SPARTANBURG, S.C. – J. Harold Chandler, a 1971 Wofford College graduate and chairman, president and CEO of Spartanburg-based Milliken & Co., delivered the college’s Commencement address today (Sunday, May 21, 2017) in Benjamin Johnson Arena. He and two others received honorary degrees and degrees were conferred to 365 graduates, who received a total of 385 degrees. Two teaching awards and other honors also were presented.
In addition to Chandler, honorary degrees were presented to South Carolina poet Nikky Finney and Spartanburg philanthropist Susan Phifer (Susu) Johnson.
The Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science was presented to Dr. Kara L. Bopp, associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychology, and the Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences went to Dr. Tracy J. Revels, professor of history.
The college also presented the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to graduating senior Robert Christopher Chase, a biology major, with a minor in business, from Charlotte, N.C., and Edward Thomas Russell, co-founder of Children’s Security Blanket, a Spartanburg nonprofit organization that provides assistance to families whose children are battling cancer.
The student recipient of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award was senior Jessica Nena Meggs, a government and religion major from Greenville, S.C. The non-student recipient was Linda Powers Bilanchone, who also was recognized as a retiring instructor in communications studies at Wofford.
Geophrey Owen Darrow of Charlotte, N.C., was recognized as the honor graduate, receiving a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout his college career. He received a degree in English with a minor in government. He graduated summa cum laude.
BIOGRAPHIES OF HONORARY DEGREE AND AWARD RECIPIENTS
J. Harold Chandler
Chandler, a 1971 Wofford College graduate, is chairman, president and CEO of Spartanburg-based Milliken & Co. He was the featured speaker at the college’s 2017 Commencement Exercises.
Chandler served on the Wofford board from 1988 to 2000 and then again since 2004. He was vice chair from 2009 to 2011 and served as chair until his retirement from the board last year. The boardroom in the DuPre Administration Building was named for him at the time his term expired in June 2016.
A graduate of Belton-Honea Path High School in Belton, S.C., Chandler was an outstanding student-athlete at Wofford, leading the Terrier football team as quarterback for two seasons and to the NAIA National Championship game in 1970. He graduated summa cum laude in 1971 with a degree in economics. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa while at Wofford.
Chandler earned his MBA from the University of South Carolina and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s advanced management program. He has served in major management positions or as chief executive officer with regional and national banking, insurance and benefits administration organizations as well as leading numerous corporate boards of directors.
He was selected as Wofford’s Young Alumnus of the Year in 1983 and has led the Terrier Club and endowed athletics scholarship efforts for many years, helping to achieve more than $40 million in endowed athletics funds. He and his wife have generously supported numerous Wofford scholarship, renovation and building projects over more than 45 years of involvement with the college.
During his tenure on the board, Chandler oversaw significant reform of the college’s governance structure and served as an example and mentor to presidents emeriti Joab M. (Joe) Lesesne and Benjamin (Bernie) Dunlap, as well as overseeing the hiring and first three years of Samhat’s administration.
Finney was born by the sea in South Carolina and raised during the Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Arts Movements. She began reading and writing poetry as a teenager growing up in the spectacle and human theater of the Deep South. At Talladega College she began to autodidactically explore the great intersections between art, history, politics and culture. These same arenas of exploration are ongoing today in her writing, teaching and spirited belief in one-on-one activism. She is the author of four books of poetry, “On Wings Made of Gauze,” “RICE,” “The World is Round” and “Head Off & Split,” which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011. She has written extensively for journals, magazines and other publications. For 21 years she taught creative writing at the University of Kentucky and now holds the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. She travels extensively, never lecturing, always inviting and hoping for conversations that just might improve the human condition.
