Lorelei Guenther and Olivia Dudas both want to become teachers.

Both are senior leaders in their high school bands.

Both are grateful for the support they’ve received during their high school careers.

And, both were surprised with full-tuition scholarships last week.

Guenther, who attends Centerville Senior High School, and Dudas, of Richmond High School, learned the life-changing news that they received Wayne County’s two 2024 Lilly Endowment Community Scholarships.

“It’s unfathomable how big this is for me,” said Dudas, who wants to become a band director. She hopes to study music education at Butler University, where she has a January audition scheduled on French horn.

Centerville senior Lorelei Guenther, center, is congratulated by Wayne County Foundation Executive Director Rebecca Gilliam, mom Stephanie Guenther, dad Nick Guenther and Kelley Cruse-Nicholson, WCF nonprofit relationship manager. Supplied

Guenther plans to attend Indiana University Bloomington for secondary education, likely specializing in social studies. 

Both winners agreed the Lilly applications were rigorous, but they said they put in as much effort as possible because they understand the award’s significance.

Guenther encourages future seniors to apply, because even if they don’t win, the experience of writing essays and listing activities will be useful for additional applications.

A Wayne County Foundation selection committee chooses winners based on their interview score and applications, noting activities, achievements, community service, academic performance, financial need, work experience and leadership potential. WCF’s recommendations were reviewed and approved by Independent Colleges of Indiana Inc.

Guenther is inspired to follow the career path of her sister, Morgan Guenther, a teacher at Centerville-Abington Elementary, after seeing “how talented she is at it.”

“I want to be able to have the impact she has on the lives of students,” Guenther said.

Guenther said she was pleased to see her parents, Nick and Stephanie Guenther, so happy at hearing the good news. She’s also grateful for the support of Centerville administrators including Superintendent Mike McCoy, Assistant Superintendent Sean Stevenson and Principal Tim Hollendonner, who attended the presentation and the teachers who wrote recommendation letters on her behalf.

Guenther said she looks up to previous Lilly winners, especially fellow bandmate Aubrey Morgan, whose drive and leadership she admires.

Guenther, who plays clarinet, has been a member of Centerville’s band for six years and is the woodwind section leader.

“It’s a rewarding experience,” Guenther said about band. “You have this community you can rely on – parents, teachers and friends – who make the experience worthwhile.”

Guenther also is active with CSHS’ Drama Club and has enjoyed that close-knit organization’s growth. While she’s primarily an actor, enjoying roles such as Jo March in “Little Women,” she played in the pit orchestra for “Beauty and the Beast” this fall.

She also enjoyed being part of the founding of CSHS’ Business Professionals of America chapter three years ago, improving her individual presentation skills and joining the parliamentary procedure team this year, and participating in Model Legislature. 

Richmond senior Olivia Dudas is congratulated by her mother, Andrea Dudas, after learning she received one of Wayne County’s two Lilly Endowment Community Scholarships this year. Supplied

RHS principal Rae Ferriell-Woolpy said Dudas is a prime example of the many Red Devils who get connected to academics and activities and take advantage of those opportunities.

“She’s very well-rounded in academics, arts, student government, you name it – she’s been involved and actively involved,” Ferriell-Woolpy said, emphasizing the “actively.” “She is a leader and a role model for others to follow in her footsteps. She’s left a beautiful legacy of that.”

In addition to being Student Council president, Dudas serves as band captain and section leader for mellophone and high brass. She’s secretary for the choir, which she accompanies on piano.

Richmond senior Olivia Dudas, center, is congratulated by Wayne County Foundation Executive Director Rebecca Gilliam, left, aunt Elise Hansel, mom Andrea Dudas and Kelley Cruse-Nicholson, WCF nonprofit relationship manager. Supplied

Dudas also continues annual philanthropic programs she began at age 10. She encourages donations of children’s items to local charities through the Traveling Bag of Kindness, and collects and delivers Valentines for local health care facilities in her Love Bugs campaign.

“My mom has been my guidepost,” said Olivia about her mother, Andrea Dudas, who has cheered on her daughter through many activities. “Without her support, I would literally not have been able to apply.”

Ferriell-Woolpy said she can’t imagine how difficult it is for the committee to choose winners from this year’s 68 applicants.

The other Lilly finalists, Hannah Cravens, Sammy Humphrey and Allison Stout, all of RHS, each “have strengths in leadership and academics and involvement in school activities,” Ferriell-Woolpy said.

The five finalists became better acquainted while waiting for their interview.

“They were all amazing,” Guenther said. “I was just jealous of everything they’ve been able to do with their high school careers.”

Ferriell-Woolpy said it’s a source of pride for schools to have their students receive the prestigious scholarship through two beneficial organizations.

Dudas and Guenther are the 56th and 57th winners of the scholarship competition overseen by Wayne County Foundation since 1998.

“For Lilly Foundation to prioritize education in every county in the state is so commendable,” Ferriell-Woolpy said.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 13 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.