Rekindle Your Heart: Alumni Memories of Place and People

Rekindle Your Heart 

“During the fall of 1963, Mobile College began its first academic year. This was a giant step into the realm of higher education, and it made a new way of life available for many students. This first year at Mobile College shall always be hallmarked as the light that opened the world to these people, as well as to the ones who shall follow in the years to come. …. We hope that some of the spirit that filled Mobile College that first year may be rekindled in your heart.”

Preface to 1964 Rampage yearbook

Dusty – a bit musty – the University of Mobile’s special collection in the Alabama Room of J.L. Bedsole Library awaits the explorer willing to forgo the quick gratification of an Internet search in favor of the sensation of turning a page or opening a file drawer.

There are treasures to be found hidden among shelves of literary genius, lithographs, and the region’s history.

The history of the University of Mobile is here as well: a stack of yearbooks, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, binders filled with minutes of faculty meetings. College catalogs, music department programs and file folders of financial reports fill a good portion of the room.

Like any history, there are important dates:

November 14, 1961: the Alabama Baptist State Convention approves the establishment of Mobile College

• December 12, 1961: Alabama Governor John Patterson signs the charter giving official state recognition to the school’s founding

• September 9, 1963: 181 students were admitted as members of the charter class of Mobile College, taught by 12 full-time faculty with six administrative officers.

“One need merely to look at the glorious history of Mobile College to see the hand of God at work.

“Dr. William K. Weaver Jr.”

But the dates only tell the framework of the story, giving it time and place. To know the University of Mobile, to truly understand this great college, requires looking beyond lists of dates or buildings constructed or academic programs offered.

Look, instead, to the people. Each student who set foot on this campus is linked through the years, one to another, by a shared history of place. Their stories are individual brushstrokes that paint a larger portrait of a great university where lives are changed and spirits rekindled.

Here are just a few of their stories:

In The Beginning- 1960s

It had the potential to be ironic. When Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. became the president of a college that he would later describe as having “no campus, no faculty, no students, and no problems,” it was on April Fool’s Day – April 1, 1961.

As he retired from a thriving college 23 years later, Weaver told the Board of Trustees that “one need merely to look at the glorious history of Mobile College to see the hand of God at work. It has been true every day of the life of this institution. He has taken our weaknesses and given His strength. He has taken our efforts and enabled us to build a great school.” 

Much of the credit for setting the college on the right track went to the first student body. “Fortunate indeed were we to have such an alert and energetic student body to begin the traditions and set the spirit of our college,” Weaver told faculty as the second school year was beginning.

A look at the 1964 Rampage, the first yearbook, shows M-Day King and Queen Charles Covington, ’67, and Glenda Kemp Roberts, ’67, holding large trophies.

“I have to move a little bit of stuff to get it, but here it is,” said Roberts, reaching for the trophy on a closet shelf at her home in Pensacola, FL.

“It’s a little tarnished, but I still have it.”

Being voted May Day Queen by a student body that really cared about each other like a family was an honor. “I felt a lot of love and caring,” she said.

Roberts rented a room in a woman’s house in downtown Mobile. The school was “way out in the country back then. You would go down Moffett Road, then it seemed like we mbled in the woods for an eternity. It was out there literally all by itself.”

Like many MC/ UMobile students throughout the years, she met her sweetheart in college. Glenda and Lon Roberts III, also a member of the charter class of 1967, are now retired educators.

M-Day King Charles Covington no longer has his trophy – but he does have the plaque from its base. And, he has a story.

“My future mother-in-law, Mabel Rush, was also in the charter class. She had an older daughter she would have liked me to see, but I wanted to see the younger one. We had biology lab together, and she didn’t want to dissect the frog. I said, ‘I will do you a favor. I will dissect the frog if you will let me see Sandra,'” Covington said.

He and Sandra, ’74, married. After a 30-year career with International Paper Co., he became director of purchasing for the state of Florida and she parlayed a teaching career into a tutoring business, then an antique and collectables enterprise. Now living in Tallahassee, they are preparing for a move to Orlando to be closer to grandchildren.

Covington said what stayed with him most from his MC days was foundational theological teachings despite his penchant for skipping chapel and going to shoot pool in nearby Eight Mile or sitting by Chickasabogue Creek.