Susan Phifer (Susu) Johnson
A life trustee at Converse College, Johnson is a former member of Spartanburg City Council and has served on the boards of Brookgreen Gardens and Spoleto Festival USA. She is an active community advocate currently serving on the leadership board of Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM). Most recently, she spearheaded the establishment of Meeting Street Academy-Spartanburg, an innovative school that aims to empower “young people from under-resourced neighborhoods to become confident, productive and principled members of society through excellence in academics.” She is the first woman to chair the board of the United Way of the Piedmont and the first woman to run a campaign for the organization. Johnson and her husband, George Dean Johnson, and their family began the Johnson Collection, which offers an extensive survey of artistic activity in the American South from the late 18th century to the present day. Masterworks from its holdings are made available for critical exhibitions and academic research, in the hopes of advancing interest in the dynamic role that the art of the South plays in the larger context of American art and to contribute to the canon of art historical literature. Works from the Johnson Collection will be among the first to be exhibited in Wofford’s new Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts.
Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award
Robert Christopher Chase
Chase is a graduating senior majoring in biology with a minor in business. He is from Charlotte, N.C. He recently received the George Carlisle Award, the departmental award in music. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa this year. He has been a member of Campus Union, RUF, the Wofford Activities Council and the Senior Order of Gnomes. He also has served as a mentor and a resident assistant. Following graduate, he will attend medical school.
Russell is a co-founder and program assistant of Children’s Security Blanket. A native of Aiken, S.C., he grew up in Spartanburg. Before founding Children’s Security Blanket in 2001, he served as South Carolina Governor for the Optimist Club and remains active in Spartanburg’s Breakfast Optimist Club. A member of Trinity United Methodist Church, Russell is a native of Aiken and attended Spartanburg High School, The Citadel and Erskine College. He served as a Scout master for 10 years and has coached Little League Baseball, church basketball and an all-girls soccer team. He and his wife, Lucy, live in Spartanburg and have two sons and three grandchildren.
Mary Mildred Sullivan Award
Jessica Nena Meggs
Meggs is a graduating senior majoring in government and religion from Greenville, S.C. She recently received the departmental award in religion. She recently was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. She has served on the Honor Council and the Orientation Staff and is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha. After graduation, Meggs will serve as the youth coordinator for her home church in Greenville.
Linda Powers Bilanchone
Powers Bilanchone has been an instructor of communications studies at Wofford College since 1978. She has served on numerous committees, maintained her membership in professional organizations and made many professional presentations in civil discourse. She is co-chair of the Natural Environment Coalition of the Spartanburg Community Indicators Project (2015-present) and a member of the Board of Trustees of Central United Methodist Church (2017). She was a member and vice chair of the Spartanburg Public Works Commission (1991-2015), a member of the Spartanburg City Council (1988-1991) and president (1983-1985) and vice president (1991-1992) of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. Powers Bilanchone has been a member of and in leadership positions of a variety of other organizations, including South Carolina Advocates for Women on Boards and Commissions, the Business and Professional Women of South Carolina, the Spartanburg County Literacy Agency, the Hampton Heights Neighborhood Association, the Preservation Trust of Spartanburg, the Education Action Committee, STOP Drugs Now, the Fairness in Jobs Taskforce, the Healthy Spartanburg! Literacy Taskforce, the Spartanburg Human Relations Committee, Spartanburg Reads!, the Girl Scouts of the Piedmont Area Council, the Community Health Assessment Team, the Southside Neighborhood Actions Partnership, Altrusa International and the Southside Economic Development Committee. She also served as a juvenile arbitrator for the Seventh Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office.
Wofford College is one of 61 colleges and universities, most of them in the South, authorized to present the Algernon Sydney Sullivan and Mary Mildred Sullivan Awards. The recipients, a graduating senior and a non-student of each gender, are named and the awards presented annually during spring Commencement ceremonies.
Algernon Sydney Sullivan, born in Indiana in 1826, rose to success in New York City as a respected lawyer and a man who “reached out both hands in constant helpfulness” to others. The award bearing his name was established in 1925 by a Sullivan Memorial Committee and the New York Southern Society, which Sullivan had served as its first president. The award seeks to perpetuate the excellence of character and humanitarian service of Sullivan by recognizing and honoring such qualities in others.
