Now that Chris Brennaman (’02) has turned his passion for writing into a career, he is giving much of the credit to his collegiate experiences at Georgia Southern University.
“I’m doing something really cool that’s reaching a lot of people and I got the tools to make that happen from Georgia Southern,” he says.
The broadcasting major has found his niche writing children’s stories for interactive storybooks, animation and video games for alive Studios, an educational design company in suburban Atlanta, Ga.
“I’m involved from start to finish with the creation of a program called “Storybooks alive: Ima Iguana, Treasure Hunter,” Brennaman says. “I write the story, the script for the animation and the dialogue for the video games. I also voice most of the characters that appear in the story.”
The downloaded digital book serves multiple purposes. Kids can read it, watch the animated scene that appears at the end of each page and even play a mini-game that enhances the action in the story. Brennaman explains the app that comes with the digital storybook is what makes his job at alive Studios so unique. “So far no one has taken the storybook and made it interactive to the extent we have,” he says. “With our app, you get a storybook that morphs into a cartoon, that then morphs into a game and then back to a storybook.”
Brennaman was heavily involved with student media when he attended the University, and says everything he learned here has shaped his entire life and not just his professional one. “I was given such a firm, powerful foundation that I guarantee will take me through my entire life. The professors and faculty at Georgia Southern literally changed my life the moment I stepped onto campus.”
It might be hard to find someone with more True Blue spirit than Paula Tompkins, one of the guiding forces behind the organization that sponsors the “Aging Eagles” and the “Aging Eagles Club.” The club started as just a small group of friends and enthusiastic Georgia Southern University football fans. Later, they decided to support the Southern Pride Marching Band. Now with nearly 150 members, the “Aging Eagles Club” is a tax-deductible non-profit organization with a foundation account set up for the University athletic bands.
When band director Dr. Colin McKenzie took over Southern Pride last year, Tompkins said she began sharing some of her ideas with him. “Through my membership on the Music Advisory Board at the University, I heard that the band was requesting donations of food before each home game, so I volunteered to help. I went to several local restaurants, explained the need and was thrilled to get a ‘yes’ to feeding 250 hot and hungry kids on game day,” Tompkins explained. “As a thank you from the band, Colin let me conduct the band during the fight song at a home game. What a thrill! The band members were wonderful! They were so polite and appreciative of everything.”
Some of the “Aging Eagles Club” members are Georgia Southern graduates, but Tompkins, who majored in oboe at Ohio State University, said most are not. “Our connection with the University goes back to 1980 when our oldest son was a freshman here,” she said. “We feel strongly that the athletic programs at Georgia Southern benefit from having a strong band presence. We respect and admire the hard work and long, hot hours the band members put in and we want to show them that we’re here to support them.”
This is a whirlwind time for Georgia Southern University alumna Hollie Bonewit-Cron (’02) who is attending the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England as the head coach of the Grenadian Swim Team. She is also the head coach for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and one of her swimmers, Esau Simpson, is competing for his home country of Grenada at the Summer Olympics.
“Esau came to me to ask me that if he were to make the team, if I wanted to be his coach,” she says. “I told him I would love the opportunity to coach him and I applied to the Grenadian Olympic Committee to allow me to be his coach. The committee accepted my proposal and through a series of checks and balances to make sure I would get accredited, I became the head swim coach for Grenada.”
Georgia Southern has played a big part in this momentous occasion for the veteran swimming coach. She started her collegiate coaching career at the University in 2000 as the assistant swim coach for the women’s team. Two years later Bonewit-Cron graduated from Georgia Southern with a master’s in kinesiology with an emphasis in sport psychology, and says she remains connected to the University through her connections with her graduate school classmates. “I still keep in touch with many of them, including two who were in my wedding five years ago,” she adds.
Bonewit-Cron says the experience as a head coach at the Olympics is one of the highest levels a coach could achieve. ”It takes a lot of hard work to get to this point, but it is an experience and opportunity like nothing else. It is hard to top the opportunity to be a head coach at the Olympics. The only other Olympic achievement that could be higher as a U.S. coach is to be on a U.S. Olympic Team.”
The swimming and diving coach has this advice for all True Blue fans: “When you have opportunities, do not hesitate to take them even if they appear to be quick decisions. Had I not made some quick decisions and well as some long thought over decisions in my career as an athlete and a coach, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would also recommend staying true to yourself and never be misguided by naysayers or discouraged by disappointments.”
