk driver.

The third of Martin and Jennifer Nystrom’s four children, Joseph was quiet; a calm but confident kid.

“He cultivated close relationships through our church and school,” recalled Martin. In 2012, he graduated from Eastern Alamance High School in Mebane, NC and continued his education at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte to study computer science. “He accepted my guidance and studied at UNC but got distracted and quickly lost his joy in college,” shared Martin.

After 18 months away at college, Joseph moved back home. He found a job and eventually found his own place. He needed time to figure out what he wanted to do.

After a couple years on his own, he started hitting his stride in a new sales job. He was building a career, hitting sales goals, borrowing ties from his Dad’s closet, and saving money to return to school.

Martin and Jennifer continually offered financial support for him to return to college, but, “Joseph was resolved that he was going back to school on his own terms, with his own money.” Joseph never made it back to college. “He was starting to gain some independence and enjoy the success of a career when he was killed.”

In response to the tragedy, Martin and Jennifer’s family and friends immediately asked where to make donations in Joseph’s memory.

Martin recalled, “Scores of people were asking where they could donate. Family, close friends, college and high school friends, work mates.” He quickly directed this generosity, nearly $15,000, to establish a scholarship fund in Joseph’s honor.
In early 2018, Martin researched foundations, scholarship rules, and fees, and ultimately selected Triangle Community Foundation to establish Joseph’s legacy to ensure that “His shy but accepting countenance, his generosity, advocacy, and serenity … will never leave us.”

For the first time in 2019, the Joseph G. Nystrom Working Student Scholarship accepted applications. The scholarship honors Joseph’s memory by helping working students return to college or remain enrolled in post-secondary education. Because Joseph considered physical vocations where he could “get his hands dirty,” the scholarship is available for many types of post-secondary schools: universities, community colleges, and vocational schools.

“We are investing our hopes and sorrows in this scholarship. Like all grieving parents, it gives a sense of purpose, of progress,” shared Martin. “This scholarship is for working college students because Joseph was working to get back to school. He wouldn’t take my money, so we are giving it away in his memory.”

Martin remembers the challenges of paying for college. “I grew up without a father; he died when I was 7 years old. When it came time for college it was clear that, even with Mom’s help, I needed government grants and loans, and worked 20 hours per week to pay the bills.”

Martin and Jennifer believe in the virtue of work, to help each of us recognize the value of what we gain. For this reason, they made the decision that their kids would work through school too. They also recognize that not every educational path looks the same; sometimes students need time away, whether to save money or to address the unique challenges of life.

To quote George Eliot, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Martin emphasized, “This scholarship is to help people get over the line and finish that degree. It is for those who are working hard and want to finish their degree.”

Interested in creating a scholarship? Contact Sarah Battersby at [email protected]