Jan Holland distinctly remembers one of the last conversations she had with Elyssa Bellard just days before the Nacogdoches senior was set to graduate and head off to Mississippi State University.
Bellard was looking down the road to her education and future, and even to some degree, the future of other students in the high school’s cosmetology program.
“She asked ‘how come we don’t have a scholarship for cosmetology’?” recalled Holland, the cosmetology teacher. “Ellie was wise beyond her years.”
More than a month after her death, that question is being answered.
On Tuesday, the Nacogdoches High School Alumni Association announced it would begin fundraising efforts for an endowed scholarship in Elyssa’s name, which will become one of two scholarships specifically geared to students seeking technical and career certifications.
Elyssa Bellard, along with her mother Quondaila Bellard, were killed in a crash with a Louisiana driver in Smith County in late July 2019. Elyssa’s father, Dale, and brother Dominic James-Armon Sellers, were injured in the wreck. Sellers is recovering but still has a long road ahead to heal from the open-book pelvis fracture he suffered in the crash, said Dale.
Elyssa has been accepted into and planned to attend Mississippi State to study psychology. As a graduate of the NHS cosmetology program, Elyssa would be certified to work in the field and Texas and was working towards getting licensed in Mississippi.
“She wanted to get work there to help pay here way through,” said her father, Dale. “She was very excited about everything. She loves cosmetology.”
And it was clear that Elyssa’s mother loved her, Holland said.
“Quon was one of the only mothers I’ve ever had really jump in and get things done,” she said.
Not long after the crash that killed the two women, Dale said he wondered about what he could do to preserve their memory. The scholarship, as well as plans for a book, were among the ideas he settled on.
The alumni association aims to raise $25,000 for the scholarship, which will allow it to continue indefinitely, said Kristen Jasper, the association’s executive assistant.
Once it’s funded, the scholarship will provide funds to purchase the required equipment and to pay for the licensing exam for cosmetology students, she said. The recipients will be chosen from cosmetology program juniors by a committee.
Currently, the alumni association endows 49 scholarships. Elyssa’s will be the 50th, and one of only two specifically aimed at high school students working to get career certifications, though a number of the scholarships can be put towards vocational schools.
Jasper said the Luna Legacy Scholarship also is designated for students seeking career certifications. A third scholarship which could also benefit those students is the Phillip Blackburn STEM scholarship.
The associations’ scholarship program was implemented 25 years ago, with the first scholarship handed out in 1995 to Elizabeth Norton. Since then, 943 scholarships have paid out a total $943,000, and Jasper said the association should surpass $1 million this year.
“We’re excited to be able to do this to honor her,” Jasper said.
Dale said he believes the scholarship is what Elyssa would’ve wanted, and how he wants his daughter and wife to be remembered.
“(Elyssa) wanted to study psychology in college. She wanted to help people,” he said. “I want to keep their memory going.”
Holland remembered that, even with the prospect of a college-course workload and the work that would come with getting her degree so close at hand, Elyssa was already thinking ahead.
In that conversation just before Elyssa graduated, Holland said that was apparent.
“She said ‘I’m going to start one,’” Holland recalled about the idea for a cosmetology scholarship. “She’ll definitely have a legacy here.”