DENVER — Regis University recently announced the re-instatement of the Walter V. Springs Memorial Endowed Scholarship that will help eligible Porter-Billups Leadership Academy (PBLA) alumni attend Regis University.
PBLA was established in 1996 by Regis University head men’s basketball coach Lonnie Porter to help at-risk students graduate from high school and attend college. He was joined in 2006 by NBA star Chauncey Billups with a goal to provide students that qualify for admittance to Regis University, scholarships for tuition and fees.
Walter Springs was enrolled in Regis College in 1939 and had to take scholarships and work two part-time jobs to pay for his education.
“He was curious about Catholicism,” said his niece Meredith Springs-Levert. “What got him interested in Regis was his affiliation with Sacred Heart Church and the priests there.”
In 1938, Denver native Walter Springs, a Black man, enrolled in to Regis College as a freshman. The youngest of eleven children, he was the first in his family to go to college. Springs was known for his kindness and sense of humor--he also boxed and played fullback on the football team for Regis College.
“The fact that he even went to Regis and worked two jobs tells you what kind of sacrifice it meant,” said his niece.
Springs converted to Catholicism and was even voted the school’s “Most Popular Student” in 1941. A few months later, he left college to serve his country in a segregated US Army during World War II.
“He believed it was his patriotic duty,” Springs-Levert said. “There was a widely held thought at that period that Black people, if you served your country, you were a good upright citizen.”
Like most young men who fought in World War II, Springs never came back. But his death didn’t happen overseas, he lost his life before he even left the country. On December 17, 1942, Sgt. Walter Springs was shot and killed by a white military police officer in a Texas café, a few miles from the Army base where he was about to report for officer training.
“He gets off the train an goes into the café,” Springs-Levert said. “MP’s asked him about a pass, and he said ‘Yes, I have a pass but address me according to my rank’. That was not going to fly with these 3 White MP’s and what ended up was this altercation around his willingness to comply because he was being ‘uppity’.”
That’s when his family believes Walter Springs lost his life.
“He was shot when he was laying down, had defensive wounds on his hands where he was probably hit with something, and had a mark on the side of his face,” his niece said. “What we now learn is that his story was not an uncommon story for a lot of African-American soldiers during World War II.”
After his death in 1942, Walter Springs’ classmates at Regis raised money and set up a scholarship in his name for racial justice and equity through education.
“The whole idea was to start a scholarship that would bring one Black kid and one White kid to Regis” Springs-Levert said.
Over time, donations declined, and the money ran out until recently when the school partnered with the PBLA to re-instate the scholarship that still bears Walter’s name.
“The scholarship honors the legacy and the sacrifice of Mr. Springs who epitomized the Jesuit values of service and justice,” said Regis University President Rev. John P. Fitzgibbons, S.J. “We want to graduate outstanding citizens who are able to think clearly and communicate justice clearly and are rooted in our Jesuit and Catholic values.”
“The response from the students and from the faculty and the president has been overwhelming,” Springs-Levert said. “The commitment to re-instate that has just put us all over the moon.”
Walter Springs’ family hopes the scholarship will serve as an inspiration and as reminder of a former student who gave all he could.
“Nothing can bring Walt back, but people can know about who he was,” his niece said. “They can know what he stood for and that he made an awful sacrifice and our family made a sacrifice. Somebody can benefit from it in terms of getting an education and living out that dream that he had, and our family had for him.”
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