A mini-reunion several years ago of members of the charter class brought a realization of an ideal that continues to this day at the school. The vast majority of the class had gone into service careers such as education, nursing, government and ministry.

“I think that was based on what was taught at the college, that service to other people should be a part of everybody’s career, whether you are a chemist or a teacher or a doctor,” Covington said.

Not all students who started that first year stayed at Mobile College – but that didn’t mean the separation was permanent.

Dwight Steedley’s student photo in the 1964 Rampage shows a serious young man with short hair and a skinny tie. Enrolling at a brand-new college “was more of an adventure than a risk – kind of like Christmas when you are opening something new,” he said. When he left at the start of his junior year for a larger school with a more established physics program, “the change was dramatic. 

“I learned how to appreciate people…”

Samuel Boykin, ’69

Academically it never really phased me, but social life was not anywhere near as nice.”

After earning several degrees and teaching at large state schools, Dr. Steedley was preparing to step into a role as a mathematics researcher for Bell Labs when his father became ill. Mobile College had an opening for a mathematics professor, and Steedley returned home to be near family for just a year or two.

Now, 37 years later, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences said the only thing better than being a student here is being a teacher here. He and wife Charlene Brady, ’77, a teacher in Bay Minette, AL, believe teaching doesn’t end when class is over.

“It’s the interaction and relationship with students that you just don’t have anywhere else” that makes UMobile special, said Steedley. “It was here when I was a student. If anything, it’s more so now.”

He has taught the children of his former classmates, and the children of former students. Alumni return to visit, including some who come with thanks for the financial help that he and other faculty and staff members personally gave to help students in need. 

“Here you do more than just teach your subject to students – that in itself is nice, but it’s only half. The other half is interacting with students. You are teaching somebody you know and care about,” he said.

Class president Dr. Tom Strong, ’67, said those first years were “an unbelievable experience. The bond we had is probably the biggest thing the quality education and the friendships that came not only with the students, but with the faculty and administrators.”

When the first class of 66 students graduated in 1967, it included future chemical researchers; pastors and music ministers; educators; leaders in organizations working on cures for epilepsy or mental illness or assisting retarded citizens; FBI special agents; homemakers who raised families; business owners; and even the next president of Mobile College itself, Mike Magnoli.

Mobile College in the 1960s was a place where Iris Anderson Lundy, 67, had the honor of playing the first record on the juke box in the snack shop. It was a time when style meant white socks with loafers or horned-rim glasses. Some events, like the Miss Mobile College Pageant, continue to this day. Others, such as the intercollegiate talent show between area colleges or chasing a greased pig at May Day, are just memories.

Dormitories, a dining hall and gym expanded the campus, everyone came to the annual luau, and Rat Week freshman initiation involved beanies and shaving cream battles.

While most students in the 1960s were from communities close to the college, after graduation many took their Mobile College experience to distant places. And they took a piece of Mobile College with them.

Jo Peters Daya, ’69, grew up in Ozark, AL surrounded by cousins for playmates with no need to look beyond family for friendships. Going to Mobile College pushed her out of her comfort zone.

“It taught me how to establish friendships,” she said. That ability to build and maintain lasting friendships continues to impact her life, after her husband passed away several years ago and her two children are grown and in successful careers.

“One of the main reasons today I remain in Michigan, even though we have horrible winters, is that my friends are here,” she said.

Daya said it was her years at Mobile

College that gave her the confidence to travel beyond the farmland of Ozark to experience a fulfilling life as a psychiatric social worker at one of Detroit’s largest medical complexes.

Samuel Boykin, ’69, said he takes pride in graduating from Mobile College – and in being the first African American to do so. He credits history professor Dr. Virgil Davis with encouraging him at the school and urging him to continue his education. Boykin moved to California, graduated with a master’s in business administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, and worked in accounting and administration.

He said he learned appreciation at the school – appreciation for hard work, for earning what you receive, for professors who took an interest in him.

“I learned how to appreciate people,” Boykin said. That appreciation extends to his college. “I still make contributions to the school.

They’ve been good to me, and I try to repay my gratitude to them.” 