(Simpson won the second heat in the men’s 100-meter freestyle time trials, but did not advance to further rounds.)
Skyler Andre Henry (’11) went from being one of the busiest students on the Georgia Southern University campus to an internship with Clear Channel Media, the biggest radio company in the country. He graduated in December 2011 and in January Henry was in Los Angeles, Calif. for a four-month internship at KIIS-FM where popular “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest broadcasts his syndicated radio show.
The multimedia communications major says a return visit by Seacrest to the high school they both graduated from — Dunwoody High near Atlanta, Ga. — helped seal his interest in broadcasting. “He talked to a few students right at the beginning of his career when I was going to ninth grade and ever since then I’ve been in love with broadcasting,” Henry said.
At KIIS-FM the Georgia Southern alumnus helped write blogs and edited audio for programs by popular disc jockey Rick Dees. Henry added, “It’s definitely surreal being able to work with icons of the business smack dab in the middle of Hollywood.”
Henry said his internship at one of the most listened to stations in the country would never have happened if not for his hands-on experiences at Georgia Southern which included his job as a student producer/host on “Inside Georgia Southern Football with Jeff Monken.” “I think there might have been a period in time where I was the busiest student on campus,” Henry said. “I had three jobs including the Coach’s show, I was a member of Eagle Entertainment, I held a position with 91.9, class of course and I was trying to brand myself in the process, besides being a 21-year-old.”
Now working as a production assistant with WSB-TV in Atlanta, his True Blue spirit is evident when the Georgia Southern alumnus talks about his professors in the University’s Communication Arts Department. “Had it not been for Tyson Davis, I would have never experienced any of this. Tyson, in a way, inspired me to be better than I could have ever imagined.” Henry added, “Susan DeBonis is another one. She’s the one who pushed me to even consider taking the chances of applying to internships in Los Angeles.”
Michelle Vegliante (’11) has a heart for helping those in need.
Whether it’s mixing cement by hand, painting sites for local nonprofits or working with orphans in Honduras, Vegliante’s undergraduate commitment to community service has led to a career that impacts the lives of people around the globe.
“I feel lucky every day. I get to spend my day raising money for a nonprofit that helps save lives and keeps people healthy,” said the event administrator for the American Heart Association in Washington, D.C. “I wouldn’t be in the career I am today or so happy in my job without the opportunities Georgia Southern’s Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement gave me. It is so hard to describe, but I feel a sense of goodness at my core for nonprofit work,” said the Marietta, Ga., native about her student training at the University.
As an undergraduate, Vegliante established close working relationships with more than 10 nonprofit organizations in the Statesboro community, and also launched her own organization called Painters for Nonprofits, created to lend a helping hand to nonprofits. Since her graduation, Painters for Nonprofits has continued to paint buildings and facilities, such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds.
Vegliante also traveled to Honduras during an Alternative Break trip, where she worked with other students to build schools and housing for impoverished villages. During the trip, she met Students Helping Honduras co-founder Shin Fujiyama, which led to a realization about her career path.
“I was really inspired and I knew that I wouldn’t be happy in a job if I couldn’t do something that would make a difference in the lives of others,” she said. Today, that includes raising an estimated $1.2 million dollars to make people healthier through the Heart’s Delight Wine Tasting and Auction, an epicurean four-day food and wine event benefiting the American Heart Association. The event features visiting winemakers from all over the world, auctions and dinners prepared by culinary greats in exclusive D.C. locations.
There’s no doubt that Vegliante will take this challenge and turn it into an opportunity to help others.
“I’ve always wanted to do something bigger than myself that goes beyond my lifetime,” she said.
Sometimes having a little spare time can lead to big ideas.
Just ask Paul Barkley (’90) the founder of the Web site gsufans.com. The site provides the latest information and coverage of Georgia Southern sports – whether it is football, basketball or baseball – and encourages interaction among fans. “I like to view it as a virtual watercooler,” said Barkley, “where people can say pretty much whatever they want. Lots of emotions come out on the Web site.”
The idea started in 1997, while Barkley was pulling double duty as a stay-at-home dad and working a midnight shift at a Macon, Ga., hospital. “I had a lot of idle time at home with a newborn, and this was the advent of the Internet. I met some Georgia Southern fans online through different Web sites and realized there was very little information about our sports programs out there,” he said. Barkley soon teamed up with his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brother Lance Smith to launch the site that year. Smith’s involvement also brought an added benefit to gsufans.com: his brother.
