Cane River student is inaugural recipient of Mary Gunn Johnston Scholarship

Chadwick J. Nelson holds Mary Gunn Johnston's Long Purple Line portrait. He and Mrs. Johnston both have ties to Cane River.

NATCHITOCHES – Chadwick J. Nelson of Natchez is the first recipient of the Mary Gunn Johnston Magnolia Endowed Scholarship.  The Mary Gunn Johnston Magnolia Endowed Scholarship was established in July 2021 through the Northwestern State University Foundation as the university’s first scholarship designed specifically to assist Black students attending NSU.  The fund was established by the children of Mary Gunn Johnston in recognition of her education at Northwestern, her lifelong commitment to the Natchitoches community where she grew up and her belief in the importance of access to education for all.  Johnston has experienced the impact and influence of educational opportunities and how it can fundamentally change lives.

The four-year scholarship will be awarded to a Black undergraduate student who maintains a 2.5 grade point average or higher. Preference will be given to students from Natchitoches Parish or descendants of Natchitoches Parish residents, and to those who have participated in community service.

Nelson is a 2021 graduate of Natchitoches Central High School and is pursuing a degree in nursing. He is the son of Chad and Diedre Nelson of Natchez and grandson of Sam and Anastasia Christophe of Cane River and Candi and Wilbert Nelson of Clarence.

Nelson and Johnston both have ties to Cane River.  Nelson is an altar server at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Melrose where Johnston made her first communion.

Johnston grew up in the Natchitoches area, and NSU played a large role in her family’s life.  Her mother, Sarah “Sally” Hertzog Gunn, worked at Northwestern for more than two decades, ultimately serving as the personal assistant to five NSU presidents. Mary Gunn graduated from St. Mary’s Catholic School and began her college education at NSU where she studied Dietetics and was involved in numerous activities, including student government.  She also landed her first post-college job working at Northwestern as a school dietician prior to marrying her husband, former U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston.  She has always credited Northwestern with providing her the educational foundation and life lessons to be successful.

Johnston is a member of NSU’s Long Purple Line, the university’s alumni hall of distinction. Throughout her life she has been active in a variety of civic and humanitarian efforts in Louisiana and Washington and projects to preserve Louisiana’s culture and heritage.

Mary Gunn Johnston is the proud mother of four adult children and ten grandchildren.  She currently lives with her husband in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

For more information on the scholarship, visit or contact Assistant Director of Donor Relations Cristy Bernard at (318) 357-4292 or