Pickens-Abraham Foundation Donates $350,000 for Panhandle Schools, Scholarships in 2017; Past Winners Return to Area

CONTACT: Salem Abraham, 806-323-8000, salem@abrahamtrading.com

A deal struck in 2008 between Canadian, Texas leading citizens Salem and Ruth Ann Abraham and longtime Roberts County landowner and philanthropist T. Boone Pickens continues to support the Panhandle educational system and help its youth attain opportunities to pursue their dreams.

Pickens began supporting Canyon, Texas-based Opportunity Plan Inc. Educational Loans and Scholarships (OPI) in 1979 when he established the T. Boone Pickens Jr. Student Loan Fund. In recognition of the role OPI played in Ruth Ann’s higher education, the Abrahams set up OPI’s Salem and Ruth Ann Abraham Scholarship Fund in 2005.

When Salem Abraham approached Pickens about funding scholarships for high school graduates in Canadian and Miami at the time, Pickens agreed if the Abrahams would match him dollar for dollar. A deal was struck, and in 2009 the Pickens-Abraham Foundation through OPI began distributing annual grants to Roberts and Hemphill County youth that, with $100,000 donated in 2017, has reached $900,000.

In addition, this year the Foundation is providing $125,000 to both the Canadian and Miami Independent School Districts to support their programs.

“We are excited to be able to help both Canadian and Miami ISDs this year because we understand how small rural schools in Texas have to work very hard to provide the same educational opportunities for rural kids that city kids enjoy,” Salem Abraham says. “Canadian and Miami both have terrific school systems, and we know that supporting those schools can help our local kids succeed.”

Previous additional Pickens-Abraham donations to other youth organizations in the two counties brings the total distributed to $1.4 million.

“I know what it’s like to grow up in a small town and the challenges families encounter,” Pickens says. Pickens was born in Holdenville, a small town in eastern Oklahoma, grew up in the Texas Panhandle, and began accumulating ranch holdings in Roberts County in 1972.

“Ruth Ann and I are delighted to work with Boone in supporting the young people in Hemphill and Roberts counties,” commodities trader Abraham says. “These two counties are a special place for Boone, Ruth Ann, and me, and it is nice to be able to give something back.”

For 2017, the six graduates receiving the Pickens-Abraham scholarships (with high school attended and university choice) are:

  • Kaleb Clark, son of Heather and Justin Clark, Canadian, attending West Texas A&M University, majoring in nursing;
  • Vanessa Escarcega, daughter of Maria and Jose Escarcega, Canadian, attending Texas A&M University, majoring in pre-law;
  • Brittney Nicole Hare, daughter of Dee Ann and Paul S. Hare, Miami, attending Texas A&M University, majoring in biomedical science;
  • Leeanne Marie Meraz, daughter of Yadira and Victor Meraz, Canadian, attending Tarleton State University, majoring in criminal justice;
  • Cherish Carol Peet, daughter of Jennifer and Tory Peet, Miami, attending West Texas A&M University, majoring in sports exercise science/athletic training;
  • Byanca Sanchez, daughter of Maria and Acencion Sanchez, Canadian, attending Angelo State University, majoring in education;
  • Gabriel Sanchez, son of Maricela and Gabriel Sanchez, Canadian, attending Blinn College, majoring in mechanical engineering.

Each of these students will receive $3,000 per semester through their undergraduate career, up to eight semesters.

Fifty-six individuals have received funding from the Foundation, and 63 percent have completed or are currently pursuing higher education, according to Canyon-based OPI’s executive director M. Keith Brown, who manages the scholarship program. OPI awards the renewable scholarships of $3,000 per semester to assist students with paying for college expenses.

“Many of these students could not complete post-secondary education without this scholarship, and for some of them, it is the only financial aid for which they qualify,” Brown says.


Miami high school graduate Clay Carr was one of the first recipients of the scholarships, which allowed him to attend West Texas A&M University, graduating in 2011. He later graduated from Oklahoma City Law School in May 2016, and is currently working in the law office of John W. Warner, P.C. in Pampa.

“I wasn’t by any means the smartest student in my classes but I worked hard,” Carr, 28, says today. “I feel that the scholarship allowed me to focus more on school work, to keep my grades, rather than having to take another job to meet the costs. Without it, I don’t know that I could have made it to law school.”

