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Carpenter's legacy gift to MSU supports theatre students

Carpenter-250-300.jpgAs a theatre major, Nelson Maurice Carpenter (54) did not know what life had in store for him after leaving Morehead State University, then known as Morehead State College. He did know one thing for certain, which was that he loved theatre.  

Carpenter came to MSU in 1951 after graduating from Maysville High School in 1950. Pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English, he spent his free time involving himself in clubs and activities. He was a member of the Wesley Club, a social club for Methodist students, the Coffee Club, the campus literary club, and he was the co-feature editor for the campus news publication, The Trail Blazer.

Most importantly, he was involved in theatre. He was noted as having served in every capacity possible in the Morehead Players – acting, directing, business management, publicity, scenery and lighting, to name a few. Carpenter was so loved by the Morehead Players group that they dedicated a page in MSU’s 1954 Raconteur to his service in the theatre organization. His experience at MSU led him to later dedicate his life to education and support of the stage.  

Upon graduating from MSU he moved to New York City where he worked in a publishing house and took graduate courses at Columbia University. Deciding publishing was not for him, he enlisted in the United States Army in 1956. Carpenter served for two years in Korea as part of the Eighth Army Headquarters Special Services Group and obtained the rank of sergeant in the United States Army Reserve. When he completed his service, he attained his Master of Arts degree at the University of Mississippi then began his 40-year career in education.

Carpenter was an instructor of English, history, speech and drama at institutions that include Woodleigh School in Maysville, Northwest Junior College and West Georgia College, among others. In 1969, he joined the faculty of Middle Georgia College as an associate professor of speech and drama. Over the course of his career there, Carpenter directed more than 45 theatrical productions, served as the chairman of the speech and drama department and attended the Institute of Arts Administration at Harvard University. He retired in 1988.   

After returning home to Mason County to care for his sister, Mary Louise Carpenter, he became a well-known attendee at MSU’s theatre productions. Later in life, he suffered a stroke, which required him to be placed in the Maysville Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center. No longer being able to attend shows, students from The Little Company, MSU’s touring theatre troupe, frequently performed at Carpenter’s nursing home and routinely sent playbills and signed posters, which he would hang in his room.  

“Students always know when regulars come,” said Denise Watkins (96), professor of theatre at MSU. “Sunday matinees, Nelson always had a seat. Students knew he supported the program financially, but Nelson attending their shows was what really meant so much to them. Passing around a playbill or poster to sign at the end of a show was the students’ way of supporting him, after years of supporting them.”

As a lifelong supporter of MSU, he officially established the Nelson Maurice Carpenter Theatre Endowment in 2008, a fund that supports theatre students and summer theatre workshops.  

“To have consistent support goes a long way, for any student, but especially students in the arts,” said Watkins. “In an area that is geographically challenged where some families are skeptical of their kids pursuing a career in the arts, a scholarship goes a long way.”

After his passing, Carpenter left an estate gift to be directed towards his theatre endowment. This gift was valued at nearly $300,000. The proceeds from this endowment will ensure theatre students for years to come benefit from Carpenter’s generosity.  

The MSU Visionary Society is a recognition society for those who remember MSU through planned gifts.   

To learn more about planned gifts or other ways to support your favorite MSU program, contact the Office of Alumni Relations and Development at 606-783-2033, email or visit