Posted by Jim Fitzgerald
June 15, 1920, Dr. Humphreys, president of the College of Marshall, offered the Marshall Rotary club a scholarship, which they could award to a high-school graduate that the Marshall Rotary club thought would otherwise be unable to attend school (college) and who would benefit from the grant of $80 to pay a year’s tuition.  
There is no record that this Marshall Rotary Club scholarship was ever given to anyone in 1920, or later. There is clear evidence, however, that the College of Marshall awarded a 16-year old Hallsville girl a music scholarship that year from Mr. Charles Harrison, a renowned American Opera tenor, and friend of the College of Marshall.  The young lady would eventually become a world-famous opera star.  The Marshall Rotary club itself had no part in her receiving that scholarship in 1920, but several men who were Rotarians were closely associated with the College of Marshall at the time, and could have influenced the club's decision to back her.  
Nevertheless, this young lady's fascinating story, and the part thhat the Marshall Rotary club played in it, is one of the most poignant stories of that day.   She was the first student to receive aid by the Rotary Club of Marshall, but that came in 1923 in the form of an unrestricted grant to help with her expenses in New York, attending the Dudley Buck institute.
In fact, she was more than sponsored, she was financially backed by the Rotary Club. The club had a separate account set up in her name to help with her expenses.  In 1923, after completing her two -year scholarship at the College of Marshall, the club gave her $1,000 so that she could go to New York and continue her study under Mr. Dudley Buck.  Exactly what caused this extraordinary interest and support of this young lady by the early Marshall Rotarians may never be known, but at a meeting in March of 1925, R. P. Littlejohn, described how it happened:
“Two years ago a little girl from Hallsville in this county sang at one of our meetings.  Our members were so surprised, delighted and impressed with the possibilities of that voice that they determined it should be cultivated.  Accordingly, the club became sponsor for her musical education and sent her to New York to study under the tutorship of the well-known Dudley Buck.  That little girl is Miss Alma Milstead, who recently sang at a Rotary club meeting in New York, where she made a decided hit, and the secretary of the club writes that the club (New York Rotary Club) was so carried away with her singing that it expressed a desire for her to sing for it again. We are exceedingly proud of our protege and predict a bright and successful career for her”
The extraordinary aspect of this story is that the Rotary club got involved at all.  This was a men’s club, not ordinarily prone to outright grants like this to anyone.  One can imagine the “Perfect Storm” of circumstances that must have come together for the Rotary club  to give this relatively unknown singer that much money, with no-strings-attached?
That “Perfect Storm” began with her parents.  Her father was a singing teacher and all her brothers and sisters were vocalizers in old-fashioned, "all-day sings”, which were a tradition in rural Texas at that time.
Alma must have realized early on that she would have to work extra hard to be recognized among her talented family, and applied herself to her studies and her passion for singing. 
A child of a music teacher, she learned to read music. As a twelve-year-old piano student of Blanche Russell, mother of Wendy Russell-Reeves, Alma excelled at the keyboard and won many accolades,. But, more than that, she applied herself to every aspect of her young life and excelled at nearly everything she attempted, including track, where she won many events, and as the editor of the Hallsville High School articles which appeared in the “Hallsville Review”.
Her passion and persistence paid off, winning a two-year scholarship to the College of Marshall in 1921.  Under the tutelage of Mr. Alfred Hoskin Strick, and diligent study and countless recitals and concerts at cities all over East Texas with the COM (College of Marshall) Glee Club, she attained somewhat of a cult following, and was "exploited" by the college, by churches, and by many other organizations. 
During school, she was featured in almost every concert or recital with the Glee Club.  On the weekends she performed in almost every church in Harrison County.  During the summer she performed at many clubs “Teas”, movie theaters, and fairs.
More than likely, she received some kind of compensation or "love offering", for some of the appearances, if for no other reason than to cover her travel expenses and singing lessons.  The records that remain clearly show that she was most generous in sharing her talent and always received the warmest welcome and praise for her performances.
October 29, 1921, her teacher at the College of Marshall, Mr. Strick, entered her in a state-wide contest in Dallas sponsored by Dudley Buck.  Competing against all of the musical students of Texas, she won first place and a one-year scholarship plus $200 for expenses, to the Dudley Buck Institute in New York to study opera.  Thanks to a $1,000 grant and other help from the Rotary Club of Marshall, she was able to continue her studies with Buck and was accepted into the Julliard  Center For The Performing Arts, where she honed her singing and performance skills.
In order to raise money for her continued education, she returned to Marshall each year for several summers after that to conduct concerts sponsored by the Rotary Club of Marshall.
She also made special performances benefiting  the Marshall Rotary Club’s Student Loan Fund, Boy Scouts encampment, and ultimately many other youth-related projects.
Alma went on to star in Broadway Musicals, Operas, and to sing on national radio broadcasts, but she always mentioned “My Rotarians”, when accepting the many accolades, that she later received.  Listen to her sing. Click Here , or paste the following link into your browser: 
Alma Milstead  will always be remembered for her beautiful voice and unwavering dedication to her craft, and her very special part in the history of the Rotary Club of Marshall Texas, when we will be “Celebrating A Century of Changing Lives in Marshall And Beyond”, August 24, 2019.