Lyn Embry said she wants the “goodness and generosity” of her son to live on through a memorial scholarship funded by the sales from the tree farm he worked so hard to prepare.
“It breaks our hearts that Matt is not here to greet old friends and make new ones,” she said. “We still wipe tears away when we hear young children say. ‘I want this one.’ or when a mom says. ‘Oh, this one is perfect.’”
Matt Embry began working with a friend at his tree farm in Eastaboga at the age of 12. As he grew, so did his love for the outdoors and the tree farm. Matt loved the farm and loved meeting the people who came to find the perfect tree for Christmas. Through the years, he graduated from Munford High School and the University of Montevallo and was hired by Honda. Even though he no longer needed the money, he continued to work at the farm.
In January 2006, Matt began preparing the land across from his parents’ home to be his own tree farm. He did not get to be a part of his farm’s grand opening on Thanksgiving Day of last year.
Matt’s parents, along with other family members, have pitched in to keep his story alive through the farm, using the proceeds to fund the Matthew Russell Memorial Scholarship, which is given to students who plan to attend the University of Montevallo, where Matt’s brother, Greg Embry, works as director of admissions. Matt was an alum of the university, where he received a degree in sociology.
“This place was important to him,” Greg Embry said.
The scholarship is not just a one time award, but continues with the student for up to eight semesters, or up to $8,000. All Montevallo students are eligible for the award, but the Embrys make the decision on who receives it, with the most emphasis being placed on the financial needs of the student.
“We want to help that student through graduation,” Lyn Embry said.
The Embrys have already awarded two scholarships, to Caitlyn Schaefer of Oxford and Laven Abercrombie of Appalachian, and prepare to award a third later this year. Lyn Embry said the family will continue to award the scholarships as long as there are trees on her son’s farm.
She said Schaefer recently volunteered at the farm because she wanted “a way to pay Matt back.” Schaefer greeted people, carried trees and even tried to cut one down during her time on the farm.
Greg Embry said it “means a lot” to be able to offer scholarships in his brother’s name.
“When I look at students who are strong in academics and character and are being supported by the scholarship, I feel like they are continuing his character,” he said. “It means a lot to affect people in a positive way.”
Lyn Embry said it is important to her that the people who bought trees from her son’s farm know who received the scholarships.
“These scholarships are a direct result of their actions,” Lyn Embry about those who have purchased a tree from the farm. “People can say, ‘I helped do that.’”
She said people are going to buy trees at Christmas any way, but by purchasing one from Matt’s farm, they are going to be contributing to something “much bigger.”
All of the money raised by the Embrys through the Christmas tree farm goes toward the scholarships. The Embry family does not see a dime from the sales. Greg Embry said he has tried to convince them to set aside some of the money for the upkeep of the farm, but they have refused. The Embrys pay for those expenses out of their own pocket.
“My parents do not take a penny,” Greg Embry said. “They do all of this just to support these scholarships.”
Lyn Embry said that many people have heard Matt’s story and came to support the farm. Last year, the Embrys sold more than 200 trees. She said that people came from “all over,” including Munford, Talladega, Anniston, Oneonta and Pell City.
“It’s a way to keep the conversation going about Matt,” Greg Embry said about the farm and the scholarships. “People that never met him have the opportunity to learn about him and who he was.”
Matt’s Christmas Tree Farm, located at 4104 McElderry Road in Munford, is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day through Saturday, Dec. 22.
Contact Kenny Farmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.