An anonymous donor has established two new endowed scholarships at Lyon College in the memory of former professors Cassie Creighton and Dr. Khursheed Omer.
Creighton and Omer were two longtime accounting professors at Lyon whose dedicated service positively impacted many students.
The $120,000 anonymous gift will help Lyon revitalize its accounting program through the two new scholarships, which will prioritize first-generation college students as potential recipients.
“Bringing back the accounting major is an integral part of our long term strategy with the new Institute for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship we are in the process of establishing,” said Vice President for Advancement David Hutchison.
“These two scholarships, which honor outstanding Lyon accounting faculty, will not only bolster our accounting program,” said Associate Professor of Economics Dr. Radek Szulga, “but will also create spillover effects in other components of the Business and Economics division, such as Entrepreneurship and Leadership.”
Szulga continued, “They will also facilitate integrating these constituent concentrations as we move forward with our goal of establishing the Institute for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.”
Honoring Outstanding Faculty
Dottie Lilly, ’86, enrolled in Lyon, then Arkansas College, as a nontraditional student and got to know both professors while studying accounting. She was initially worried that having Omer as a professor might be a little awkward since her daughter and his son were in the same class at school.
“It wasn’t awkward at all. He was absolutely a tremendous teacher,” Lilly said.
She said the reason she passed the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam was because of his classes.
“You would go sit for one of his tests and think ‘My goodness, where did he get this information?’” Lilly said, laughing. “You literally had to go off of your knowledge. He challenged you.”
Sahar Ahmed, Omer’s daughter, said “teaching was Dad’s life.”
“He taught for over 50 years, both in Pakistan and the United States,” she said. “Being able to teach and seeing his students’ successes were always things that made him very happy.”
Omer retired in 2014 and passed away in 2018.
“He tried to teach right up until the end,” Sahar said.
Omer’s family first moved to Batesville in 1978. Sahar said they had lived in “fast-paced Los Angeles” before, and her dad was looking for a community with a slower pace.
“He visited Batesville and loved the community, both the college community as well as the broader community,” she said. “He thought it would be a wonderful place to raise his family.”
Donald Creighton, Cassie Creighton’s son, said his mother took teaching very seriously.
“She loved teaching and the classroom atmosphere.”
His mother originally had to quit school in the eighth grade, but always thought very highly of education and made sure Donald and his three sisters all graduated from college.
Creighton’s education didn’t resume until she was in her 40s, Donald said. His mother was struck by a truck on Main Street and had to have two back surgeries. After recovering, she was no longer able to work in the family’s business, Nu-Way Cleaners and Laundry.
“She started talking to me and my sisters about going back to school, but she wasn’t sure she could do it,” Donald said.
He continued, laughing, “We all knew better than that.”
Creighton took an entrance exam at Arkansas College and was told she had “klepped high school and was free to enroll next term.” She appreciated the opportunity, but felt she was missing something by not having a high school diploma.
She enrolled in Gateway Tech, now the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB), and earned her high school diploma. She then entered Arkansas College and graduated in three years.
Creighton didn’t stop there. She drove back and forth to Jonesboro to work on her master’s degree and eventually sat for the CPA in Little Rock, passing it on her first attempt.
She met Omer during that time, Donald said, and he hired her to work in the accounting department at Lyon. She would serve at the College for over 20 years.
“For a woman in her mid-40s with an eighth grade education to do all of that and then present papers in China and Russia…,” he said. “She just believed that she could do it, and she did.”
Lilly described Creighton as “one in a million.” She was in the first class Creighton taught.
“She walked in and said ‘Okay, guys. You’re my first class, so we’re going to learn this together.’”
Creighton was very caring, Lilly said, and never met a stranger.
“She was one of those professors that was a friend for life. She remembered you forever.”
Deborah Frazier, chancellor emerita of UACCB, agreed, describing Creighton as a “lifetime mentor.”
“In my professional career, I never wore anything but dresses or skirts and jackets because Cassie had modeled that,” Frazier said. “She was a strong woman who still presented her feminine side, and I always thought that was classy.”
She loved Creighton’s classes and wanted to teach like she did.
“She would use local businesses as examples in her class,” Frazier said. “That made the lessons familiar and not just abstract concepts about business.”
As a nontraditional student herself, Creighton often gave Frazier advice and encouragement as she balanced school, two jobs, and a family at home.
“There were times when it was overwhelming to me, and Cassie would always remind me that I could successfully accomplish my goals and that I was fortunate to have the support system I had.”
Frazier concluded, “She always grounded me.”
Sahar said her family was very close with the Creightons during their time in Batesville.
“I called Cassie ‘my American grandmother,’” she said, laughing. “She took me to my first day of kindergarten.”
The fact that Creighton and Omer are being honored together is “very special,” she said, because they were great friends.
“Batesville is such an important part of our family’s life and we have such fond memories,” Sahar said. “We’re incredibly grateful and proud that my dad will be remembered.”
“We’re thrilled beyond measure that Mom will be remembered this way,” said Donald. “She’d be the first to tell you she doesn’t deserve it, but she does.”
He concluded, “Mom is the epitome of ‘You can do it.’ It may not be easy and nothing’s guaranteed, but if you set your mind to it and keep focused then you can do it.”
“They would be thrilled to know about the scholarships,” Lilly said, “and I am, too. I can’t think of better people to be honored.”
If you are interested in giving to these scholarships, visit this link.
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