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  • Holding their own Main
  • Holding their own Wofford Women

Holding their own

An update from some of the women who were on campus when Wofford first admitted women as resident students

Where are they now?

Whether holding their own in class or competing for playing time in Andrews Field House, Wofford’s first resident women students more than proved their place on campus. For a short period of time, their admission standards were higher than those of their male counterparts because the trustees wanted female enrollment to grow gradually. By the fall of 1978, 79 women and 221 men made up the entering class. The women of the time proved their competency, tenacity and resilience and paved the way for future women. Today the Wofford student body is split evenly between women and men.

The women of the time were pioneers, and the determination that they demonstrated on campus didn’t stop upon graduation. Here’s what some of those first residential-era women are doing more than 30 years later and what they remember most about Wofford.

Holding their own Employees
Beth Dashiell Wallace ’82, Shelley Henry Sperka ’75, Roberta Hurley Bigger ’81 and Dr. Carol Brasington Wilson ’81
 [pictured left to right] are all members of the faculty or staff at Wofford. They experienced Wofford during the beginning of full, residential co-education and serve as role models and mentors for current Wofford women. A registered nurse, Wallace is the associate vice president for student affairs and the director of the Wellness Center. Sperka is the director of technical services in the Sandor Teszler Library. (Her sister Kim Henry ’86 is also on campus as the Macintosh support specialist and multimedia instructor for the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures.) Bigger serves the college as dean of students, and Wilson serves as the coordinator of academic advising and professor of English.

Holding their own Barbar
Since 2000, Sally Nan Barber ’78 has worked with the University of Virginia Health System as the special adviser to the executive vice president for health affairs and the director of government relations. Before that she practiced law in Charlotte, N.C., for 18 years with Parker Poe. She lives in Charlottesville, Va., and loves her job, especially her colleagues and the interesting and complex issues she handles every day. After being a day student for two years, Barber was a junior when the first women were admitted on campus as resident students. “I recall there were around 40 of us female residents on the top floor of Wightman Hall. A sophomore had transferred from another school [Duke], and she commented on how FEW women there were living on campus, whereas the rest of us thought there were A LOT from our prior experience.” Barber fondly remembers “wonderful, bright, talented professors, including Lewis P. Jones, Phil Racine, Ross Bayard and Linton Dunson… they inspired me to do my best. Learning how to think, write and do research in college was a useful tool in law school and in my career.”

Dr. Jacquelyn Holmes Burns ’81 is a small animal veterinarian and owner of Holmes Veterinary Hospital in Laurens, S.C. She is a deer and wild turkey hunter and has traveled throughout the United States and Mexico hunting turkey. In 2001 she was the seventh woman in the world to complete what is called a Wild Turkey World Slam, which means she’s killed one of every subspecies of wild turkey. She also “practices” herpetology, thanks in part to her friendship with Dr. C. L. “Ab” Abercrombie. She is currently doing work with a group of scientists studying rare reptile and amphibian species in the Francis Marion National Forest. As part of the study, she surgically implanted the first radio transponder in an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake (with the help of Abercrombie and Dr. Chuck Smith, Wofford associate professor of biology). Also working on the project are Jeff Holmes (Burns’ brother), Dr. Chris Hope (Abercrombie’s wife) and Alex Bentley ’17, among others. “This species is like the holy grail of North American pit vipers, representing something that both of my brothers and I have worked toward since childhood.” The group now has three snakes either implanted with transponders or wearing rattle-tie-ons. “I have so many memories of Wofford... I felt like one of the guys; I actually had to go to vet school, which even then was 50 percent female, to feel like one of the girls.” Burns fondly remembers Dr. John Pilley and has enjoyed seeing Pilley’s work with Chaser make international headlines. She also says she can’t talk about Wofford without mentioning Dr. Donald Dobbs. “If I think about it, I can actually feel the way it was to sit in his second-floor Milliken Science Hall lab with the windows open and smell the dogfish sharks or the cats in formalin. It would be September. He would have come in while we ate and socialized and dawdled, and he would have drawn exquisite anatomical drawings in colored chalk on the blackboard. We would be sitting there, madly copying his drawing, and he would appear in the door wearing a white lab coat and chewing a cigar. He had amazing posture and a zip in his stride, like he was full of piss and vinegar…. I came to his memorial service… sat in the back and wept through the entire service.”