The Mary Mildred Sullivan Award was created in 1940 by the New York chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor those who demonstrate the “spirit of helpfulness and an awareness of the beauty and value of the intangible elements of life.”
Teaching Award Winners
Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science
Dr. Kara L. Bopp
Bopp is a graduate of Hamilton College, received her master’s degree from New York University’s Cognition-Perception program and her Ph.D. in experimental psychology at Syracuse University. She was awarded the Outstanding Teacher Award, a certificate in University Teaching and honors for her dissertation that examined age-related differences in working memory. Bopp recently received a $12,000 grant from the Council of Independent Colleges and AARP to fund 10 student fellows from August 2017 through May 2018 to organize and lead a series of workshops that will allow Wofford students and low-income older adults to interact. Bopp’s Lifespan Cognition Lab at Wofford.
The Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science, funded by a $1 million endowment, provides a $50,000 prize – an annual award of $5,000 for up to 10 years – for use in pursuing professional development. The recipient must remain on the Wofford faculty to continue receiving the annual disbursement. This was the 13th annual awarding of the honor.
The award recognizes outstanding performance in the teaching of science. Full-time faculty in all science disciplines – biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics, physics and psychology – are eligible. The recipient is selected by a three-person, off-campus committee composed of business and professional leaders in science from a list of nominees developed and approved by the college provost.
The late Roger Milliken, chairman and CEO of Milliken & Co., based in Spartanburg, S.C., was the longest-serving member of the board of trustees of Wofford and was the first person to have been named trustee emeritus. He died Dec. 30, 2010.
Science is a part of every student’s program at Wofford, and about 30 percent of the degrees awarded are to students majoring in one of the sciences. Wofford’s science programs and professors have been recognized nationally and internationally for innovation and excellence. The college has a well-respected pre-medical program, and many of Wofford’s graduates enter health care fields. More than 1,200 of the college’s more than 12,000 living alumni are involved in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and other health care fields. Professors and students are involved in research both at Wofford and other institutions and have made national and international presentations.
Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences
Dr. Tracy J. Revels
Revels, a professor of history, has been at Wofford since 1991. She served as chair of the Department of History from 2008 to 2010. She is a graduate of North Florida Junior College and Florida State University, where she also received her master of arts degree and her Ph.D. Her areas of specialization include Southern history, 19th century American history and women’s history. She also is a Sherlock Holmes expert. She was the 2007-2008 Wofford Faculty Member of the Year and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in 1985. She received a Wofford Summer Research Grant in 2009 for her work in the history of Florida tourism and in 1995 for research on Florida’s women during the Civil War. She has published a number of books and papers, including her 2004 book “Grander in Her Daughters: Florida’s Women During the Civil War.”
The Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences is named in honor of Philip Stanhope Sheffield Covington, a beloved academic dean of Wofford College who served from 1953 to 1969. A graduate of Emory University, he joined the Wofford faculty in 1947 after earning a master’s degree at Duke University and teaching in public schools in Charleston, S.C. He was dean of students from 1950 to 1953 and served as acting president in 1957-58. In 1970 ill health forced him to give up his administrative duties, but he remained active as a professor of English until his retirement from the college in 1976. Wofford honored him with a doctor of literature degree in 1959 and with the title of dean emeritus. Covington was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Blue Key National Honor Society, Sigma Chi and Sigma Delta Psi.
The Covington Award winner, selected by the president and academic dean of the college, receives $5,000 per year for three years; one recipient will be named each year. The money may be used at the recipient’s discretion for travel, study or other professional development.
Retiring faculty members
The following faculty members, who are retiring at the end of this academic year, were recognized at Commencement:
Linda Powers Bilanchone, instructor, communications studies
Dr. Ted R. Monroe, professor of mathematics
Joseph D. Sloan, professor of computer science
All have been granted professor emeritus/emerita status by the Wofford Board of Trustees.