“At the time, Lance’s younger brother Giff (a former first team Associate Press All-American at Southern) was on the coaching staff with Paul Johnson, and we felt that the Web site could provide some additional insight into the program,” said Barkley, the operations manager of the laboratory at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon.
From August to December, Barkley spends countless evening hours and entire weekends of his spare time providing coverage of football games and taking photos from the sidelines to post to gsufans.com. What started with 10 or 11 fans interacting on a daily basis has now grown to 1,000, and a staff of five volunteers works on the site. “Over the years, we’ve had more than a million posts from fans,” he said.
Barkley’s tireless dedication to gsufans.com and Georgia Southern is for one simple reason: supporting athletics. “We’re not trying to be a newsmaker, but a portal to the news and a resource. I want our forum to develop a sense of community that emphasizes the positive aspects and successes of Georgia Southern’s programs.”
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Call it fate, or call it perfect timing, but one opportunity launched a career for a Georgia Southern University alumnus.
During Beau Turpin’s (’09) sophomore year, he found himself at an academic crossroads, faced with indecision about his career path. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, except that I knew I loved working with people,” said the Albany, Ga., native.
That all changed when the versatile athlete was cast as a football player in the film “We Are Marshall,” in 2006. “It was a career opportunity – bigger than an internship. I was able to see how the whole behind-the-scenes filmmaking process works and I was sold. I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
After working steadily in Georgia’s film industry in production and acting roles, the communication arts graduate recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream on a bigger scale.
Turpin’s crew experiences from more than 11 film and TV productions include working as the assistant football coordinator on “The Blind Side,” as well as assistant to producer Craig Zadan during the remake of “Footloose.” He recently finished a job working with the creative producer on the Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton film called “Joyful Noise,” which will be released in January 2012.
While work in the film industry can be tiring and strenuous – “the hours are insane, and sometimes we work 12 to 18 hour days on set six days a week” – it does have its perks. Turpin recalled the experience of a lifetime, learning and working with a Hollywood veteran. “My first acting experience was directed by Robert Redford in ‘The Conspirator,’” he said, about his role as a boarding house guard in the film.
While he enjoys acting, the 25-year-old is currently hard at work on his second screenplay and also co-producing and acting in an independent film called “Counterpunch,” that will release after Christmas. “At the end of the day, acting, writing, directing and producing are what I want to do,” said Turpin, Georgia Southern’s newest celebrity to claim the spotlight.
Even though he retired at the end of the 2010 football season as the longtime director of Georgia Southern University’s Southern Pride Marching Band, the beat goes on for Dr. Matt Fallin, as the Department of Music’s principal percussion instructor.
In fact, the versatile percussionist can’t imagine music not being a part of his life. “It’s all I ever really wanted to do,” said the leader and inspirational force behind the marching band for the past 16 years.
The Claxton, Ga., native’s history with Southern Pride began in 1982, when he joined the marching band’s first football season as a percussionist. Since that time, he has been associated with the band for all but four years, when he left campus to earn master’s and doctorate degrees. Fallin joined the faculty in 1991, assuming the duties of percussion instructor, marching band director and director of the Hoop Troop basketball pep band. He is still an integral part of the University’s music community, continuing his role of conducting, writing and arranging for the University Percussion Ensemble and providing guidance for the Department’s percussion majors.
During his many years as band director, Fallin’s halftime shows were a sight to see, with more than 225 musicians marching in synchronicity across Paulson Stadium’s field, leading spectators to wonder how it all happened. Fallin says it’s a long process that includes the musical scores and a computer. “The first step is rehearsing the music. Once that is in place, it’s time to put the “marching” in the band,” he said.
Fallin’s work behind the scenes was also key to the band’s many years of success including writing all of the drum music and drills, selecting the music for the stands and halftime show, and even spending two hours in the freezing rain replacing the battery in the band’s equipment truck.
Recognizing Fallin’s contributions to the organization, the University presented him with a plaque during last fall’s halftime show at the Georgia Southern vs. Appalachian State match, his last home game as band director. Southern Pride alumni also showed their appreciation for his loyalty and dedication during a dinner held in his honor at the Georgia Music Educator Association’s (GMEA) annual conference in Savannah a few months ago.
For Fallin, Southern Pride has been a labor of love as it has been for the musicians, he said. “Within this group can be found some of the finest students Georgia Southern has to offer. It’s their hard work and dedication in support of Georgia Southern football that has earned them their reputation – the hardest working band in show business,” he said.