Michael Bradshaw, ’69, had attended several universities before he transferred to Mobile College the middle of his junior year. After graduation he flew helicopters in the Army during the Vietnam War, became a U.S. Capitol police officer where he was injured, then graduated from law school. Now a general practice attorney in Maryland, co-author of a book for Maryland attorneys, and an adjunct professor, Bradshaw said the religion course taught by Dr. W.C. Dobbs made a lasting impression.

“It gave me a stronger sense of right and wrong and what was fair. That is what I will carry to my grave, his theology course and the impact it made on me in terms of human value and putting that philosophy to work, Bradshaw said.

Barbara Nichols Smith, ’68, extended her four years as a student into an entire career in administration at the school. She started working in the dean’s office during her sophomore year and has served as records officer, registrar, and now is in the School of Education.

She remembers the early years when faculty Christmas parties were held at Dr. Weaver’s home.

“Dr. Weaver would come around with the recipes. Mrs. Weaver planned the menu and sent the recipes to him. Everybody cooked something from those recipes and brought it,” she said.

Smith remembers one year when

Mrs. Weaver was concerned there wouldn’t be enough dessert.

“I remember James and I made three red velvet cakes that year,” she said, laughing.

The Early Years -1970’s

In 1970, just over 500 students enrolled at Mobile College. Mrs. Forrest Wilson, president of the Mobile College Auxiliary, welcomed nearly 500 members to the school’s support group, while the Association of Honorary Fellows also aided in the development of the college with a membership that included some of the city’s most influential leaders. The college’s first chairman of the Board of Trustees, J.L. Bedsole, turned the first shovel of soil at a groundbreaking ceremony for the library that would bear his name. One of the few plays in the Mobile area to receive a good review from the Mobile Press-Register theatre critic was “Waiting for Godot,” a production of the Mobile College Theatre. Dr. Kenneth Bergdolt was named head of the music department and a year later would start the annual Boar’s Head Festival.

The college newsletter was often filled with photographs of events centered around food and fellowship.

The Mobile College Bulletin newsletter of December 1970 describes one sumptuous Thanksgiving feast and congratulates SGA Thanksgiving chairman Nancy Kruschwitz for an outstanding job.

“Dining tables stretched the length of the main hall in the Administration Building, each with a decorative center piece in the Thanksgiving motif. Tables in the Snack Shop were heavily laden with all of the traditional foodstuffs of a holiday repast. These tables held turkey, ham, and almost as many salads, vegetables, and desserts as one could imagine,” the Bulletin stated.

What Kruschwitz, ’71, remembers most about that Thanksgiving is that “I was panicked because I was afraid, we might run out of food. People kept coming in.”

The daughter of Dr. Walter Kruschwitz, a member of the original faculty who taught physics and math, said she also remembers one special shopping trip as her senior year began.

“My senior year, there were so many girls in the dorm that there wasn’t enough room. Dr. Weaver asked if anybody would be interested in living in a trailer, they would put behind the cafeteria,” recalled the Murphy High School teacher. She said Weaver told them since they would be the ones living in the trailer, they should get to pick it out.

Dr. Weaver took the six of us who volunteered to live out their trailer shopping. He drove us in his car to find us a trailer to live in.” Kruschwitz said.

Living in a trailer was an experience Joanie Munger Glisson, ’73, remembered as well. Glisson, who would be crowned Miss Mobile College in 1972 then go on to have a career as an educator, served as dorm council president one year.

“I lived in one of the trailers and back then they had a curfew, so we were on the honor system. We thought we were something then, living outside that locked dorm,” she recalled.

The same year Kruschwitz chaired the Thanksgiving feast, Glisson chaired “Christmas at Mobile College” which featured 800 flickering candles lighting the campus drive, a live nativity scene in front of the administration building, refreshments in the cafeteria and Santa Claus.

“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the University of Mobile,” she said. It’s a place that is also special to members of her family: her daughter, Leslie Howard Glisson, is a 1998 UMobile graduate, and a niece, two brothers and a sister also graduated from the school.

The ’70s at Mobile College meant dorm mothers; the addition of the J.L. Bedsole library, cottages, activities building and swimming Pool; launching the bachelor of science in nursing program; flag football; performances by Mobile College Choir, Chamber Singers and Sound Spirit, and the choir’s first international tour to England.

