Phillip Fant ’74 proudly remembers the days he shuttled his daughter, Phylicia Fant, from school to extracurricular activities and the lessons he shared over the years. James Cheek ’73 makes it no secret that he took great pride in the holiday and birthday gifts he bought Phylicia, his only niece.
She recognizes the impact her parents and uncle have had on her life and understands they’ve meant a lot to many others, including generations of students at Wofford College. In their honor, she established the Phillip Fant ’74 and James A. Cheek ’73 Endowed Scholarship Fund, which will benefit need-based students from Spartanburg.
“Legacy matters, and they were courageous,” Phylicia Fant says. “The whole idea of the shoulders we stand on is real.”
Her father and uncle were among the first Black students to attend Wofford. They made contributions to shape the student experience, and recent gifts from their family will continue to impact the campus for years to come.
Cheek has established the Arthur Earl Cheek and Myrtle Jackson Cheek Legacy Endowed Scholarship Fund to honor his parents. Fant and his wife, Margaree, started a travel fund to support students traveling with the college’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. All of the new funds were announced during one of the college’s Black History Month events on Feb. 21.
Cheek worked in the college’s admission office as a student, and that led to a full-time job before he started law school. Fant, his brother-in-law, was probably one of the first people Cheek informally recruited to Wofford while talking with family and friends about his time on campus.
Al Gray ’71 and Doug Jones ’69 were the college’s first Black students. Like, Cheek and Fant, they were from Spartanburg. Fant and Cheek remember there being at least 13 other Black students on campus during their time, and they all made a concerted effort to get involved on campus. Most of the college’s first Black students graduated from Spartanburg’s Carver High School.
Cheek, a longtime Spartanburg attorney who has mentored many Wofford students over the years, was involved in the Glee Club, yearbook, newspaper, student government and the college’s radio station. He also was a cheerleader.
Fant was a team manager for the football team, and he was a founding member of the college’s chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity in 1972. Fant also kept a spotless room that became a stop during admission tours for prospective students to see a typical room.
Cheek remembers considering Wofford after visiting campus with a high school classmate to attend a science fair. He noticed a campus staff member watching them closely. He started thinking he’d like to prove he belonged on campus.
Cheek returned to Wofford after seeing a newspaper ad inviting high school students to visit the college for a recruiting event. When he arrived for the event he saw a man wearing loafers and a sweater reading in Leonard Auditorium. He assumed the man was a student. Cheek and the man eventually had a conversation about civil rights and why Cheek was proud to be a student at Carver. When he returned to school Monday morning, a guidance counselor asked about his weekend. He was told that he met Wofford’s president Dr. Paul Hardin III and that Hardin called Carver’s principal to learn more about him and offer a scholarship.
“I’m confident my father wouldn’t have been able to come up with the funds for me to attend Wofford,” says Cheek, who said for two years he, his sister and his mother were all enrolled in colleges at the same time.
Fant was the oldest of six children. His father was killed when he was 13. He wanted to attend college while embracing the responsibility to work and help his family. He worked at the post office while attending Wofford.
“I wanted to go to college,” says Fant, a retiree living in Atlanta, Georgia. “I realized going to school would provide me with better options for jobs, and I could encourage my sisters and brothers to go to college.”
After owning a menswear store, Fant transitioned to the insurance industry and worked at multiple firms before eventually owning an Allstate Insurance agency.
Cheek’s fund will support study abroad experiences for Black students and others who are first-generation college students.
“My father always encouraged us to experience new things,” says Cheek, who studied in Ireland one Interim. “My mother was an educator.”
Cheek describes the experience in Ireland as reaffirming and an opportunity to get to know Wofford peers away from campus.
“It was a different atmosphere than the college, and we got to know each other on a different level,” Cheek says.
Phillip and Margaree Fant were high school sweethearts who have been married 46 years. They also wanted to support student travel. Margaree Fant is a Spelman College alumna and Phylicia followed in her footsteps.
“My mom always made sure I went on field trips,” Fant says. “They were an extension of your learning. All students don’t have the same advantages as others.”
Cheek shares that sentiment.
“We might not all be on the same path, but we all can be on the same journey,” Cheek says.