A new scholarship in memory of a beloved Central Falls principal will aid Rhode Island College students interested in studying physical education.
When siblings Joanne Diggle ’82 and Maureen Azar ’85 were growing up, there was little doubt about the path their careers would follow.
“All of our father’s sisters were elementary school teachers, so my sister and I followed in their footsteps,” Diggle recalls.
The pair would go on to lead successful lives as educators in their Central Falls hometown. However, Azar’s nearly 30-year career was cut short after she died suddenly in 2014 at age 50. In the former Ella Risk Elementary principal’s honor, the Maureen Azar Memorial Scholarship Fund will award future Rhode Island College junior and senior health and physical education majors who are in good academic standing, demonstrate financial need and possess a commitment to family, education and community like Azar. The scholarship was established through a $30,000 gift from an anonymous donor unaffiliated with Azar or her family.
“This generous gift will honor Ms. Azar’s commitment to community and health by extending her legacy to another generation of teachers,” says RIC Dean of Education Jeannine Dingus-Eason. “We greatly appreciate the kind and thoughtful gift.”
Diggle, who is now a retired Central Falls elementary teacher, says the scholarship is a wonderful honor to acknowledge her sister’s efforts.
“I’m truly touched that a donor and the college would want to memorialize Maureen in this way,” Diggle says. “I was speechless when I learned about the scholarship and the fact that it will further the education of someone who wants to follow in Maureen’s footsteps.”
Recipients of the scholarship will have big shoes to fill because Azar has left behind a lasting impression in Central Falls.
After graduating from RIC in 1985, Azar became a dedicated physical education teacher at several schools – from kindergarten to high school – in Central Falls, Diggle says.
“Physical education was her passion,” Diggle says. “She had an enormous work ethic and was dedicated to Central Falls families, students and her colleagues as well.”
Even after being named principal at Ella Risk, Azar could still be found stressing the importance of physical education to students.
“She would be dressed in a suit but kept her sneakers and workout clothes nearby to play with the kids at recess,” Diggle says. “She would always go back to her physical education roots, making sure the children were physically fit and ate healthy meals.”
When the weather wasn’t great for outdoor play, Azar would gather the Ella Risk children in the cafeteria and read to them from her personal library collection, which remains on display at the school now.
Aside from her career as a principal, Azar was a world traveler who took many cruises and many photos.
“She loved tropical locations and was an excellent photographer,’’ Diggle says.
Perhaps it was fitting that after Azar’s passing, her grieving students at Ella Risk were tasked with drawing pictures, which were then delivered to Azar’s family.
“Her sudden passing impacted not only my family but the entire Central Falls community,” Diggle says. “We were close to everyone. But Maureen never wanted much recognition for whatever she did. She had such a quiet and generous spirit.”
This scholarship fund is open to contributions from alumni and friends who knew Maureen Azar or anyone who supports the purpose of the fund. For additional information, those interested may contact the foundation at 401-456-8460.