Building names in Heritage honor former Baptist leaders

As freshmen start their first year at Union University, most live in the freshman housing of the Heritage Residence Complex. Each of the buildings in this complex is named after a prominent figure in Union’s history. Many of these men served on the university’s Board of Trustees, and most held prominent positions in other areas of Southern Baptist life. Their names on the buildings of the Heritage Residence Complex serve as reminders of the impact they had on Union and on Baptist history.

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Craig – Robert Craig was president of Union University from 1967-1986. He was Union’s longest serving president and led the university in its move from downtown Jackson to its current location. He also served as president of Southwest Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University.

Dehoney –Wayne Dehoney was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jackson during the 1950s and 1960s, during which time he served on the Board of Trustees at Union. He also served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1965-1966.

Dodd –M. E. Dodd graduated from Union and became the pastor of First Baptist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana.  He served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1934-1935 and led in the development of the Cooperative Program, the major funding initiative for Southern Baptist missions and ministries.

Grey – J. D. Grey was a graduate of Union who served for many years as pastor of First Baptist Church of New Orleans, Louisiana. He served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1952-1953.

Jarman – The Jarman family was a generous benefactor of Union. They founded Genesco, a large shoe manufacturing company in Nashville, and their financial contributions helped Union relocate the campus and build the Penick Academic Complex in 1975.

Lee – R.G. Lee was the pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis from 1927-1960 and was president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1949-1951. He served on the Board of Trustees of Union and is widely remembered for his sermons and books.

Paschall – H. Franklin Paschall was a graduate of Union who served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1956-1983. He also served on the Board of Trustees of Union and as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1967-1968.

Pollard –Ramsey Pollard was pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church from 1960-1972. He served as chairman of the Board of Trustees for Union during the time that the university bought the land for the current campus.  He also served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1960-1961.

Rogers – Adrian Rogers was pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church from 1972-2005 and served on the Board of Trustees at Union.  He was a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative resurgence and served twice as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, from 1979-1980 and from 1987-1988.

Sullivan – James L. Sullivan was a pastor and denominational leader who served on the Board of Trustees for Union. From 1953-1975, he served as president of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources).

Wright –Frances E. Wright was a professor of education and academic dean at Union during the 1950s and 1960s and served as the university’s president from 1963-1967. He also served as the first president of Jackson State Community College.

*Former Union Vice President Bob Agee provided much of the background information for this story.

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Story by Nathan Handley, photos by Kristi Woody

Meet Our Alumni – Part 2

Union University is known for shaping the next generation of great leaders. Our alums go on to elite graduate schools, meaningful careers and mission and ministry opportunities around the world. There are scores of Union alums doing amazing things, and here are some we would like you to meet.

Part 1


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“At a nonprofit, you are the whole communications team. Studying such widespread curriculum really let me transition well to this position.” – Chelsea Cobb Croom (’15) – Communications Coordinator, RIFA, Jackson, Tenn.

Learn more about Chelsea’s work with RIFA here.


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“A Union education completely transformed the paradigm through which I viewed my faith and the world. I was taught how to think Christianly, how to broaden my faith to affect every single endeavor and activity of life.” – Chad Wilson (’01) – President, Foundation Bank, Jackson, Tenn.

Read more about Chad here.


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“It is rare to find a school with such camaraderie. The faculty enjoy what they do. They pushed me to read widely, critically and charitably.” – Hannah Clardy (’12) – Doctoral Student, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Read more of Hannah’s story here.

Alumna Celebrates Jackson Community

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Katie Howerton said Union taught her what community is and how important it is to the lives of the people within it.

“Union taught me how to care so much about the community I was in that now I feel inclined to care for the community I’m in at work,” she said.

Howerton is the communications manager for Our Jackson Home, an organization created to celebrate the people and the stories of Jackson, Tennessee. A 2015 Union graduate, Howerton worked on the design for the Our Jackson Home magazine as her senior project.

She said in her time in the Union community, she slowly developed a love for the Jackson community. After she graduated, she said she wanted to continue working for Our Jackson Home because of the way it speaks to Jackson.

“I knew I wanted to do it, but I knew it couldn’t just be a hobby,” Howerton said.

She said Our Jackson Home was run by volunteers, and they knew that if no one took over to run it full-time, it would not last long. They asked her if she would be interested.

