18 Mar 2024

30 Years of the Bob & Joy Owens Scholarship

30 Years of the Bob & Joy Owens Scholarship

It has been five years since the Acorn Foundation partnered with the Owens Charitable Trust to manage their scholarship programme. The programme has been providing tertiary scholarships in the region since 1993 and a total of 159 high school students have been awarded Bob & Joy Owens Scholarships over the 30 years.

Bob Owens was born in Manchester, England, and his first academic achievement was getting a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School, which made his mother very proud. His schooling was short-lived when Bob decided to run away at the age of 16 to join the Merchant Navy. He survived a harrowing journey of being bombed in WWII while delivering fuel to ships. Even though his personal formal education was lacking, he firmly believed that a good education was important.

The scholarship is awarded annually to students from seven secondary schools in Tauranga who have excelled and shown great work ethic. However, whilst academic ability is important, Bob and Joy Owens were particularly interested in applicants who have a desire to contribute to society and make the world a better place. 

Robin says, “As Trustees, Mahé Drysdale, Bill Capamagian and I very much wanted to ensure that the Bob and Joy Owens Scholarships continued on into the future providing such wonderful support for young people in the community. By placing the administration of these scholarships into the professional hands of the Acorn Foundation, we are ensuring that the Scholarships will continue exactly as they have always done for many years to come.

The Acorn Foundation administers the awards while volunteer Owens Scholarship panels interview the students chosen by the school administrators. These awards provide a $5,000 payment per annum for three years to the students selected. The Owens family and friends are still involved on many of the interview panels in the schools.

Owens Scholarship winners have always had a desire to make a difference. Sir Robert Owens once said, “It is vital that we do not lose our sense of community and volunteering and service to each other.”

One of the earliest winners of the scholarship in 1994 was Vanessa Winning from Tauranga Girls’ College.

Vanessa told us at the time she received the scholarship she was boarding with an elderly lady, juggling being a college student and working 30 hours a week. She was determined to attend university, build a career and have the opportunities her family hadn’t had.

Vanessa's tenacity shone through in the interview and when announced as the winner Vanessa said “I couldn’t believe it. Others had better grades and were definitely better sportspeople. I was so grateful, shocked and excited.”

The scholarship supported Vanessa through her entire degree and took the financial pressure off. Vanessa successfully completed an economics degree and a postgraduate degree in marketing.

Vanessa now mentors several young women starting their careers. The Owens family gave her support and non-judgemental advice, which encouraged her to also give back. Vanessa has many career highlights, including working on the launch of the first internet-only bank, Ergo, back in 1998. As the current CEO of Irrigation New Zealand, she is making a difference by driving storage and capture solutions to grow more food in a changing environment.

The Owens family also supported many community events and charities during Bob’s business life and his involvement in local politics.

“I acknowledge my Dad for having such an inspiring vision for these scholarships. My wish is that we hear a lot more about the great things young people are doing. A lot of these students didn’t have an easy road, and they went on to make us so proud. It has been incredibly rewarding,” concluded Robin.

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