Albert Lipscomb, ’77, a former Alabama state senator and Baldwin County commissioner, remembers “very meaningful years as far as the friendships that were developed. It was a time of spiritual growth and Opportunity for Christian service.”

Pranks were a part of college life that Dr. Bruce Chesser, ’78, remembers well -although he is still careful not to name names even after all these years. The statute of limitations may not have run out on all of them, he said.

“We used to (wait for) people to be out of their cottages and we would literally take everything out of their apartment and put it on the roof, and assemble it just like it was in the room,” said the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, TN.

Another time, somebody bought 1,000 crickets from a bait shop and put them in a dorm room. The prank grew in popularity, with pranksters competing to see how many crickets they could put in a room.

One Sunday morning, Chesser was sitting on the platform at Spring Hill Baptist Church where he was doing student ministry.

“I realized there was something in my suit jacket pocket, and I put my hand in and found a handful of crickets that had gotten into my pocket the last time I had been cricketed,” he recalled.

Dr. Wayne Dorsett Jr., ’76, pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Warner Robbins, GA, said he can’t imagine his life without the University of Mobile.

“It has been one of the defining issues of my life, without question,” Dorsett said. He recalled sitting in the snack bar and just talking with friends and professors. “Us preacher boys would solve all the world’s problems and work out the theological conundrums that have come down the pike through the years. Those were the times that I really sharpened and honed my theological skills and walked with God.”

He said professors like Dr. W.C. Dobbs in religion and Dr. Gary Minton in psychology challenged him in ways that ultimately strengthened his walk with God.

“They made me dig things out for myself and not just parrot things I had heard from a pastor. That was so good for me — I was trained and taught to dig things out and think for myself.

Because of that, I’ve been able to stand on my convictions and in my beliefs through some difficult times in my life,” he said.

His ties to the school go beyond graduating – his mother, Pat Dorsett, ’81, and brother Martin Dorsett are members of the Board of Trustees; his daughter Erin Dorsett Vaughn, ’00, is a graduate; and he served on the school’s first Board of Regents. Currently three students from his church are enrolled at UMobile.

“I’m so proud that I’m able to say I’m a University of Mobile graduate because of what it stands for,” Dorsett said.

Changing times- 1980’s

The 1980 Rampage yearbook is filled with snapshots of student life – and some unexpected photos like that of Billy Gator, an alligator residing in “Weaver Lake,” the sewage pond. “Up, up and away was the direction taken by gasoline prices until they surpassed a dollar a gallon,” the yearbook stated. Fashions included the new disco look or straight-legged jeans with the bottoms turned up to the desired length. By 1985, the last time the yearbook was produced, the school had a new president, Dr.

Michael Magnoli, and the beginnings of an intercollegiate athletic program.

It was the decade that St. Stephens Baptist Church moved from its home since the 1880s in Washington County to Mobile College, where it was restored and renamed Lyon Chapel.

The Gerald L. Wallace Sr. Tennis Complex was built across from the new Oakdale Children’s Center, which today houses the School of Education.

Master’s degree programs in nursing, religion, business administration and education were launched.

The 1982 Rampage yearbook features a full-page photo of Mr. Rampage, Robbie Owen. Now principal of Rockwell Elementary in Spanish Fort, AL, the 1982 graduate and SGA president was recently recognized by the White House for infusing the school’s curriculum with the arts.

Owen credits his years at MC for giving him the leadership experiences that prepared him to be an award-winning school administrator. His experiences in the choir, on tour; and in theater productions also provided him the background to serve as minister of music for several churches in addition to pursuing his teaching career.

“I know going to University of Mobile helped me develop things I would not have otherwise,” Owen said.

Today, he has the opportunity to supervise student teachers from his alma mater.

“You can just tell the difference in character – how they dress, how they act, how they present themselves. The character of the person comes shining through – and they are prepared well,” he said.

Vincent Robinson, ’86, found his MC education prepared him to succeed far from home in the German state of Bavaria as an information technology manager working for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools – Europe.

