Nearly 450 New Mexico Highlands University students have received a total of $1.2 million in scholarships from the local Viles Foundation over the years. The foundation celebrated its 50-year anniversary during a luncheon at the Margaret Kennedy Alumni Hall during Highlands’ homecoming week festivities.Since 1958, the Viles Foundation has worked to make the dream of a college education possible for youth of San Miguel and Mora Counties who have had one or more of their parents die as well as other select students. Emiteria “Matie” Martinez Robinson Viles, an orphan herself, founded the scholarship foundation. Since its inception, the foundation has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to more than 800 students from West Las Vegas High School, Robertson High School, Mora High School, Pecos High School, and Wagon Mound High School. “The potential benefits of higher education are enormous to a person’s quality of life and ability to achieve his or her professional and personal goals,” said LouElla Marr-Montoya, a Highlands Alumni Association board member as well as Viles Foundation board member and Viles scholarship recipient. “The Viles Foundation awards five-year renewable scholarships based on continuing satisfactory progress for full-time students at the college they choose.”Highlands University Alumni Association Director Jim Mandarino praised the Viles Foundation for all it has done for Highland’s students over the years: “This Viles Foundation scholarship has literally meant the difference of a higher education for hundreds of our university’s students who might not have had that chance. Many went on to become fantastic Highlands graduates who are very accomplished in their professions and leaders in their communities.”A few Las Vegas examples include Jesus Lopez, Highlands University regent and former San Miguel county district attorney; Sandra Madrid, Memorial Middle School principal; Tony Marquez, Jr., Las Vegas mayor; Barbara Perea Casey, former associate superintendent for both Las Vegas City Schools and West Las Vegas School District; Oneida L’Esperance, regional attorney for New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department; and Les Montoya, San Miguel county manager.Mandarino added that the Viles Foundation’s 50-year-anniversary was an opportunity for the Highlands Alumni Association to formally recognize and thank the foundation for its extraordinary commitment to helping local youth get a college education. At the Homecoming Week luncheon, the Viles Foundation presented Highlands University with a bronze bas-relief of Matie Viles on horseback by famed New Mexico sculptor Duke Sundt. In addition to Marr-Montoya, other Viles Foundation board members include Dr. Clarence Sanchez, Robin Carlson, Dr. Cordell Halverson, Beatrice Hurtado, Hugh Ley, Elaine Lewis, Meredith Wald Hmura, and Eleanor Wald, who has served on the board since its inception in 1958. Matie Viles and her husband, George “Skipper” Viles, owned a dude ranch 26 miles north of Pecos called Mountain View Ranch. Matie Viles started the scholarship foundation after her husband died and she found herself wealthy. She had a strong desire to use the money to help young students pursue a college education. Matie Viles died in 1961 and the Viles Foundation has administered the scholarship program since then.