Dr. J. Hopwood and Karen Wooddell
Dr. Hopwood Wooddell of Mountain Lake Park, Md., had to wait 57 years to receive the diploma from Frostburg State University that he came so close to earning in 1940, but the value he received from his college education was of such value to him that he and his wife, Karen, established a scholarship for students from their home in Garrett County.
They have given more than $200,000 to the FSU Foundation over the course of their lives and contributed more than $65,000 during the period of Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg.
Young Hop Wooddell didn’t really consider going to college after high school. It was the middle of the Depression, and his father had died after a long illness, leaving the family nearly broke. Instead, he went to work in a five and dime store in Oakland, where he stayed until he got a visit from the basketball coach at Frostburg State Teachers College, who was looking for players. With some financial assistance, it became possible for him to attend the only college available and study the only course available – elementary education.
“I was very happy there,” he said. It was a run-in with a faculty member that cut short his college career just six weeks from graduation, a dilemma that was set right by former Frostburg President John Morey and then-President Catherine Gira, who took into account that he had later earned a dental degree and deemed him ready to receive the degree he had earned in 1940.
He bears no ill will. He sees his college education as a great benefit, starting when he enlisted in the Army in 1940. Because of his education, he was given a field promotion to captain and was given choice assignments, including one with Gen. Lauris Norstad, who later became NATO Supreme Allied Commander. And it was in the Army where he developed his interest in dentistry.
Hop Wooddell retired from his dental practice in 1979, but he and his wife, who was also his dental assistant for many years, have now taken on historic restoration as their latest project. Starting with one of the charming homes dating from Mountain Lake Park’s days as a Victorian-era vacation spot, they have now restored six, and Karen sits on the Mountain Lake Park Board of Zoning Appeals. Mountain Lake Park recognized their contribution to preservation by naming a town park in their honor.
“Frostburg gave a lot to me – in just admitting me to go to school, with no funds whatsoever. I think they gave me all they could give me. I just wanted to say thanks,” he said.
His thanks came in the form of the Dr. J. Hopwood and Karen Wooddell Scholarship for students from Garrett County. The Wooddells see plenty of young people in their region who are in a similar dilemma to him all those years ago, with minimal resources. They wanted those students to still see college as an option, even if they weren’t straight-A students.
“Our legacy is in those students, what they do with their education and how they proceed from life because they had the opportunity to go to college,” Karen Wooddell said.
[Note: Dr. J. Hopwood Wooddell passed away in June 2017.]