“Many individuals attend college hoping to learn skills to earn a living, as did I. However, what I received was an education – not simply learning skills and developing abilities. More than learning things, the true impact of attending Mobile College was in helping me learn what was truly important to me and how to live a meaningful life,” said Robinson.

Several years ago, he was in town to attend his father’s funeral and visit family.

“My older son, Daniel, was about to start his sophomore year of high school, and I wanted to show both (of my sons) the college I had attended. As we drove up the driveway leading to the main building, Daniel said,

‘oh, I would really like to go here.’ That instantly reminded me of my first visit to the campus and the day I went to apply for admission,” said Robinson, whose first impression of the college was as a high school student driving up the long drive with beautiful trees on each side. Daniel will graduate from the five year integrated MBA program in 2013.

Dr. Ken Phillips, ’87, said music professors Robert Sawyer, Kenneth Bergdolt, Becky Fox and Melba Brown did more than teach him music. They were godly examples of music professors who cared not only how well their students develop as musicians, but also how they succeeded in the challenges of life.

He recalled a piano lesson with Fox when the subject of choosing the right people to date arose. Fox encouraged him by sharing how her faithfulness to Christ led to her meeting and marrying her husband.

Phillips said his music theory preparation under Sawyer contributed to his success in graduate school

“Twenty people took the theory entrance exam. I was one of the two that passed. Thanks, Mr. Sawyer!” he said, adding that he considers Bergdolt and Brown his personal

“miracle workers.”

Today, as chair of the music department at Palm Beach Atlantic

Phillips shares some of his MC stories and life lessons with his students, and encourages the faculty to exhibit the same individual attention and caring that he experienced.

Music has always played a major part in UMobile college life for students in all majors.

The March 1986 issue of the Mobile College Torchlight newsletter featured a story on “COMPANY!”, a special ministries team that blended humor and scriptural truths through music and drama. The “goodwill ambassadors” for the school traveled more than 15,000 miles annually, performing in churches and high schools throughout the Southeast.

Mary Reeves Shirey, ’89, remembers the church billboards proclaiming, “Company’s Coming!” as the group pulled into the parking lot.

It was really an amazing group,” she said. “We were brothers and sisters. We laughed together and fought together and worked very hard. I think it was probably the highlight of my college life.”

Shirley performed in COMPANY all four ye-ss of college, including the year she was Miss Mobile College in 1987. She learned a lot more than drama an& now to sing in front of an audience.

“It taught me a lot about my own spiritual walk. I always had & picture of God being very serious. I think COMPANY taught me He laughs with us just as He cries with us. Humor is one of His creations, and we have the ability to have a closer walk with Him through humor,” she said.

Receiving the top award at the 1989 graduation ceremony was Katherine Abernathy, now associate professor of English at her alma mater. The founder and editor of The Rambler newspaper had a high grade point average and service involvement, so she thought she might receive an award at graduation.

She watched others walk up to receive awards until she thought all the honors had been announced.

“I had done the newspaper and had written a few things that were a little controversial. I thought, ‘I must have made them mad.’ I thought I was really out of it because of an editorial I wrote,” she said. “When they called my name, I was shocked.” 

Today, Dr. Abernathy said she teaches at the University of Mobile because she loves the vision for English majors here – studying literature as a way of getting to know the human condition and the human soul.

“That’s what I want to convey in what I do,” Abernathy said. “It’s not just reading stories that are fun to read. It’s something bigger, to challenge us in the way we live. I care about that more at the University of Mobile than I would somewhere else, because it’s my home.”

The University of Mobile – 1990’s

When the decade of the 1990s began, Ingram Hall dormitory was being built, additions to the library and dining hall were underway, and soccer fields were being developed. A rainy day brought out students with cafeteria trays sliding down the muddy hill beside the tennis courts. A branch campus in Nicaragua was opened amid much fanfare, but soon became highly controversial and a challenge to the original mission of the university. By the time the decade drew to a close, the branch campus was closed, and the school welcomed a new president, Dr. Mark Foley. Amidst all the changes, one date stood out. July 1, 1993.

Sometime in the early morning hours, state highway department workers had removed signs along 1-65 directing traffic to Mobile College. When the new day dawned, the signs pointed travelers to Exit 13 and the University of Mobile. Jay Jerrell, ’98, said he liked the change.