“It could have become just this thing that happened in 2015 if nobody took over,” Howerton said. “They said, ‘Hey, we know that you may not be super confident, but we’re confident in you, and we’re willing to take a risk.’”

Howerton said she is glad to have had Union as a training ground for her professional career.

“On top of training to be a professional, I also was given plenty of room to be creative, which was what first allowed me to come up with the idea for Our Jackson Home (magazine) and continues to allow me to run it,” she said.

Howerton said her professors at Union gave her direction, but they also set her free to follow creative ideas. She said that has helped her as she continues to develop ideas for Our Jackson Home.

“I don’t feel aimless because I don’t have specific directions,” she said. “I’m comfortable allowing room to explore.”160422_KMW_KatieWorking009160422_KMW_KatieWorking014

Meet Our Alumni – Part 1

Union University is known for shaping the next generation of great leaders. Our alums go on to elite graduate schools, meaningful careers and mission and ministry opportunities around the world. There are scores of Union alums doing amazing things, and here are some we would like you to meet.


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“Union gave me the confidence to apply for opportunities that were outside my comfort zone. I had always been a good student, but Union really helped me thrive as a leader. It’s the combination of a small student body, really supportive professors, spiritual growth and great opportunities within campus — I felt like I could try new things and succeed.” – Claudia Valasco (’13) – Client Solutions Manager, EMC Corp., London  

Learn more about Claudia’s work with EMC Corp here.


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“Union allows you to feel valued. I felt that I truly mattered as a member of this community and, in turn, it gave me a desire to serve that community. Union felt like home.” – James Barbee (’13) – Math Teacher, Lauderdale Middle School, Ripley, Tenn.

Read more about James’ goals as an educator here.


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“Choosing a college is one of the most significant decisions you will make, because the friendships and relationships you form in college are likely going to be some of the most important and lasting relationships you’ll have throughout your life. And I can’t think of a better place than Union University to find and form those kinds of relationships. Not to mention, you’ll receive a top-tier Christian education at one of the finest undergraduate institutions in the country.” – Justin Wainscott (’02) – Pastor, First Baptist Church, Jackson, Tenn.

Learn more about Justin’s journey to becoming a pastor here.

Alumna Works for Food Justice in Jackson

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Cari Griffith, produce manager at Grubb’s Grocery in Jackson, said food justice is something that drives her every day, and it is a passion she discovered while a student at Union.

“My time at Union helped me challenge systems and think about what justice means,” she said. “It made me ask hard questions about food security and what poverty is in America.”

Cari graduated from Union in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. She was heavily involved in starting ComeUnity Café, a café in downtown Jackson that focuses on helping people and fostering community by providing healthy food options and a place to gather.

Cari said the idea of food justice prompted her to work with the café as community garden manager.

“Healthy, sustainably produced food should be available to everyone, not just the rich,” Cari said.

She said she began diving into the idea of food justice during her junior year at Union. She went to the famers market and bought a tomato plant to grow.

“That one tomato plant turned into, hopefully, a lifetime of farming,” Cari said.

When she first started thinking about food justice, Cari said she thought of places like Africa. She did not realize that there were needs far closer to home.

“At first, I only saw this on a global scale. I thought I had to go to Africa to find those needs,” she said. “But in my four years in college, mostly through working with ministries at Union, I saw that there is a great need here in Jackson.”

In her new position at Grubb’s Grocery, Cari said she is learning more about the marketing side of growing food. She said she hopes to continue providing ways for people with lower income to eat healthy, sustainable food.

Story by Nathan Handley, Photos by Kristi Woody

Cari Griffith picking sweet potatoes in the ComeUnity Cafe garden.

Alum Reflects on Student Teacher Placement in Thailand

Naomi in Thailand

Naomi Pietenpol is a 2015 mathematics alum with a teacher licensure, who spent eight weeks in Thailand for her student teaching placement. Naomi worked in the Grace International School there and took some time to share a little about her experience.

I don’t think I’ll ever make it through another day without thinking about my international student teaching experience. The community that I was welcomed into was beautiful, godly, loving, encouraging and challenging.

I worked with students from all over the world, yes, but that’s not what made them so great; they were just great kids who made a point of telling me funny stories and saying ‘hi’ in the halls. Because of the nature of the ex-pat community I was a part of, I would see my students as I biked to the market and ran to grab lunch, and I loved every time I got to see one of them. I got to go to church with them, sit in on their Bible studies and live life with them a bit.