Dr. JoAnn Deakin Carpenter ’77 is a professor of history at Florida State College at Jacksonville. She’s taught history and women’s studies there for 27 years. Carpenter has a son, Michael, who currently attends the University of Florida School of Medicine. “One of my clearest memories is the scarcity of female spaces on campus when we arrived. The few women’s restrooms on campus became our havens. Nowhere was more 1970s female consciousness raised than in the women’s lounges located in the Sandor Teszler Library and Old Main.” Carpenter also remembers gathering a group of women to talk with Dick Scutter in the college bookstore. “We provided him with a list of female consumer products we would like to see stocked in the bookstore for our convenience. Not only did Mr. Scutter quickly agree to our request, but when the new items arrived, he also had ordered suede, fringed shoulder bags (so ’70s!) with a Wofford logo for our perusal. I’m not sure how many were sold, but we were touched by the thought!” Still, she says the best memories she has of Wofford are of friends, professors and administrators, “who navigated those challenging times of change with all the grace, courtesy and deference one could ever expect.”

Becky Cubbage Dukes ’81 is the literacy coach for Allendale-Fairfax High School and the district test coordinator for Allendale (S.C.) County Schools. She and her husband, Charles, have two children, Adam (19) and Aaron (12). “My favorite memories from my years at Wofford College all center around the many sports events that I attended as a cheerleader. We spent many hours together practicing, traveling to games and representing Wofford at college events.” Several years ago she helped organize a Facebook group of those first cheerleaders as well as suitemates and roommates. They take a summer trip every two years and gather for Homecoming. “We remember special memories from our years at Wofford and make new memories together.”

Holding-their-own-collage 
 
Margaret Vevon Edgerton ’80 and her husband opened a nursery/garden center in Rutherfordton, N.C., right after graduation. They also started Rutherford Towne Builders/Developers. Edgerton went on to earn her real estate license and become a registered nurse. She currently works for Rutherford Regional Health System and sells real estate for Coldwell Banker Quarters in Lake Lure. She raised four successful children and loves to sail and coach recreational league soccer. “One of my Wofford College memories was dropping water balloons off the fifth floor of Wightman Hall when the other students were heading to the cafeteria. We never hit anyone, just splashed their feet. Another memory was going camping in the Keys for Interim and having a 75-mile-per-hour storm blow away our entire tent village. There was only one hotel room left in the entire area, so all 25 of us stayed in one room that night.”

Lynn Smith Fox ’77
retired a few years ago after a long career with the Federal Reserve and now enjoys service on nonprofit boards. She’s also the wife of a college president (St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.) and helps teach a course focused on the Fed. Fox attended Wofford for a few years but transferred to Smith College and graduated from there. She went to work on Capitol Hill right after graduation. “My daughter was raised in D.C. and remembers the frantic years when I was Chairman Greenspan’s chief spokesperson and ran the public affairs program. When my husband became a college president I took on a different role, working on a range of projects related to Sept. 11 and, later, the global financial crisis.” Fox says being one of the first women on campus during the time was hard, interesting and wonderful. She competed for the first Anna Todd Wofford scholarships and was so impressed with Anna’s triple name that she adopted “Lynn Smith Fox” professionally. “I loved the Wofford faculty and President Joe Lesesne (he got dorms for women!)… I became intellectually ambitious as a result of being around smart students and teachers. I spent Interim in London… even took my first plane flight to get there…. It was an incredible, formative experience and partly the cause of my lifelong commitment to liberal arts colleges. There’s no better education, and Wofford gets it right.”

Lynn Hawkins ’77 says she learned to stand up for herself at Wofford. “I learned to say what I thought, even if it wasn’t the most popular viewpoint. I learned that my viewpoint was often different, but no less important. Wofford made a woman out of a girl. That woman grew up to be me, and I am still standing up and speaking out for others.” After graduation, Hawkins worked in child protective services investigating child abuse and neglect. She says she saw things that still haunt her today. She is now the executive director of Safe Homes-Rape Crisis Coalition in Spartanburg. For 26 years, she has been a voice for women who are too afraid to speak.

Dr. Cynthia Moore Heldrich ’79 knew she was going to Wofford when she was 5 years old. “We rode by the college all the time, and my dad told me I couldn’t go there because it was for boys only. At 5, I really did not understand that; and fortunately, did not pay much attention to what my dad said. As time passed and I knew I wanted to go to med school, Wofford fit right into my plan. I met Dr. Dobbs, the most wonderful, supportive professor I have ever known (excluding my husband, who teaches organic chemistry at College of Charleston), and with hard work and determination, I got to do what I wanted to do and have no regrets about it.” The Heldrichs live in West Ashley, S.C., and have one son. Heldrich owns a pediatric practice that is part of Roper St. Francis Healthcare.

