Steele and Boyers

Marion County Project Graduation Coordinator Roberta Steele, left, with Jim Boyers, chairman of the board of First Exchange Bank, accepts three Apple Watches for this year’s event.

WHITE HALL — Marion County Project Graduation is personal for Jim Boyers.

“My wife Betty was very dedicated to Project Graduation,” said Boyers, chairman of the board of directors for First Exchange Bank. “She helped for many years and was instrumental in its early successes.”

Boyers donated three Apple Watches as prizes that be up for grabs at this year’s Project Graduation. According to Roberta Steele, the coordinator of the project, this year is the 33rd celebration, but it looks like it will be the last.

The program was originally going to be taken over by the late Connie VanGilder, who passed away in January. Now, with low volunteer numbers and no new coordinator stepping forward, Steele is hoping to close out the tradition with a bang.

“It’s going to be a little different but it’s going to be a better different,” Steele said. “I’m hoping that’s how everyone sees it. At least we will have something for [the graduates].”

Boyers’ lost both his wife and daughter to cancer in 2016, both of whom were educators. In their memory, he tries to work toward things that were important to them. Both of them were involved with Project Graduation, which provides a safe, alcohol-free environment for seniors to celebrate their graduation.

“We try to continue as a family to promote and support the necessity of having [Project Graduation],” Boyers said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Not only is he in it this year for the memory of his loved ones, but his grandson Blake Boyers is graduating this year.

“He was just east side’s first four-time state wrestling champ, he’s graduating this year,” Jim Boyers said. “Then there’s my other grandson, Maddox and my daughter’s twins, they be coming up through soon.

“Hopefully there will be something else that will pick up where [Project Graduation] left off.”

Though this may be the end of Project Graduation in its current form, Steele hopes the program comes back in a different form.

“It’s devastating to see it end,” said Steele in a previous interview. “Sometimes something has to die in order for something else to revive. So I’m hoping it’s revived in a better and different way.”

The Marion County Project Graduation was first started in 1988 after parents and community members raised concerns that high school graduates didn’t have a safe place to celebrate their achievement.

“Back in the day when we did it with Betty, my coordinators were a great group,” Steele said. “I always knew I’d get great gifts from the community.”

This year, Project Graduation needs the community’s help more than ever with gifts and donations. All the organizers are volunteers who participate for the kids, she said.

“This is totally volunteer and totally done with funds from the community,” Steele said. “It takes a village to raise a child and that’s how it’s been with Project Graduation.”

Businesses and individuals can donate money to cover the cost of prizes, food and the venue. They can also donate items as prizes or their time to help with the event.

Questions or suggestions can be sent to their email at or phoned in to Steele at 304-363-7037.

Students planning to attend should fill out the form that can be downloaded from the MCPG website at The celebration will be held May 28, any graduate of any of the three high schools is welcome. The location of the event is still to be announced.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at

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