The co-op teacher I worked with had so much experience, and from him I learned how to teach math well — those tips and tricks that make the content more accessible to students, the kind of things you usually only find out five years into it. He and the rest of the staff were patient and encouraging, and I loved being invited into their homes for meals and watching their adorable little kids so they could have a night out, or being taken along on adventures.

Families and friends took me on adventures, and I got to see places that usually reside on postcards and in dreams. I stayed with families that made me feel like family and I learned so much about the world, relationships and the Lord just from their stories. If you’re thinking of going overseas for student teaching, know that it will be a lot of transition and good-byes that are hard, but also know that it will be an amazing experience full of beautiful sights and people.

My motto was “just do it,” and it served me well. Take every opportunity to be among the local people and the people of the school, to see beautiful things, to listen to stories and make new friends; take every chance to serve and to learn, even though you’re supposed to be the one teaching.

Naomi has accepted a position teaching middle school math at Parnassus Preparatory School in Minnesota, which is based on a classical education model.

Rogers inherits her father’s love for Union

Lisa Rogers, portrait inside the Jackson ClinicLisa Rogers didn’t just learn about Union University when she started considering where to attend college. She had known about it all her life.

“My dad attended Union, and he was Union’s biggest fan,” Rogers says.

Rogers, a 1983 Union University graduate and a physician in obstetrics and gynecology with the Jackson Clinic, is the daughter of Melvin Williams, who was a longtime Baptist pastor in western Kentucky and West Tennessee.

“It was his habit to take juniors and seniors from his church to Union and make sure they had seen the campus and encouraged them in attending Union,” Rogers says. “They joked that he was an admissions counselor who was not on the payroll. He strongly believed in Union’s mission.”

Rogers had scholarship offers from other schools but said Union was where she felt she belonged. Participating in the Rising Senior Program as a high school senior solidified her decision to come to Union, and that’s a decision she has never regretted.

“It was a great place to grow, to have exposure to many different facets of life that I really had not seen before, to have professors who invested themselves in me, spent time with me, encouraged me, advised me, helped me to achieve my goals,” Rogers says. “Academically I was very well prepared to achieve my goals.”

Though those goals in high school included becoming a nurse, Rogers changed her mind when a friend encouraged her to become a doctor. She discussed it with her parents and prayed about the decision before determining God was leading her in that direction.

While at Union, she heard speakers such as Paul Brand, a missionary to India who took care of leprosy patients. Brand helped her to view medicine in a different light, and she says exposure to such speakers helped her to mature spiritually and to focus on practicing medicine in a way that showed the love of Christ.

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Lisa Rogers, second from right in the middle row, with fellow Phi Beta Chi members in the 1981 Lest We Forget. Phi Beta Chi was an honors physical science club.

Rogers’ involvement with Union didn’t end with her graduation. She became a trustee in 1999 and a few weeks ago was elected as chairman of Union’s Board of Trustees.

Like her father, she sees Union as a place where young people are taught to live out their faith in Christ in whatever their vocation.

“It’s great to see my alma mater continuing its mission,” she says. “Some other schools have felt they have to compromise their academic standards to keep their commitment to biblical truth, but Union strives for excellence. It’s an honor to be involved.”

Lisa Rogers talking to the pharmacist at the Jackson Clinic

Lisa Rogers in the Jackson Clinic

WBBJ’s Douglass, McAlister tout benefits of Union broadcasting experience.

Unionuniversity_alumni_WBBJ-5Brad Douglass and Keli McAlister attended Union a decade apart. But their Union journey led them to the same place as a couple of the most recognizable faces in West Tennessee.

Brad and Keli each serve as anchors for WBBJ-TV and are seen in thousands of homes every day. Both of them were broadcasting majors, and they attribute their time at Union as being formative in their careers and in their personal growth.

“When you reach that point in your life that you go to college, you really have to make a choice,” Keli says. “Union helped solidify the choices in my life. You can go the wrong direction anytime in your life, but it really showed me how to be in the world and still be a Christian.”

Keli came to Union from Ripley, Mississippi. She had intended to go to Ole Miss, but came with some friends to visit Union. That visit changed everything for her.

“I knew then that’s where I was supposed to be,” she says. “I consider it divine intervention.”

