Mollie Wilson and Dr. Carolyn Moore planted a seed in 1994, and the results keep growing.
Moore (then Carolyn Branch) and Mollie Wilson began thinking about a kind of investing club, an undertaking that would allow women to learn something about investing and finance and maybe lead to a benefit for the university, then a community college.
And so the Westark Women's Financial Series was born with $25,000 startup money from the Westark Foundation, of which Moore was the executive director. Twenty-five years later, members still study the markets, buy and sell stocks, and, while protecting their capital, donate earnings to the Foundation. In 1997, the name of the series was amended in memory of Wilson. It is now the Mollie Wilson Women's Financial Series.
Founding member Barbara Bethell is the "unofficial historian" of the group, and she believes there have been at least 118 members and more than 15 presidents.
The women's financial consultant David Craig, president of October Wealth Advisors, joined the group soon after the start. Craig is part financial instructor, part group counseling facilitator, and part good luck totem.
Whatever changes went on in the group, whatever changes rocked the world, the Women's Financial Series has remained committed to its original goals: educating women, providing investing experience, and sponsoring projects at UAFS.
Since the first investment, more than $400,000 has been awarded in scholarships to almost 80 different students through the Mollie Wilson Women's Financial Series Scholarship. In the 2019-2020 academic year, the Women's Financial Series provided $70,000 for scholarships. The number includes an extra $20,000 over what they gave the year before for seniors nearing graduation and needing a financial boost to get across the finish line. The extra money was the result of an outstanding year for the portfolio, which was valued at $706,000 on March 3.
The members meet monthly for lunch, an update on the portfolio, and a program, which may or may not be about finances. Study sessions where members get into the weeds about stocks are held as needed. Annually, each member contributes $500-$1,000, sometimes more.
Anne Thomas, senior director of development, has been involved with the group since 2007.
"I am impressed with their loyalty to the group and their savviness as investors and decision-makers," Thomas said. "These women, and David Craig, are some of the most philanthropic individuals as they commit a part of their earnings to educate our students."
Blake Rickman, vice chancellor for advancement, saluted the women for finding a "unique and beneficial way to make a difference for our students."
The women "interact with people on campus in a special way; they interact with our students, our alumni, our guests," Rickman said. "They gain from the fellowship, education, competition, and guidance of a financial advisor, but the crux of what they do is that it's all going to the students."
And what about the man Bethell calls "our lively discussion leader, bearer of all news good and bad, guider of decision making, executor of trades, statement of fashion"?
In addition to attending the 2-hour study sessions and the 90-minute monthly meetings, Craig places the trades, watches the portfolio, prepares the reports, keeps the women on track, Bethell said.
Craig admires the women, whom he calls entrepreneurs. He said he tries to keep them focused and rational on stock options. He guides them, but he does not make decisions for them.
"Working with these women is my opportunity to give back," Craig said. "It is the highlight of my life."
Since the pandemic hit Arkansas, a core of around 15 members meet regularly on Zoom. As for the ups and downs of the stock market, the women are in it for the long game.