“I thought that it could only be a good thing that they are changing the name to reflect there is more to them. I liked being able to say ‘university: It had a nice ring to me,” said the worship pastor at Faith Family Fellowship in Spanish Fort, AL and president of the University of Mobile Alumni Association.

Jerrell said serving on the alumni board not only gives him an opportunity to encourage alumni involvement, but also to see current students experience the same opportunities he had to develop lasting relationships with friends and deepen their faith.

“The experience I had there was second to none,” Jerrell said. He met his wife at UMobile, Jill Nahrgang Jerrell, ’01. And, it was during their time as UMobile students that each made decisions for Jesus Christ.

“Anything we can do to ensure that experience is available for other people, and to encourage students there, is something we want to do,” Terrell said.

Dr. Wylie Newton, ‘94, and his wife, Monica, are family physicians in practice together in Gainesville, GA, and they have a 4-year-old son. The personal relationships with professors and lifelong friends that were important to Mobile College graduates also were important to those whose degrees said “University of Mobile”

“The professors knew me, and they were interested in me being successful. They put their heart into trying to see that I succeed as much as I did. Everybody knew you, from the president to the janitor,” Newton recalled. “I got a good, solid education there and did fine in medical school and have a successful Career. I still have a very strong faith, and it was important for me while I Was in college that it was a Christian university and it nurtured that.” 

Chaplain Jim Fisher, Ph.D., ’94, is serving as an active-duty U.S.Army chaplain in Afghanistan. As a married, full-time student with children, Fisher primarily attended class and returned home to babysit and study. His wife, Tracy, worked for the Mobile County Public School System, allowing him to be a “stay-at-home dad.” Weekends were comprised of a youth ministry role and Air National Guard drill attendance.

Fisher’s experience in the UMobile classroom was essential to his preparation, personally and professionally.

“I am grateful for the mentoring I received from professors, both full-time and adjunct. As an older student who was not raised in a Christian home, I needed the encouragement and affirmation toward vocational ministry. Each professor helped in his or her own way, even those who were not involved in the religious studies curriculum. UMobile was critical in fostering my spiritual formation, vocational preparation, and ministerial identification,” said Fisher, who holds an M.Div. from Midwestern and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminaries.

Fisher worked hard – he received the School of Religion Area Award upon graduation for the highest grade point average among ministerial students. His oldest son, Jimmy, followed in his dad’s footsteps and graduated from UMobile in 2011 – and was the Athletic Training Area Award recipient.

Adam and Alison Fanning Creel, both 1997 grads living in Murfreesboro, TN, brought their three daughters to visit campus this summer.

“It was very nostalgic to be back, and exciting to see all the improvements and new things added,” said Alison, who teaches piano and is a freelance book designer and writer. “But there were still so many of the things that were there when we were students, like the fountain, the chapel, Weaver Hall. To come back and see those things surrounded by all the new, it was a real proud moment.”

Adam, a financial analyst at Lifeway Christian Resources, said UMobile “literally is home for us. We can walk back on that campus even after being gone more than a decade and feel like this is where we’re supposed to be. We can immediately connect. There’s a sense of familiarity, of ‘this is right.’”

Alison said their daughters thought it was “really cool to see where we met and went to school. When we pulled out of the drive, one of the girls said, “I like it here. I think I’d like to come to the University of Mobile.'”

Helping move her niece, freshman Maegan Bell, into her dorm room at Karlene Farmer Faulkner Hall brought back memories of fun times for Lauren Wilkins Street, ’96 and ’00.

“Rolling the campus at homecoming was always fun, $3 pizzas after midnight at Domino’s, going to basketball games, hanging out in the dorms watching Melrose Place, going to Krispy Kreme in Mobile in our pajamas late at night, studying at Waffle Haus at night” were favorite memories, Street said. 

As the school has grown, so have family connections among students, alumni, donors, faculty and staff. Street’s grandfather, Fred Bell, was a member of the Board of Trustees; her parents, Betty Bell Wilkins, ’83, and Robert Wilkins, ’69, first met at Mobile College while on a BSU trip; and Lauren met her husband, Ken Street, ’96, on campus. Niece Maegan is the daughter of the late Wes Bell, ‘90 and Laureen Street Bell Davis, ‘90.