Holding their own Fant
Norma Lynn Fant Higgins ’81
was recently on campus celebrating the Commencement of her son, Fess Higgins, Class of 2015. After graduation from Wofford, she earned a master’s degree in social work. She has worked in Washington, D.C., for Kaiser Permanente and the Psychiatric Institute of America, gaining experience in working with young women with eating disorders. When she moved back to Charleston, S.C., she opened a private practice. Currently she works for the Medical University of South Carolina with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Environmental Control to expand testing for HIV in hospital emergency rooms and for the Ryan White Program in the Department of Infectious Diseases. She continues to work in private practice seeing college and high school students with eating disorders as well as adults with mental health concerns. Higgins says her favorite memories of Wofford involve a whipped cream fight with her roommate and her work as the student assistant for Dr. Lewis P. Jones ’38. “He told me to answer the phone in his office. When he left, and the phone started ringing, it was not in its usual place in the bottom of the file cabinet, but outside on the window ledge in the snow!”

Holding their own Ross
Dr. Debora Johnson-Ross ’81
is an associate professor of political science and international studies at McDaniel College. She’s currently on leave from McDaniel and working as the senior vice president of academic innovation for BridgeEdU in Baltimore, Md. Johnson-Ross conducted her doctoral research in Cameroon and was a Fulbright Fellow to Cameroon during 2006-07. She’s taken groups of students there as well as to Zimbabwe and also has traveled, lectured and studied in other places in Africa. Johnson-Ross was in the second group of women residents at Wofford and was often the only black student in a class. “To be quite honest, I was very bitter about many of my experiences at Wofford… in retrospect, I gained a great deal from Wofford. I have treasured friendships and a network of alumni that can be accessed successfully (which I did even when I lived in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and spotted a Wofford bumper sticker). I also learned many of the strategies and tools that remain useful today, like mediation, listening to others’ perspectives and accepting the challenge of educating others about cultures and worldviews different from their own. I gained a world-class education at Wofford, and for that, I am grateful.”

Living in Timonium, Md., Pam Mason ’77 directs the Medical Education Grants Office at AstraZeneca in Wilmington, Del. Her department is responsible for evaluating and funding grant applications for educational activities for health care professionals. “I believe in being an active participant, not a bystander, and giving back to the community both professionally and personally. Actions always speak louder than words. It’s all about how you treat people, doing what you say and working toward positive change.” She is a fellow of the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions, past leader of the industry member section and currently is serving on committees for advocacy and membership. She’s been recognized over the years for contributions to the field and this year became an emeritus board member for the Allergy & Asthma Network, having served 17 years on its board of directors, including a term as chair. She also was a member of the National Task Force on CME Provider/Industry Collaboration from 1998 to 2012. After graduation from Wofford, Mason worked in pulmonary and allergy research labs at Johns Hopkins while in graduate school. From there she built a career in medical affairs and education and has become an expert in the field, directing and speaking at national conferences. She and her husband, Scot Swanson, recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. They have three sons and four grandchildren. “My years at Wofford helped shape who I am today. I learned a lot about myself—how to communicate, how to interact with others who may have very different opinions and how to focus on positive change. I felt challenged, both positively and negatively. It was difficult for me to understand why anyone would object to having women as students at Wofford. The other women and I started a group called the Association for Wofford Women to promote the interests of female students and address the issues that affected their lives on campus.” She still feels the influence of Dr. James Seegars, Dr. Don Scott, Dr. John Pilley, Dr. Scot Morrow and Constance Armitage Antonsen. “And then there was Dr. John Harrington who was different than anyone I had ever met before. Despite not doing very well in his classes my first year, Dr. Harrington became my mentor and friend for the next three years. Two things he said to me that I have never forgotten and have guided me through life and as I have mentored others: The first was at graduation when he apologized to me for not recognizing my abilities as a freshman. The second was a few years later when I stopped by to say hello and share what I was doing. He looked at me and said, ‘Pam, cream always rises to the top. I am very proud of you.’ He was the ultimate mentor. Wofford, the professors and my fellow students helped me find my voice and my confidence. That has served me well in life.”

Dr. Rita Meeks ’78
, a transfer from Iowa State, remembers playing the mother in the Wofford Theatre Workshop’s production of “Threepenny Opera” and getting straight A’s in calculus (she missed only one question all year). She retired as an obstetrician/gynecologist in 2003, and now she spends her time with her family, playing golf, writing songs and playing the flute. Meeks has a new album: “The New Creed by Ria” (thenewcreedbyria.com).

After graduating from Wofford, JoAnn Miller ’78 moved to Richmond, Va., and joined the investment brokerage firm of Wheat, First Securities, where she remained for 10 years before moving back to Spartanburg. After 30 years in the Investment industry, she retired as an investment adviser from Wachovia Securities. “In 1975 I was attending a small college in North Carolina. During a visit home to see my family, I stopped at Wofford just to get some information. It was my great, good fortune to meet Charlie Gray ’72 on that fateful day. He invited me in, asked me questions and just talked to me. I didn't think too much about it. A few weeks later I received a letter from Wofford offering me a full academic scholarship to come join the first co-ed group in the fall of 1975. Brilliant professors, friends, adventures and Wofford staff changed my life forever, and I am eternally grateful."