His younger sister Shelby is also a scholarship winner. “It has helped out my family quite a bit,” he says.

Carr, son of Ron and Sandy Carr, laughs when he recalls “hating the traffic in Oklahoma City.” He has just recently bought a house in Pampa. “This is where my family is, where I grew up, and where I wanted to come back to.”

Canadian high school graduate Shelby Saul also felt the pull to return to her roots when she graduated from West Texas A&M University in 2016.

Saul, daughter of Kirk and Whitney Saul, had begun her college career at Hardin Simmons but after three semesters transferred to WTAMU to complete her education studies.

A family legacy is “what led me to get into education,” the 23-year-old says. “I’ve always loved kids. It was I was supposed to do, and it’s just a perfect fit for me.

“My dad just recently retired from the education field after 20 years. And my mom was a teacher as well. She was my first-grade teacher, and you never get any special treatment in that situation. She didn’t take it easy on me, that’s for sure.”

Saul is teaching third grade in Spearman, about an hour from Canadian.

“I’ve had a wonderful first year teaching,” she says. “The Texas Panhandle has always been home to me, and I just followed my heart home. I love the small town feel, and wanted that type of situation for my first job.”

She calls her scholarship a huge blessing. “When I applied, I never thought I’d get it. When I was graduating from high school, I had an older sister who was a senior in college, and a twin brother graduating with me. My parents also had a baby during our senior year in high school, so they were really feeling the financial burden.”

The teachers and coaches that Bo Dickinson, a Canadian High School graduate of 2014, had growing up inspired him to follow in their footsteps.

The 21-year-old, son of Bob and Beverly, completed his courses in education at WTAMU last term. He currently is teaching Social Science and coaching for the Panhandle ISD.

“Throughout my education, I’ve had awesome teachers, and great coaches” Dickinson says. “My head football coach in high school really inspired me to be a teacher and coach. He impacted my life and so many others by being a good role model, nurturing kids. That’s something I want to be a part of, too, to help shape our future society.”

Dickinson, who has four siblings, says he felt blessed to get the scholarship.

“I come from a working class family,” he says. “I have four other siblings. I’m the first one out of my family to attend college; it shows to me that hard work in high school can translate into the real world. I really wouldn’t be here without that scholarship.”

“I want to teach 7th through 12th grade students, and coach,” says the former football and track team player in high school, eventually throughout the state so that he can encounter as many different situations as he can.

Pickens founded Mesa Petroleum, one of the nation’s premiere independent oil companies. Oil & Gas Investor included Pickens with such luminaries as Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller on its “100 Most Influential People of the Petroleum Century.” In 1996, Pickens embarked on an even more successful career by forming an energy-focused investment firm, BP Capital, often one of America’s most successful hedge funds primarily focused on oil and gas commodities and energy-dependent equities. In the process, he has continued to shatter the stereotype of the tunnel-visioned oilman, advocating conservation and the development of alternative energy options long before they became mainstream issues.

The first parcel of land that was to become Mesa Vista Ranch, which Pickens calls home, was purchased in Roberts County in 1971. He now owns 68,000 acres, where he has concentrated on the restoration and habitat recovery for recreational uses. Those initiatives, along with efforts to market area water rights, have led to a tremendous increase in local land values.

Salem Abraham is owner and president of a successful investment hedge fund housed in the Moody Building in Canadian. His company, Abraham Trading Co., trades global commodity futures using a strategy that relies in large part on the behavioral sciences and the mentality of crowds. Salem has also been involved in land, oil, gas, water rights and real estate deals throughout the Panhandle. He and Ruth Ann both grew up in Canadian and now live there with their children.

The combined philanthropic efforts of the Abrahams and Pickens have totalled more than $1 million in support of students through OPI. Local students are encouraged to complete the General Scholarship Application on OPI’s website, www.OpportunityPlan.com, to be considered.

OPI assists donors who wish to support students’ higher education goals and operates numerous scholarship and loan funds for students throughout the Texas Panhandle and South Plains regions. For more information about OPI and applying for the Pickens-Abraham Foundation Scholarship, call 806-655-2528.