Street said her hopes for Maegan are “that she has the most wonderful years out here like I did. I hope she enjoys it to the fullest like I did. It’s a special time in your life that you don’t forget.”

Hold on Tight – 2000’s

In the summer of 2000, a transformation occurred that significantly changed the look of the school’s signature building. The original flat roof of Weaver Hall that had sheltered the first building on campus since 1963 was replaced with a striking pitched roof. UMobile’s new president, Dr.Mark Foley, and founding president, Dr. William K. Weaver Jr., stood together and signed the white cupola before it was raised to the roof.

Foley’s signature phrase, “hold on tight,” previewed a decade of expanding programs and growth in facilities. Two new residence halls, Ram Hall auditorium, a stately new entrance, and renovated buildings were just some of the accomplishments.

In the first Ram Report campus newsletter of 2000, the president encouraged students to prayerfully focus on the year ahead.

“The challenges you face as a college student will stretch you intellectually, spiritually, socially, physically, emotionally and financially. Turning these challenges into opportunities is how you change the world,” Foley wrote.

Alicia Morris

Atcheson, ’02, remembers those challenges as well. 

“I was stretched financially, but more so spiritually in my faith, that God would provide for my needs. I remember vividly sitting in Room 314 in Ingram Hall and praying and praying that I would be able to stay there” Atcheson said.

She recalled how God met her needs then, just as He continues to meet her needs today.

“That happened in a lot of ways, through scholarships UMobile provided that alumni giving made possible,” she said. “I was able to be in Vision (vocal and instrumental ensemble) and that provided a scholarship, and I worked part-time in the Public Relations Office. One semester I was taking almost 30 hours, working 25 hours a week, and traveling with ‘Witness’ drama and vocal ensemble.”

Now executive director of the Educational Center for Independence in Washington County, Atcheson said she carries the University of Mobile with her every day.

“It is a life-changing place. It is challenging. Whether it is academically or on the spiritual side, there were so many opportunities for the stretching to happen,” she said.

Jordan van Matre, ’07, said Drs. Ted Mashburn and Robert Schaefer taught him to think for himself and understand why he believes what he believes.

“My time at UMobile served as a crucible and stepping stone for becoming who I am today,” said van Matre, a lawyer in Atlanta working with a consumer bankruptcy firm helping people consolidate their debt.

It also was a time of fun memories, he said: launching water balloons at the girls’ dorm from the cottages, Ultimate Frisbee, home run derby, beach volleyball and CAB events.

Tramaine Perry, ’05, recalls the time when the basketball team “got in trouble an awful lot with paintball guns. They banned paintball guns from school because of us.”

Perry was on crutches with a broken foot when the paintball wars started between the white team (starters) and the maroon team (bench players).

“One day I was leaving Mr. (Nick) Cillo’s class. We were in front of Weaver, and I was on crutches. It just so happened the maroon team called me out and surrounded me. Mr. Cillo called out the window and said he was about to report them and call security. That was the only thing that saved my life. He was my knight in shining armor at that moment,” said Perry, laughing.

Now a branch manager at Compass Bank in Mobile, Perry said he learned important lessons from UMobile President Mark Foley and Campus Affairs Vice President Mike Blaylock, now deceased.

“Mr. Blaylock and I would sit and talk for hours just about life, and what challenges and opportunities were out there when you graduated from school. Dr. Foley always said, ‘changing lives to change the world, and he really believed in it. Along with my father and Coach Niland, they groomed me to be a leader when I graduated from college,” Perry said.

A major in computer information systems, Perry had professors who challenged him.

“I respect anybody that presents a challenge to me, and I remember them because they were good professors and they gave me a challenge, ” he said. “Mr. Cillo in global business was tough. He told me we would earn our grades. When I got a ‘B’ in the class, I felt proud because I knew I had earned that grade. Dr. Jane Byrd didn’t show any favoritism, although she was a huge sports fan. She would congratulate me when I did well in sports and say, ‘where’s your paper?'” 