For Derek Sills (’97), the idea of honoring a Georgia Southern icon is a combination of college memories and current football games.
“I stopped by the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame and saw the original statue of Testudo (the team’s turtle mascot), after attending the Georgia Southern vs. Delaware game last year. I got angry. If the turtle gets a statue, Erk was gonna get one too,” he said.
Sills, a Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation board member and a former high school football coach, is raising money to commission a seven-and-a-half foot bronzed statue of Erk Russell to be placed at the entrance of Allen E. Paulson Stadium. He believes that Russell epitomizes the pageantry of college football. “Our founder is considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game,” he said.
Sills has garnered support for his charitable cause through social media sites such as Facebook and www.gsufans.com as well as publicity through the sports section of The Los Angeles Times. Notable figures in the sports world have also jumped on the bandwagon to lend their monetary support to the project, such as sportswriter Tony Barnhart and former University of Georgia head football coach Vince Dooley who coached with Russell for 17 years.
“Coach Dooley told me that he was so glad that we were pushing forward to honor Erk Russell and he would help in any way he could. He said, ‘Erk would make one great statue with that big old bald head of his,’” laughed Sills.
At a cost of $80,000 to commission the statue, Sills and the Coastal Eagle Club of Midway, Ga., are hosting a creative fundraiser on May 27. To date, Sills noted that the Foundation is more than halfway toward its goal of funding the cost of the statue. Individual squares are being sold for the “Eagles for Erk” barbecue and pig patty party.
“We will have 1,000 squares marked off in a grid pattern, at a cost of $20 per square,” he said. “Whoever owns the square where the pig ‘drops the ball’ will win $5,000 dollars,” he explained, with the remainder of the proceeds earmarked for the statue fund.
“We owe everything we are to the legendary bald eagle. Erk Russell is our tradition – he is the spirit of who we are,” said Sills. “He took a Kmart football and ran with it to three titles, he took drainage ditch waters and made them magical, he took an old yellow school bus and rode that thing to glory. It is time we paid him back.”
Donations can be made at eaglesforerk.com or through the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation.
Hadley Campbell (’76) is just one of the gang.
For the past dozen years, he has been a member of the chain gang, a dedicated team assisting the referees by handling the measuring chain and down indicator box during the Eagles’ football games. Campbell has a birds-eye view of every pass, fumble and interception right at the line of scrimmage, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’d rather be down there smelling the sweat and hearing the curses, part of the constant motion of cheerleaders, players and fans,” he said, talking about his preference for standing on the sidelines vs. stadium seating. However, the adrenaline of the sidelines can sometimes be offset by the dangers of the sport, says Campbell, acknowledging that he runs the risk of being banged up and bumped into by football players. “I usually get hit two or three times a year,” he said, “but there’s a great sense of camaraderie to being part of the entire Paulson football spectacle.”
Campbell’s passion for Georgia Southern is shared by his entire family. Many years ago, his mother, Audrey, was employed as a counselor at the University’s Counseling Center. She also managed orientation for new students, and is widely credited with the development of the present-day SOAR program. He and his wife Beverly (’76) began dating 40 years ago as high school students in Savannah, Ga., and enrolled together at Georgia Southern in 1972. Most importantly, the Campbells are the proud parents of graduates Jennifer and Jeff, with their youngest son Matthew currently an undergraduate.
With the spring semester drawing to a close, Campbell will soon begin gearing up for his 13th season on the sidelines with the chain gang. “This is our University and our town,” Campbell says excitedly, displaying his True Blue loyalty.
Georgia Southern students participated in the Alternative Spring Break trip “Students Helping Honduras.” Heather Jo Harralson, Coordinator of Civic Engagement at the University, accompanied students on the community service-oriented trip. During the trip, the group worked at a Habitat house, visited a local orphanage and recruited high school seniors for the University.
Strangers often ask Rick Bean (’81) if he is a University employee, because he regularly sports Georgia Southern apparel. “I normally wear my class ring, watch or some sort of logo item to work. If you think about it, I do work for the University when I wear the logo,” he said.
The Savannah, Ga.-based technology consultant has proudly supported his alma mater through the years in a variety of roles. For starters, Bean has served as the former president of the Savannah Eagle Club, an Eagle Fund donor representative, a member of the Georgia Southern Alumni Association Board of Directors, and a guest speaker for Georgia Southern’s ring ceremony. Bean acknowledges that his support of Georgia Southern has been made easier because of Julie, his wife of 27 years. “Even though Julie is an Armstrong State College graduate, she is an avid Georgia Southern fan as well,” he said.
