The Mary Jo Cloninger Endowed Scholarship Fund
Scholarships distributed from this Fund may only be awarded to Gaston or Lincoln County residents who have attained their high school equivalency or completed their high school degree from Gaston College. Preference will be given to female students pursuing an associate degree in business administration. Recipients may have their scholarship renewed for a second year provided that at least 16 credit hours have been completed and minimum GPA of 2.5 is earned.
Margaret “Mary Jo” Cloninger was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, 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. By the time she was married, she came up with a business idea which she pitched to her father. She rented space in the back of her father’s barber shop 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.
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.