The first thing Dr. Dwight Steedley thought when he saw Delaney Grizzle sitting in his math class was, “Gee, I’m getting old.”
The second thing that came to mind was that the University of Mobile must be doing something very well for a family to send its third generation to the school.
The professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences knew Delaney’s grandparents, Jerry Grizzle ’86 and Elizabeth Jones Grizzle’ 73 – in fact, they were classmates during the 1960s at what was then Mobile College. It didn’t seem so long ago that Delaney’s parents, Eric and Shirley Culwell Grizzle, both ’91, were students taking introductory math in Steedley’s class.
“I’ve taught here in the neighborhood of about 40 years. It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by – but it must have, if I’m on the granddaughter,” Steedley said. When the birth of a college is something that still seems like a not-so-long-ago event for students who entered that first class in 1963, the idea that several generations have followed in their parents’ – and grandparents’ – footsteps still comes as something of a surprise.
Just as the twigs once planted along the Pollock-Altmayer Drive onto campus have grown into mighty oaks, the university has grown up, adding buildings, academic and athletic
programs, residence halls – and more graduates.
That many of those long-ago graduates are bringing their children to enroll at their alma mater still catches Kim Leousis ’86 and’89 off guard. As vice president for enrollment and campus life and a 25-year employee of her alma mater, she often greets alumni and their children who arrive at Weaver Hall for a campus tour.
“Sometimes I walk out and I see the parents, and it seems like they never left,” she said. “I think it’s a different place for every generation, but at the same time, it’s the same. Alumni say it looks different, but yet, they walk in here and it’s the same warm, comfortable, ‘I’ve come back home’ kind of feeling.”
Jimmy ’86 and Debbie Baker Preachers ’84 were college sweethearts who met at the Baptist Student Union’s “Welcome Back” event in 1982. New students were divided into “family” groups of six to 10 “children,” with seniors serving as “parents” to help them get acclimated. (Think of today’s Ram Fam, where groups of freshmen and transfer students led by upperclassmen spend much of the first week of school involved in service projects and activities during Ram Rush.)
“Debbie and I were ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ in our ‘family.’ We prayed together, had Bible study together,” Jimmy said.
Campus life included movie nights at the Student Activities Center (now the Boothe Athletic Training facility), weekly chapel, dorm activities where dorm mothers were a special part of college life, Student Government Association, and many music recitals. Debbie, a psychology major, took an interest in music and started attending music major Jimmy’s recitals.
Their shared college experience “has given our marriage a strong foundation,” Jimmy said.
Debbie said she came to college as a reserved person, and her four yearswere transformational.
“I was able to blossom while I was there,” she said, becoming president of the senior class, a class favorite, and earning the area award in psychology at graduation.
When their eldest daughter, Lindsay, started looking at colleges to attend, the family was living in Granite Falls, NC. Jimmy, associate pastor for music and worship at Concord Baptist Church, and Debbie, first grade teacher and reading specialist at Hickory Christian Academy, had suggested during Lindsay’s junior year that she consider the University of Mobile.
Debbie recalls her daughter’s immediate reaction: “I’m not going where y’all went!”
But college visit after college visit at other schools just never seemed to feel quite right.
Lindsay recalls her college decision this way: “We lived in North Carolina, and there are all sorts of elite universities in North and South Carolina. I visited them, and I just prayed the Lord would give me an overwhelming feeling of His Holy Spirit where I was to go.
“I was pretty well into my senior year and I didn’t feel like any college was quite right. We got a pamphlet in the mail for a Preview Day” at UMobile.
Debbie brought the pamphlet to Lindsay’s attention, and said she was ready to throw it away unless her daughter wanted to consider the school.
“I said, ‘wait a minute, what the heck,’” Lindsay recalled. Her mother wanted to be sure she wasn’t just angling for a free trip to Mobile to visit her grandparents, but Lindsay said to sign her up for the visit day.