Bean’s first True Blue experiences began as an undergraduate, when he recalled carpooling every day from Savannah with faculty, staff and students to complete his last few quarters in school. He also worked the night shift as an orderly at Brown’s Nursing Home. “I had a few very understanding professors who didn’t balk too much about my napping during 8 a.m. classes. I was always prepared for class, because there’s not a lot to do but study between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. in a nursing home. My GPA was probably highest during my employment there!” he said.
While Bean’s collegiate experiences shaped his future, he has also found that learning the inner workings of his alma mater through involvement with the Alumni Foundation has been an educational experience as well. “Watching the progress and plans for the school reaffirmed my confidence in allowing our two sons to attend Georgia Southern,” he said, mentioning Matthew (’10), and Scott, an upcoming graduate as well as co-founder and first president of the Student Eagle Club. “We are a two-generation Eagle family. Both of them are diehard Eagle fans and have been coming to games since they were able to walk. Neither was coerced into attending Georgia Southern, but I was proud and happy they did,” said Bean, speaking about the family’s shared heritage.
When Bean isn’t rounding up alumni, friends and Georgia Southern boosters for the Savannah Eagle Club’s monthly luncheon meetings, he can be found every fall observing game day rituals such as searching for his buddies in the Red Flag Gang (alumni tailgaters), watching the team arrive in the yellow buses and listening to the song “Statesboro Blues.”
Perhaps the most important objective to Bean is offering support to students through the True Blue network. “It’s important to me to give back to my school and support the current students in their efforts to better themselves in whatever field they have chosen.”
Living on the other side of the world, Carla Berry (’78) hasn’t lost touch with her True Blue heritage. The resident of North Queensland, Australia offers a simple explanation. “I guess it’s hard to get the ‘Statesboro blues’ out of your system!” she said.
The Atlanta, Ga., native hails from a family of Georgia Southern graduates including her brother Chuck (’76) and sister-in-law Mary (’76). Berry’s niece Rose, is a current student. As an undergraduate, Berry majored in printing management, and was the first female graphics art lab assistant on campus. Based on her academic experience, she completed two summer internships, working with the Government Printing Office’s regional printing procurement office in Dallas, Tex., and another with Eastman Kodak as a technical sales representative. Berry graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in technology, and landed in Australia in 1987, when she moved to her former husband’s home country.
“Fifteen years later I became an Australian citizen on Australia Day (January 26), but I still hold American citizenship as well, so I call myself an ‘Ausmerican,’ ” she said.
While living there, Berry has worked for the Yellow Pages Australia and even owned a business that developed environmental screening systems which separate solids from liquids. Her colorful career also consists of a year-long experience as caretaker of a 3400-acre grazing property in New South Wales, and she even escaped the corporate world to take a nine-month long sailing sabbatical after building her own sailboat.
Although Berry’s corporate career has been full of challenges, in recent years, she has experienced several changes in her personal life as well. The Ausmerican was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that is defined by the body’s inability to absorb nutrients. While others might have been daunted by such a diagnosis, Berry instead viewed this medical challenge as a way to help others. Based upon her own experiences, she has become an area contact for the Australian Coeliac Society, leading support groups and generally raising awareness of the disease in her country. Berry has quietly become another great example of a Georgia Southern alumna transforming a challenge into a simple act of goodwill around the globe.
Not many people in coastal Georgia can claim that they have scaled the world’s highest and most dangerous mountain. However, one Georgia Southern alumnus showed his True Blue spirit where few have ever traveled.
Last November, Eric Landon (’99, ’00) left his cell phone at home, hopped on a plane from Jacksonville, Fla., and traveled by himself to the Himalayas to tackle Mount Everest on the Nepal-China border. Rising 29,029 above sea level, Landon’s ambition was to trek to base camp at 17,500 feet, but he surpassed that goal by traveling one day farther to a summit called Kalapathar, at 18,300 feet.
Landon’s method to planning such a monumental task required discipline and careful attention to detail, much like his job as a county planner in Brunswick, Ga. In preparation for the physically demanding climb, his six-month training regimen included two hours of weightlifting or yoga every day after work. “It took a long time to prepare to travel to rural Asia, not only to get into shape, but it required a lot of vaccinations. Since you’re traveling hundreds of miles from nowhere, you need to get shots for everything possible, because if something goes wrong there is no place to go for help,” he said.
