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home : news : news October 18, 2019

7/20/2019 7:01:00 AM
Mary Jo Cloninger Memorialized By Scholarship
The late Mary Jo Cloninger is seen here at the locally famous store that to this day bears her name.
(Photo Courtesy of the Cloninger Family)

The late Mary Jo Cloninger is seen
here at the locally famous store that
to this day bears her name.

(Photo Courtesy of the Cloninger Family)

Lincoln Herald Staff

DALLAS, N.C. - Female high school grads in Gaston and Lincoln counties can now take advantage of a new full Gaston College scholarship.

They can pursue an associate’s degree in business, thanks to the Mary Jo Cloninger Endowed Scholarship, according to college spokeswoman Stephanie Michael Pickett. She recently said the members of the Gaston College Foundation and siblings Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger, Thomas Cloninger and Paula Houser were very happy to announce the scholarship funded in memory of their late mother, Margaret “Mary Jo” Cloninger. As Pickett explained, the scholarship supports young women who are pursuing an associate’s degree in business at Gaston College.

Gaston College President Dr. Pat Skinner recently extolled Mrs. Cloninger––a woman beloved throughout the community, well known in Dallas, all over Gaston County and beyond.

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“Mary Jo Cloninger was a remarkable woman,” said 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.”

The beloved wife of the late Polie Cloninger, Jr., she was an exemplary mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and business and civic leader. She founded one of Gaston County’s best-known and most successful businesses, Mary Jo’s Cloth Store, on her 19th birthday in 1951.

She spent much of her teenage years working behind the register of her father’s family grocery store. She was pulled out of high school before graduation to work full-time. As a little girl, young Mary Jo would sneak away to her mother’s sewing machine, gathering cotton scraps and stitching them together. As a child of the Depression, she learned early on the value of the maxim, “Waste not, want not.”

By the time she was married, she had come 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, as women in business were rare in those days, 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, Mary Jo grew her fabric business of necessity into a specialty niche market, selling specifically to other women. Today, Mary Jo’s Cloth Store, Inc. is a nationally and internationally known enterprise, selling sought-after fabrics to homemakers and designers in all 50 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 famous Gaston County business that has given back to its community for some 66 years now. Her cherished legacy is one of hard work, determination, commitment to family and a love for the local community.

To qualify for the scholarship, applicants must be female students pursuing an associate’s degree in business. They must be current residents of Gaston or Lincoln counties. Students considered must have earned their high school diplomas or have attained their high school equivalency degrees. 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 2019-20 academic year. To apply, be sure to check out the Gaston College Foundation Website at 

About Gaston College and the Gaston College Foundation

Gaston College is one of 58 community colleges in the North Carolina Community College System.

Serving both Gaston and Lincoln counties, Gaston College enrolls some 6,000 students each term in curriculum programs. It averages more than 16,000 annually in its economic and work force development and continuing education programs. It offers more than 100 fields of study to obtain a degree, diploma or certificate.

To learn more about the college’s services and programs, consult the Gaston College Website at

And the Gaston College Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit corporation, chartered 51 years ago. Led by a 15-member volunteer board of directors that is appointed by the Gaston College Board of Trustees, its role is to encourage and secure financial support to further the college’s work. The foundation receives and administers both restricted and unrestricted contributions in support of the college’s priorities, including student scholarship aid, capital projects and academic programming.

To learn more, see the Website at

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