James Berrian, ’09, also liked a challenge, and he found his in the Center for Performing Arts. He was a member of VOICES of Mobile all four years, Shophar ensemble, Opera Workshop, student conductor of the University Singers, and RamTonz barbershop quartet which placed 13th in the world in an international competition.

His biggest role, however, was as God in the modern oratorio “Saviour.”

“It was very surreal.” he said. “Being from the small town of Phil Campbell, AL, and I were so blessed to get to be in such a big role.”

Now worship pastor at First Baptist Church of Satsuma, Berian said his UMobile experience taught him “anything you want to do in excellence takes hard work. I also learned the value of prayer. Prayer was a huge part of being able to make it through a tough schedule and how demanding it was to be in all these groups. The spiritual foundation go during those years at UMobile has had the biggest impact on me and taught me how to be a better minister to the people God has called me to serve.”

Freshman orientation was memorable for Margie Younce Williams, ’04, now an attorney with Cunningham Bounds LLC in Mobile. That’s when she met fellow student Matt Williams – today they are married and have a 3-year-old daughter.

“Though at the time I may have thought I wanted to attend a larger state school, I’m glad I was led to UMobile because it helped me keep focused on Christ while leading me down a successful career path,” she said. “My professors became my mentors, answering questions! had about life as well as class, and – really–always had their office doors open.”

She enjoyed cheering on the Rams soccer team, performing in the chorus of the Upper Room Theatre’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and participating in the Miss UM pageant. She also traveled to Ireland with University Missions and her parents, UMobile professors Drs. Dale and Alice Younce.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to support the local missionaries alongside my Mom and Dad and See God’s handiwork in His creation abroad,” said Williams.

The Years Ahead 

To know what the future holds for the University of Mobile, simply look to her graduates.

Look, for example, to Alicia Conn,’11, and Miles McCauley, ’10.

“Since I was 11 years old and heard about China’s one-child law, I have studied the Mandarin Chinese language in hopes of being with the countless orphans there,” Conn said.

She studied abroad in Taiwan for a semester, and the university worked with the humanities major to make the experience count toward her foreign language requirements. Professors and staff encouraged her, and those mentoring relationships helped her leave the United States feeling equipped to fulfill her dream.

“Now I am walking through the doors I spent half of my life praying about. I am living in Taipei, Taiwan as an English teacher, missionary at Taipei Truth Church, and volunteer in three orphanages, /” said Conn, 

Named the outstanding male graduate in 2010, McCauley could go anywhere. He went to Greenwood, MS, to teach music to elementary students in an impoverished community.

He was accepted into the prestigious Teach for America program, a non-profit organization that enlists the nation’s most promising future leaders to teach for two or more years in low-income communities throughout the U.S.

“It’s been a very tough year,” McCauley said. “I am living in a very small, very impoverished community. Living in an area like this, I see the results of when people have quit on this area. When kids are struggling with reading in the 9th grade, a lot of kids don’t have father figures at home, and there are whole communities and neighborhoods where people are believing they can’t do better than this – if people who can help give up, it perpetuates the problem.

“I’ve learned that when it comes to something important, quitting is not an option,” he said. “With the potential impact I can have as a teacher and Christian on my students’ lives, quitting is not an option for me.”

After his commitment to Teach for America is over, “the road’s wide open. I want to be involved in education reform and helping reform America’s public schools to help them reach their best potential, and to do it in the name of Christ,” McCauley said. 

“I think one day I’ll be a principal in an elementary school or part of a non-profit helping kids reach their potential. My Christian mission may not always be in my job description, but it will always be a personal mission for me.”

Once Upon a Time…

The story of the first 50 years of the University of Mobile could be told simply, by listing the dates that buildings were constructed, by totaling the number of degrees conferred.

But that would only be part of the story.

The real story is told through the lives of thousands of men and women who spent a few short years in a special place – and a lifetime reflecting the spirit of the University of Mobile.

“Once upon a time in a land far, far away…’ this is the way that so many stories have begun through the ages. But they all had one thing in common, they were fairy tales: untrue stories about make-believe places… This is a true story about a real place with very real people. This is my story as well as yours, the story of Mobile College.”

Preface to 1981-182 Rampage

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.