“I was a little hesitant as we drove up,” Lindsay said. She visited Dr. Ted Mashburn’s philosophy class, and “there were no other thoughts or questions in my mind – this is where the Lord wants me for my academic career.”
Like her parents, Lindsay ’12 met her future husband on campus, John Michael Mohney ’10. Also like her parents, the Mohney’s careers mirror the Preachers’ – Lindsay is a substitute teacher and is now completing a master’s in special education, and John Michael is worship and youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Ashland, AL.
A few months ago, Jimmy and John Michael had occasion to visit campus together. They walked past classrooms and recalled their different experiences in those same rooms.
John Michael said he sees a benefit to having shared experiences — both those that span a generation and new ones they share together such as that recent campus visit.
And if the Mohney’s 18-month-old daughter Parker decides one day to enroll at UMobile?
“We’ve actually talked about that. We would love for one of our children to go there,” Lindsay said.
What’s Yours is Mine
Kim Leousis said some prospective students initially visit campus to placate their alumni parents, and others are eager to visit the school their parents have told stories about all these years.
“Some students are very interested because this is the place their parents talked about. Others are more reluctant, but when the student gets here and they look around for themselves, they end up coming to school here. It’s neat to see the parents’ school become the student’s school,” she said.
Kim, whose daughter Nikki is in her freshman year and son Collin will be in the online early enrollment program this summer, said the university “is a different place for every generation, but at the same time, it’s the same place. The buildings may change, we may have new traditions, but the core of the university – the experience, the relationships, the heart of the university – those things remain over time. These are the things that create a unique bond across generations.”
Dr. Cassidy Cooper, assistant professor of sociology, said students shouldn’t be concerned that following in their parents’ footsteps to the same college means they are just repeating their parents’ college experience.
“It’s possible that your mother was a social butterfly, and if you’re an introvert, you’ll have different experiences,” she said. “I tell undergrads that you’ll have the experience you want. If you want to be introspective and spend a lot of time reading and writing, you can do that at this university. If you want to be at the center of campus life and do an event every night, you can. And
each is a worthwhile experience.”
Kim said it’s been fun to watch the influence current students have in creating new traditions, including how BSU Welcome Back becomes Off to College Week becomes the Welcome Back Luau becomes Ram
“This university is still young enough that it isn’t set in its ways,” Kim said. “It’s still young enough that it can be molded, and students who attend here can definitely leave their impression.”
The Campus Visit
When junior exercise science major Jordan Grissom practices with the women’s tennis team at the Gerald L. Wallace Sr. Tennis Complex on campus, she’s just a few steps away from a photo on display in the tennis center of the first women’s team in 1986. Her mother, Joni Morris Grissom ’89, stands back row, fourth from left.
“She’s proud of me for going here, and I’m glad I got to play tennis. I love it. I’m kind of sad I don’t have more semesters left,” said Jordan, who will graduate in December 2016 and plans to continue to graduate school in speech pathology.
Jordan had several offers to play tennis at other colleges in Florida and Alabama when her mom suggested she visit UMobile.
“I came here and the first day after hitting with the girls (on the UMobile tennis team), I knew it was for me,” Jordan said.
Joni, an accounting major who later earned a graduate degree in education, taught school for a decade, and now is a Realtor, regularly travels from Navarre Beach, FL, to cheer on her daughter and the team at tennis matches across the region.
“When we started looking at different schools, my opinion was, ‘let’s see what’s the best school for you to go to, and we’ll know it when you get there. As soon as Jordan walked on campus, it was like ‘click, this was it.’ She felt like she belonged,” Joni said.
Paul Munger ’75 recalls his first campus visit, and it occurred before there was even a campus. His father, Roy Munger, worked for a lumber company, and Paul would accompany him to help mark timber on the property that would later become the University of Mobile campus.
Both his father and mother, Meron Munger, served at one time or another on the school’s Board of Trustees. Four of the five siblings in the Munger family graduated from the school.
