A legacy must have a starting point. For an institution to impact thousands of lives every year, it must build a foundation. Dr. William K. Weaver Jr., founding president of the University of Mobile, foresaw the impact UMobile could make, and he established a program that would play a significant role in propelling the new institution to greatness: the Association of Honorary Fellows.
He knew the importance alumni hold in the sustenance of a university, but when Mobile College was chartered in 1961, Weaver needed the support of alumni he did not yet have. Alongside his beloved wife, Annie Boyd Parker Weaver who led the formation of the Mobile College Auxiliary, Weaver chose people who exhibited the commitment to the future of Mobile College. With help from charter professor Dr. A. Garrett Hill, he immediately instated these fellows.
Weaver called them to service, and they approached the challenge wholeheartedly, embracing a mission that became foundation for the University of Mobile — change lives to change the world.
According to an excerpt from the Office of Development of then-Mobile College, the prime objective of the Fellows would be to disseminate information and motivate individual interest and concern that would advance the well-being of Mobile College.
“The clasped hands in the center of the Mobile College seal illustrate the spirit of cooperation shown by the many individuals and groups who helped make possible the founding of Mobile College and who continue to provide support,” said the excerpt.
The first meeting of the association was held on campus on April 24, 1967 with 82 members present. Julian de Ovies was elected president the charter year. Mobile greats, such as J. Finley McRae, J. L. Bedsole, T. T. Martin, Ogden Shropshire and H. Austill Pharr, became active participants in the endeavor.
In 1968, the organization implemented its first major project, the H. Austill Pharr Gymnasium, after raising significant funds for its construction. The facility remains today as a tribute to both Pharr and the dedication of each Honorary Fellows member.
As years passed, the Honorary Fellows continued to take a leadership role in championing the college and helping develop relationships that would expand the school’s influence. The group met frequently for luncheons and to hear from guest speakers who gave updates on the university or discussed issues of general interest in the community.
Continuing to Build
More than 50 years later, the University of Mobile now has many alumni who are vital to the support and influence of the school. The Honorary Fellows organization continues to play an important role in its growth and development of the school.
“The Honorary Fellows are stalwart representatives of the University of Mobile to the community,” said Associate Vice President for Development Bill Hart.
The Honorary Fellows is a select cohort of community leaders. Today they are a small yet influential group of men and women who have shown exemplary service to the community and exceptional commitment to the progress of the university.
One of these Fellows, Ed Ahrens, highlighted the prestige of the program.
“To be selected as an Honorary Fellow is a great honor. I don’t know anything I have done to deserve a place in such a prestigious group,” he said modestly. “ It carries a great deal of esteem.”
Ahrens has been a member since 1996 and regularly supports student scholarships, annual university golf tournaments and other athletic events. Ahrens said the time he invests is a way to return what the University of Mobile gave his family.
“Both my sons are graduates of the University of Mobile,” Ahrens stated. “It has given them a great Christian worldview and an excellent education. They are both succeeding in the business world as a result.”
The university selects two to four Honorary Fellows each year, and members gather twice a year for the Honorary Fellows Luncheon to hear about the university and enjoy musical performances by students in the Center for Performing Arts/School of Music.
Their connections to the university continue throughout the year in many ways.
“Our Honorary Fellows are passionate about this school, and they truly help the university,” said Hart. “They speak with potential students, open doors for UMobile, provide financial aid and supply resources that are otherwise unattainable.”
Current active Honorary Fellow members include:
Ed Ahrens – Chartered Life Underwriter and Chartered Financial Consultant, McNeil, Ahrens & Lambert Financial Group. Ahrens has been an Honorary Fellow since 1996 and was a former Trustee from 1999-2005. His sons, Hunt and Will, are graduates of UMobile. He has significantly supported student scholarships, events such as the annual golf tournament, and athletics.
Ed Baxley – Retired from Commercial Credit Corp. and later served as EVP consultant for several banks. A deacon at First Baptist Church of Chickasaw, AL, Baxley is the principal of four endowed scholarships and has provided guidance and moral support to numerous members of the UMobile faculty and staff. He was inducted as an Honorary Fellow in 2012.
Mary Brown – Communications administrative assistant, Dauphin Way Baptist Church. Brown, a retired air traffic controller and supervisor, has hosted many social initiatives for UMobile students, many of whom have no local relatives. She and husband Charlie, a 1979 UMobile graduate who is currently enrolled in the Marriage & Family Counseling master’s program, have established an estate plan to ensure their continued impact. She was inducted as an Honorary Fellow in 2013.
Dr. Harold R. Collins – Retired former superintendent, Mobile County Public Schools. A long-time leader in the educational arena, Collins has been an Honorary Fellow for over 27 years. He is a faithful financial supporter of the university and a strong advocate of UMobile as well as higher education in the community. In 2003, he was awarded the Arlene F. Mitchell Award from Senior Citizens Services and continues to serve in that area at the age of 94.
Daniel Cowart – CEO of Aaron Oil Co. Inc. and president of International Used Oil Research Institute. Cowart has been an Honorary Fellow since 1997. Through the International Used Oil Research Institute, a subsidiary of Aaron Oil, he is promoting good stewardship of the environment and natural resources in the oil reclamation industry.
Ms. Betty Hendrix – Retired banker in Mobile and Realtor on the Eastern Shore. She has been an Honorary Fellow since 1995. Her professional experience and personal support have helped extend the university’s influence.
A. Pharr Hume – Senior vice president, Willis of Alabama Inc., and Certified Insurance Counselor. Both Pharr and Willis have been consistent supporters of UMobile. With deep family ties to UMobile, Hume has supported the annual UMobile Classic golf tournament and all special events.
Charles E. Jackson Sr. – Chartered Life Underwriter, Jackson Investment Solutions. He has served on the President’s Advisory Council and has been an Honorary Fellow since 1991. He has also served as a deacon at Cottage Hill Baptist Church.
Clint Martin – Financial advisor/ investment management consultant and financial planner, Raymond James Financial Services. He also holds the designations of AAMS & CFP.
As a member of the UMobile Estate Planning Team, his services have resulted in over $200,000 in planned gifts. Martin works closely with UMobile’s Charitable Estate Planning Office in assisting benefactors. He also volunteers as a Master Environmental Educator with the Baldwin County Extension Office. He was inducted as an Honorary Fellow in 2013.
Dr. Grace Pilot – Co-founder, Pilot Catastrophe Services. One of only three women ever to be inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame, she has been honored for making a significant impact on the development of the community and state by promoting the free enterprise system and entrepreneurship, demonstrating civic leadership, and philanthropy and humanitarianism toward fellow citizens. Named First Lady of Mobile in 2005, Pilot has established an endowed scholarship and participates in the annual Endowed Scholarship Luncheon with her scholarship recipients.
Donald E. Setser – CPA, Wilkins, Miller, Hieronymous LLC. He has provided countless hours of professional service to Southern Baptist missionaries and is a member of the Saraland Chamber of Commerce.
He has participated as a sponsor for the annual UMobile Classic golf tournament and has been an Honorary Fellow since 1996.