In 1973, Deborah Robinson Nelson ‘76 took some time off from college to plan her wedding. “Everyone knows wedding time is crazy,” says Nelson.
She had been attending another larger university that “just didn’t feel right,” so she decided to enroll at Mobile College close to home. “I loved the school – loved the smallness, but it still had a university feel.”
She became involved in the music program, including the Boar’s Head Festival led by Dr. Kenneth Bergdolt. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in history in 1976.
Fast forward almost 30 years later – Nelson and her husband, Pat, were introduced to Dr. Roger Breland, who had just established the Center for Performing Arts at University of Mobile. When they saw his unique vision for the School of Music combined with the inception of music events like Christmas Spectacular, they felt led to begin supporting the university in a greater capacity.
“The thing that really grabbed us was that this was a place where the Lord was made special,” she says, “and we felt led to begin to do some things financially to further the kingdom through the CPA.”
Through her involvement with the CPA, Nelson was introduced to former president Dr. Mark Foley.
One day, she received a call asking her to serve on the university’s Board of Trustees.
“Why?” she chuckled.
Nelson was taken aback because of she didn’t have the same corporate work background as many of the other board members. But that didn’t concern Foley.
“I was told, ‘I know that you pray – and I value that for a person on our board’,” she says.
Nelson accepted the request, and has never regretted that decision.
“Being a part of something that glorifies God, where you have a lot of people working together in unity – it’s an amazing thing,” says Nelson.
Last year, she worked closely with then-chairman Fred Wilson as a member of the presidential search committee that selected Dr. Timothy L. Smith as the fourth president of University of Mobile.
“I did not know the kind of glorious experience it would be,” she says. “The heart of everyone in that room was to find God’s man for the job – it was one heart, one mind.”
Led by the Holy Spirit
Now, Nelson serves as Chairman of the Board. Her responsibilities include overseeing board meetings and setting the agenda, but she senses a deeper purpose behind it.
“Our position as the Board of Trustees is to help watch over this university,” she said.
Previous board chairman Fred Wilson has worked with Nelson since she began her tenure on the board of trustees. He praised her “great love” for UM, and her conscientiousness.
“Deborah is deeply spiritual,” he says. “She has insight and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.”
Nelson considers herself “grateful to the Lord” for allowing her to serve as board chairman.
“This has been one of the most unified groups of anything I’ve ever been a part of,” she says. “The integrity, character, and love of the Lord that I see in the other board members is a blessing to me. They want to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit and ensure that everything we do has been organized and directed by the Holy Spirit.”
Strong Woman, Strong Faith
Cindy Bruns has been friends with Deborah for more than 30 years. In the close-knit community near the university, the women worked together umobile.edu 39on civic and school projects. They were both known as the ones to call when something needed doing in their children’s schools or activities.
“We could always depend on each other,” said Bruns, who has worked at UM for over 17 years and is now administrative assistant to the vice president for marketing and public relations. “I still can call her at the drop of a hat and she would say, ‘I’m on my way.’ She is there for you.”
Bruns said that dependability, and Deborah’s dependence on God, make her an excellent leader for University of Mobile.
“She is one of those people who make things happen – she is a strong woman with a strong faith,” Bruns said.
A New Day, A New Journey
Nelson gets excited when discussing Dr. Smith’s vision for the university – including new academic programs and a strong drive to help students discover the Imago Dei in their own lives.
“We have a man who is going to lead us to a new level,” she says.
For this reason, she says now is the time to partner with UM.
“If you want to invest somewhere, you could find no greater place than University of Mobile,” she says. “You’re going to be furthering God’s kingdom, because that’s the heart and soul of this place. You’re helping students become all they can be in their chosen fields, then they go out into the community where their mindset is to give back and help people.”
Nelson has seen her own giving – both finances and time – reap blessings in her life.
“It’s been an adventure – watching God moving in my life in ways that I have never dreamed,” she says. “I love being a part of my old stomping grounds and seeing it grow. I’m just anxious to see what the Lord is going to continue doing.”