“It was a good experience. I was married and working full time, trying to get in and get out as quickly as I could. When I went there, we didn’t have a gym. We had a main building, a library and a few dorm rooms, and that was it. The gym was built while I was there,” recalled Paul, who graduated with a business degree and now owns Munger Insurance Agency Inc. in Mobile.
He is proud that daughter Alisha Munger Jenkins ’98 graduated with top honors and a degree in accounting, and particularly pleased that she was able to pay for her own education through a presidential scholarship, student loans, and part-time work. Several of Alisha’s cousins also were her classmates, as the family legacy continued.
Jordan Van Matre ’07 was living in Georgia with access to a free college education through that state’s Hope Scholarship when his father, Jim Van Matre’79, suggested he take a look at UMobile.
“I liked it. I liked the people who showed me around. I really liked the small feel. And I felt like it would be really neat to go to the same college as my dad,” said Jordan, who recently opened a law practice in McDonough, GA handling bankruptcy and criminal defense.
He said there was a benefit in the familiarity of going to a college his father attended. He and brother Kory, who just graduated in May with a major in worship leadership, were involved in ensembles in the Center for Performing Arts. They share a love of music with their father, who graduated with a degree in music education and now is minister of music and administration at First
Baptist Church of Gulf Shores, AL.
“When I was there, I had some of the same professors as my dad, and the same thing with Kory and me. We had a lot of the same experiences, and we get to laugh at a lot of the same things,” Jordan said.
Kory said his brother was one of the students who petitioned to have sand volleyball courts, “so it’s really cool to play on them and know that my family had a hand in it.”
Although many experiences are shared, Kory found it easy to leave his own mark, which included appearing with classmates Seth Brasher ’14 and Harrison Hughes ’15 on The American Bible Challenge television game show and winning $45,000 for Home of Grace, a local Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation center for women.
“I was in the music group RamCorps for four years and traveled and played music in Jamaica and Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympics. I’ve met my best friends that I will keep around the rest of my life,” Kory said.
Some alumni love the university so deeply that they invest themselves on a daily basis in helping students and their alma mater succeed.
For alumni such as Dr. Lonnie Burnett ’79 and wife Lynne Thomas Burnett ’96, there is pride in seeing daughter Lauren Burnett Wetzel ’09, now a pharmacy tech in Andrews, TX, walk across the stage at graduation. The associate vice president for academic affairs is also proud of seeing students earn degrees whom he taught over his more than 23 years as an adjunct then full-time history professor.
They aren’t just faces – they are people he knows.
“That’s our niche, that small school, face-to-face contact with professors. We have a personal touch,” Burnett said.
Associate Professor of Business Dr. Randall Dupont ’94 earned a master of business administration from UMobile, and his wife, Sadie, graduated from the adult program in 2006, earned a master’s in elementary education in 2007, and now teaches fourth grade in George County, MS.
As a graduate and professor, Dupont wanted his sons Luke ’10 and Marc ’14 to attend because “I knewthey would get a quality education with academic rigor and be taught by professors who could integrate their faith with teaching. Furthermore, I wanted them in an environment where homeschoolers are valued. I knew this was the place.
“From our common experience of attending UMobile, I believe we are closer as a family, creating a legacy whereby we can pass along our Christian values to our children and future grandchildren. An education from the University of Mobile develops and strengthens those values for the whole family,” Dupont said.
The Dorsett family is another example of multi-generational investment in the school. Pat Dorsett ’81 returned to school and graduated
after son Dr. Wayne Dorsett ’76 and before granddaughter Erin Dorsett Vaughn ’00. Both she and son Martin Dorsett have served on the UMobile Board of Trustees, and Martin currently serves on the board’s finance committee. Now, Ross Dorsett, Martin’s son and Pat’s grandson, is enrolled.
Pat continues to support the school through the establishment of the George and Patricia Dorsett Scholarship for Religion and Nursing, an endowment in memory of her husband.