Cheryl Martin Shell ’77, an assistant principal at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, Va., is planning for retirement in 2017. She’s lived all over the country with her husband, who is in the military, and their son, Robert Jr. Shell remembers Wofford being “very academically challenging, but it was small enough for students to personally meet with their professors and to form lasting relationships with peers and support staff.”

Dr. Alice Buddin Teague ’81 practiced as a partner with Charlotte Obstetrics and Gynecology before teaching medical assistant students at King’s College. She enjoys combining her background in medicine with her love of teaching. Teague also stays busy with three children: Matt (21), Chris (19) and Laura (17). Her favorite memories of Wofford involve performing with the Wofford Singers in a vocal ensemble that toured the Southeastern states and Mexico with the Wofford Glee Club under the direction of Dr. Vic Bilanchone. “The music program united students from all aspects of campus who shared a love of singing and performing, and I made many lifelong friends with whom I still keep in touch!”

Judith Klasen Tolbert ’77 was not a traditional student when she attended Wofford. She already had bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Converse and was a piano and organ teacher and organist at St. John’s Lutheran Church. She was teaching music at Presbyterian College and working as a church musician when she married Tom Tolbert ’67. They have one daughter. Tolbert eventually became a CPA but continued to serve as a church musician. Tolbert says she will never forget her first biology lab at Wofford, something that taught her to have confidence and ask for help. Tolbert’s family donated the works of South Carolina artist Julia Elizabeth Tolbert to Wofford, and they contributed funds for the renovation of the Montgomery Music Building (a practice room is named in their honor). “My experiences at and related to Wofford have vastly affected my life in ways I could never have imagined.”

Suzanne Gray Wilkie ’81 loves living on the water in Beaufort, S.C., with her husband, Billy, who is a local artist. She is a partner and controller of Gray RE Holdings and Venture Inc. Wilkie says that when she’s not working, she’s usually on the tennis courts. She has a son, Chandler, who lives in Asheville, N.C. “I have many fond memories from Wofford, but most involve watching the Terrier soccer teams throughout my four years. I had friends who went to larger schools, but they always wanted to visit Wofford because we had SO many friends. That speaks volumes.”

Holding their own Yette
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Joyce Payne Yette ’80 is the general counsel at Promontory Financial Group in Washington, D.C. She has served on the Wofford College Board of Trustees and is currently on the steering committee of the college’s Black Alumni Summit. “Some of my best memories at Wofford are from my work study job in the Admission Office. Charlie Gray ’72 was the director of admission at the time. I was inspired by the dedicated staff and learned so much about Wofford that I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I became one of the first students who visiting applicants and their parents met upon arriving at campus. It was important to me to be able to represent an academically successful and community service-oriented student body.” Yette has two daughters.

We received the following updates after the print version of Wofford Today had gone to press, but wanted to share them with you here:

Dawn Wagner Brinson ’81 is the vice president of strategic marketing for The Media Matters, Inc., a marketing, brand development, and public relations firm located in the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina. “My role is to help our clients define their strategic vision, create pathways to achieve their goals, improve their visibility, and build and maintain a strong reputation. Clearly, that's different from what I thought I would do when I was at Wofford, but it has turned out to be an interesting, rewarding and always-evolving career for me.” She moved to North Carolina after graduating from Wofford with every intention of continuing her biology studies. She took a temporary marketing position at a college and one thing led to another. “While I have some of the most wonderful memories of my years at Wofford—seriously, ask anyone, I could talk for hours about it—I think the thing I carry with me every day is the confidence that the critical thinking skills my Wofford education provided will allow me to tackle virtually any problem. I guess that's why, even though I did not follow the biological sciences path I thought I would, I found great success and satisfaction in the world. There's always something new to learn, some fresh angle to explore, and I credit my time at Wofford for giving me the tools to tackle work and life with curiosity and gusto.”

Garrow Hudson Crowley ’79 came to Wofford from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, after she married Chris Crowley ’79. They have three adult children. “My education at Wofford has served me well, and I am grateful that I could attend the same college as my grandfather, J. T. Hudson. Crowley is a travel agent with Gateway Tours. She majored in economics at Wofford and says she enjoyed being one of very few females in the class.

Elisa Reyes Russell ’81 is a nurse at Houston Physician’s Hospital. She is a widow with a 12-year-old son, Will. “All my time at Wofford was awesome, and I have nothing but great memories.”

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Want to add your story? Email Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington at brasingtonjm@wofford.edu.

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89