New Scholarship Supports Young Business Women

Gaston and Lincoln County high school graduates can earn a full scholarship to attend Gaston College in pursuit of an associate degree in business!

Margaret “Mary Jo” Cloninger

Margaret “Mary Jo” Cloninger

The Gaston College Foundation is excited to announce the establishment of the Mary Jo Cloninger Endowed Scholarship. This scholarship was founded in memory of their mother, Margaret “Mary Jo” Cloninger, by Sherriff Alan Cloninger, Thomas Cloninger, and Paula Houser to support young women who are pursuing an associate degree in business at Gaston College.

“Mary Jo Cloninger was a remarkable woman,” says Gaston College President Dr. Pat Skinner. “We are very excited to continue her legacy by empowering the young women of Gaston and Lincoln counties with the opportunity to become business leaders.”

Margaret “Mary Jo” Cloninger was the beloved wife of Polie Cloninger, Jr.  She was also a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and business and civic leader who founded one of Gaston County’s most iconic and successful businesses, Mary Jo’s Cloth Store, in 1951, on her 19th birthday.

She spent much of her teenage years working behind the register of her father’s family grocery store and was pulled out of high school before graduation to work full-time.  As a child, she would sneak away to her mother’s sewing machine, gathering cotton scraps, and stitching them together.  She was a Depression Era baby and learned that to waste not was to want not.  By the time she was married, she came up with a business idea, which she pitched to her father.  Armed with a $500 loan, which had to be co-signed by a male since women in business were unheard of at that time, she rented space in the back of her father’s barbershop to sell cloth to women who made clothing for their families.  Because of her keen business acumen, Ms. Cloninger grew her fabric business of necessity into a specialty niche market selling specifically to other women.  Named for the visionary entrepreneur who founded the company, Mary Jo’s is now a nationally and internationally known enterprise selling sought after fabrics to homemakers and designers in all fifty states and numerous foreign countries.   

Mary Jo Cloninger was a shrewd and successful businesswoman during a time when the world of business was considered to be for men only.  She overcame a lack of formal education and public perception of what a woman’s role should be to create a sprawling and iconic Gaston County business that has given back to its community for over 66 years.  Her legacy of hard work, determination, commitment to family, and a love for her community is cherished.

To qualify for the scholarship, applicants must be female students pursuing an associate degree in business and be a current resident of Gaston or Lincoln counties. Students considered must have earned a high school diploma or have attained their high school equivalency degree.  Students must apply to, and be accepted by, Gaston College before access to the College’s scholarship application system is granted.   Continued funding is available if students maintain a 2.5 college GPA.  While financial need is not required for this award, it is considered when applications are reviewed.

Gaston College is now accepting scholarship applications for the 2019-2020 academic year. To apply, please visit the Gaston College Foundation webpage at 

About the Gaston College Foundation

The Gaston College Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation chartered in 1968.  Led by a 15-member volunteer board of directors appointed by the Gaston College Board of Trustees, its role is to encourage and secure financial support to further the work of Gaston College.  The foundation receives and administers both restricted and unrestricted contributions in support of Gaston College’s priorities including student scholarship aid, capital projects, and academic programming. To learn more about the Gaston College Foundation, visit its website at

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