The Bruns family includes five nurse anesthetists, all graduates of the UMobile School of Nursing: John Bruns ’78, Alex Bruns ’00, Johnathan Bruns ’02, Maryann Bruns Dean ’04 and Amanda Rouse Bruns ’03. John’s wife Cindy remains involved in university life as assistant to the vice president for external affairs and information services.
Tara Greene Jones ’02 who is serving with her husband and three children with the International Mission Board in Takasaki, Japan, said attending the same school as sister Bobbie Greene McGuff ’95 and mom Barbara Greene ’04 brought a family that was already close even closer.
“All three of us have always been close and talked a lot, so having this in common, too, gave us even more opportunity to spend time together,” Tara said. Bobbie, who is financial service manager at SSAB Alabama, said her involvement in the Student Government Association gave her confidence and experience in leadership that has helped her succeed in her career.
The Hollingsworth family will have three generations graduate when Josh receives his bachelor’s degree and MBA in 2016 through the university’s 5-year integrated MBA program. His mother, Kathy ’87, majored in business with a concentration in accounting, worked for a few years in the university’s business office, then stayed home to raise children.
Husband Jerry Raymond and father-in-law Jerry Randall enrolled in the Alpha 1 first group of adult students in what was then the Degree Completion Program. They graduated together in 1994, then Jerry Raymond earned an MBA through UMobile in 2005. Kathy returned work in the university’s business office and Josh, who initially attended two other schools on baseball scholarships, transferred back to UMobile on a baseball scholarship during his junior year.
“When I graduated from high school, the last thing I wanted to do was go to college in my hometown,” said Josh, who had spent time as a child on the UMobile campus in the Oakdale Children’s Center, then playing pool with UMobile students in the student activities center. Now as a UMobile student, he loves the close-knit community – and that Dr. Jane Byrd has taught all of his family
“We’re very family-oriented, so it’s nice to stay close to home and be involved in your son’s education,” Jerry Raymond said. “Since I got my MBA, it’s really helped me advance in my job, and we hope the degree Josh gets helps open the door to a quality lifestyle for him.”
An Amazing School
Elizabeth Grizzle said she never could have imagined the Grizzle family legacy – that three generations of her family would one day graduate from the school she entered as a freshman in 1963, during its first year of existence.
Sometimes, founding president Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. “would remind us we were part of something historical, being part of that first class. It was like we were part owners of the school, we felt that much ownership,” said Elizabeth, who later was an adjunct instructor in the School of Education. “When I drive onto campus, I still remember the excitement of that first year, when I drove on campus as a student the first time.”
The Grizzle family legacy at UMobile includes Elizabeth and Jerry; their son Jeffrey ’89, son Eric and his wife Shirley, daughter Amy Grizzle Lowe ’11 and her husband Sean ’10. Amy said she had always felt like the odd one out in her family, having earned her bachelor’s degree at another school. “When I did go back to school for my master’s, I wanted to be part of having a degree from the University of Mobile like everyone else in my family,” she said.
Delaney, who is majoring in math with teacher certification, said she didn’t intend to go to UMobile, mainly because of the family legacy.
“My family has been at UMobile for so long. Everybody wanted me to go there. I ran away from that, I wanted to go out of state, to go where my family hadn’t been before,” Delaney said.
She visited a school in North Carolina and planned on enrolling, but because her parents wanted her to go to UMobile so badly, she said she would go to a visit day to see what it was like.
“When I stepped on campus, I knew that was where the Lord wanted me to be. I was overwhelmed with the Lord’s presence there. There was just no going anywhere else,” she said. Now, when the family gets together, three generations have stories to tell about the different times at the same place. They will share how Dr. Steedley uses examples in class about hunting and fishing, how the School of Education has shaped their approach to teaching in ways that incorporate their faith.
“I love the University of Mobile. It’s an amazing school,” Delaney said.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to get to major in an area I love, to learn about things I love in an atmosphere centered on why we do what we do, and making everything we do pleasing to the Lord.”
As for future generations of Grizzles?
“I may not live to see it, but I hope I have a great-grandchild go to the University of Mobile, to carry on that family tradition,” Elizabeth said.