Scholarship Turns Tragedy into Hope

Joy Triplett (l) presents the Sarah Janine Cleary and Michael Griffin Cleary Scholarship to Katrina Caldwell-Russell.
Joy Triplett (l) presents the Sarah Janine Cleary and Michael Griffin Cleary Scholarship to Katrina Caldwell-Russell.

When Jim and Joy Triplett lost their daughter, Sarah Janine Cleary, in a double homicide in Montgomery County in 1997, they established an endowment in her memory at Sam Houston State University College of Criminal Justice and in honor of their son, Michael Griffin Cleary, then a senior criminal justice major at the College.

The family’s intention was to help prevent a similar tragedy from happening to another family by supporting the education of a criminal justice professional.

“We want to prevent something like this from happening to a family like ours,” Joy Triplett said in a recent interview.

After graduation, Michael Cleary worked initially in risk management and insurance for several different companies before landing a job with the Hilti Corporation. In addition, Michael is the proud father of three boys.

“We are very proud of Michael,” said Joy Triplett. “During the most difficult time in his life, he faced this and completed his education. He had the support of the administration and professors during the hardest time of his life, and they provided tremendous support.”

Since 1997, the Cleary endowment has financially assisted 47 scholarships for those in criminal justice, including at least one Ph.D. graduate in the field. For the Tripletts, the scholarships have put a positive spin on a dark chapter in their lives.

“It’s always a very positive, hopeful time for us,” said Joy Triplett of the two annual ceremonies that unite donors and recipients. “Even though Sarah is not with us, her memory lives on in the students who will go on to careers in law enforcement. We always hoped that because of something tragic, something positive came out of it.”

Joy Triplett enjoys following the students as they progress through their college careers, and several students have been awarded the scholarship over consecutive years. Joy Triplett gets to meet students during the Scholarship Luncheon in the fall and College of Criminal Justice Honors Convocation in the Spring. One of the scholarship recipients, Cody Dixon, received the scholarship for several years and became close friends to the Tripletts. As a SHSU baseball player, Dixon invited the family to his baseball game, where they were able to meet the Cody’s parents.

“It is a personal touch to know the family,” Joy Triplett said. In the Spring of 2011, the endowment awarded four scholarships, including one to Katrina Caldwell-Russell. The student’s parents are both disabled and were unable to help her with college costs. Now a senior, Russell could not attend school if it had not been for scholarships. She expects to graduate in May debt-free.

“I think it gives them the opportunity to attend college to get a degree without accumulating a substantial debt,” Triplett said.

Before her death, Sarah Janine Cleary was a 1997 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Westfield High School and the recipient of a scholastic scholarship to the Louisiana State University Honors Program. In a statement that accompanies each application form, the Tripletts keep Sarah’s memory alive. It reads:

“Sarah was a very kind, loving, free-spirited, Christian who was excited about her life and future. She was an exceptionally bright, multi-talented individual, who craved learning and academic achievement and recognition as an intelligent, versatile individual. Sarah was very strong-minded and very committed to the principles she believed in. She was the love and joy of our lives.

"This scholarship was established to keep Sarah's memory alive. We are also hopeful that each recipient will take her/his education as seriously as Sarah did and will dedicate her/his life to making this world a safer place in which to live.

"We hope that our efforts in establishing this scholarship will not only keep Sarah's memory alive but will also prevent others from experiencing the painful loss we feel for our loving daughter Sarah."

Member of The Texas State University System