Though she initially planned to major in psychology and then pursue law school, Sigmund Freud proved to be her undoing during her second semester (“This man’s crazy,” Keli thought). She needed to find something else. It was during a fair in the gym where all the departments were exhibiting that she talked to Kina Mallard in the communication arts department about the possibility of broadcast journalism.

“I’d grown up watching the news,” Keli says. “It was just part of our daily life. My dad always stressed knowing what’s going on in the world and understanding politics. It was perfect.”

Brad’s journey was a bit different, in that he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he transferred to Union. Originally from Brownsville, Tennessee, Brad was part of one of the first classes to be a part of Union’s communication arts department that launched in 1984. He worked in radio internships and behind the scenes at a low-powered TV station no longer on the air.

“Union gave me an experience that opened so many doors,” he says.

While Brad says his father (a pastor and also a Union alumnus) may have entertained thoughts about him going into the ministry, broadcasting was always Brad’s passion. And, he says, his work is a ministry as well.

“We get to help people,” Brad says. “When we get done at the end of the day and we close up shop and go home, we hope that we’ve helped somebody today.”

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Mandy White: ‘When I walked onto campus, I felt at home’

Mandy White headshotMandy White had recently graduated from Union in 1998 and was looking for work. She was babysitting for a sorority sister, who informed her about a temp job at the Jackson Chamber of Commerce.

“Might as well,” White thought to herself. “I need a job.”

Sixteen and a half years later, White is still with the organization. Her temp job became a permanent administrative assistant job. From there she moved through the ranks as a coordinator, manager and vice president before becoming the Chamber’s senior vice president of economic development.

“I don’t think there’s a better place to become assimilated into a community than the Chamber of Commerce,” White says. “My role is to sell Jackson and Madison County to industrial companies looking at either locating a new operation somewhere or expanding.”

A native of Ashland City, Tennessee, economic development wasn’t in her plans when she came to Union. She majored in psychology, graduating in 1998.

“Union was the only college to which I applied,” White says. “I knew when I walked onto campus, I felt at home.”

White says Union provided her a tremendous amount of leadership opportunities through the Greek system and other student organizations. Since she didn’t know anyone when she began as a student, White had to learn how to network.

“Through those leadership roles, through the activities on campus, that helped prepare me for what I do every day now,” she says. “I talk with people every day that I don’t know.”

White originally planned to work for a social service nonprofit, because she enjoys helping people and giving back to the community. While that wasn’t where her path led, she still finds her work in economic development rewarding.

“When I drive by a plant and see a car sitting out there, and I know I might have had a little to do with creating that job and that disposable income for that family, that’s just as fulfilling as what I thought I might have ended up doing,” she says.

Mandy chats with a colleague at the Chamber Mandy works at her desk at the Chamber

From Differential Equations to Bank President, Grisham Values his Union Education

gary grisham headshotGary Grisham looks back on his time at Union with a sense of accomplishment – especially in one particular area.

“My highest academic achievement was passing Richard Dehn’s differential equations class,” Grisham says.

Nearly 40 years later, Dehn is still teaching math at Union, and the skills he taught to Grisham have paid off. Grisham is now the chairman and CEO of The Bank of Jackson and a strong supporter of Union University.

“I’ve always thought of my diploma as a stock certificate – that I actually own a piece of the campus,” Grisham says. “I think I’ve truly gotten a great return, if you look at in the financial sense. I do believe my degree is worth more today than it was even when I finished.”

A native of Memphis, Grisham transferred to Union after two years at a community college. He played baseball his junior year and basketball both his junior year and senior year. Baseball proved to be a bit of a stumbling block to him, because he failed Dehn’s class as a junior – which Grisham attributes to several missed classes because of baseball games.

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Grisham pictured here with his basketball teammates. He is on the bottom row, third from the right.

His senior year, he didn’t play baseball specifically so he could focus on that pesky differential equations class. He made a B.

Grisham graduated in 1975, a member of the last graduating class on the old Union campus. He met his wife Susan while he was a Union student, and their daughter Mallory followed in their footsteps, graduating in 2009 with a nursing degree.

Through the years, Grisham’s love for Union has continued to grow.

“Union has always been a highly respected, highly regarded institution of higher learning,” he says. “Today, its light shines brighter than ever.”

 

Grisham's basketball photo and a photo of him escorting his wife at homecoming

Grisham escorting Susan Pittman, whom he would later marry, at a homecoming game | Grisham’s basketball portrait.

Grisham in his office

Grisham in his office

Grisham chatting with bank employees