A traditional Himalayan Mountain guide, called a Sherpa, led Landon and a group of 11 other hikers on the 25-day trek followed by yaks carrying their heavy gear. Gone were the comforts of home such as showers, toilets and food (the hikers’ daily diets consisted of peanut butter, ramen noodles, protein bars and potatoes). Even with Landon’s rigorous physical training, he said a hiker can’t train for the high elevation during the climb. “The higher you go, you start to break down. It is hard to catch your breath, eat and digest food, and it’s also difficult to sleep,” he added, saying that every few days the group would have to stay at camp to acclimate to the altitude changes. Despite these hardships, the group was surrounded by unbelievable landscape. “Mountain peaks five and six miles high are all around you . . . an incredible feeling,” Landon said.
Landon returned home from Mount Everest with a great sense of accomplishment. “After experiencing no phone, no family and no friends other than the people you meet along the way, you have the feeling that you can be dropped into any situation and you will find a way for it to work out,” he said. Although Landon can’t rule out a return to Mount Everest, he admitted that it would take some persuasive convincing to make that happen. “Your body takes such punishment, it’s hard to imagine wanting to go back. I think the next trip will be someplace warm, oxygen rich and with a more hospitable climate. Australia sounds nice!”
The True Blue spirit has taken a leap from Statesboro to the glamorous world of opera after a recent graduate captured top honors at a national singing competition held in Houston, Tx. Mark Diamond (’10) won first place among 700 other singers at the Houston Grand Opera’s Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers, catapulting his career to the next level.
Not bad for a 23-year-old baritone who originally aspired to become a chorus teacher for students in grades K-12, and didn’t even begin formal voice lessons until he arrived at Georgia Southern.
As an undergraduate, Diamond won performance slots in such prestigious summer programs as the Aspen Music Festival and Glimmerglass Opera, which gave him the opportunity to work with renowned singers and voice coaches from the Juilliard School and the Metropolitan Opera. Along the way, he has astonished audiences and received rave reviews from The New York Times and Opera News for his performances across the United States.
Realizing his true calling, the Augusta, Ga., native is currently studying to earn a master of music in vocal performance at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, touted as one of the top opera programs in the country. He also accepted a coveted invitation to sing with the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program this summer to perform a lead role in “The Barber of Seville.”
Allen Henderson, one of Diamond’s former professors, believes that we can expect even greater accomplishments from this gifted young artist in the years to come. “When I talk to those who hear Mark in auditions, they are quite impressed with his command of voice, his stage presence, and his interpretation of the arias he performs. The world will be hearing from Mark for a long time.”
For some Georgia Southern fans, their True Blue spirit runs so deep that their children share the same name as their beloved University. Southern Britt, the 12-year-old daughter of former Eagle defensive back and outside linebacker Danny Britt, has a special name that not many of her sixth-grade classmates can claim.
“My wife Stephanie and I met as students at Georgia Southern. We are really Southern people, and we like tradition and unique names,” said Britt, talking about their daughter’s distinctive name. Britt explained that his fondness for the University was rooted in many special experiences on campus. “Some of my best memories are at Georgia Southern, and some of my best friends to this day, played football with me,” he recalled.
The Camilla, Ga., native enjoyed a successful career with the Eagles, and the glory days included playing on both the 1990 National Championship team and the 1993 Southern Conference championship team. Incredibly, Britt was a walk-on to the team. “I walked on the football team, and earned a full scholarship two years later,” he said, lettering all four years in the sport and serving as defensive captain his senior year.
After enjoying his success on the football field with the Eagles, Britt has served as an inspirational mentor to many Savannah, Ga., youth as an educator. Currently, he is the athletic director and head football coach at Benedictine Military School, an all-boys Catholic high school in Savannah, Ga. Prior to this position, he worked for 13 years at Calvary Day School serving in such capacities as head football coach and upper school assistant principal.
Although these valuable experiences were important to both Britt and the youth in his community, none could match a new member joining his family. In 2005, it wasn’t the birth of a new baby, but a teenaged sibling for the Britts’ daughters (including daughter Saylor, age 9).
The Britt family opened their home and hearts to 18-year-old Demarcus Dobbs, a resident of Bethesda Home for Boys. Dobbs’ story is much like the successful Sandra Bullock film, “The Blind Side.” The film details the story of a homeless black child adopted by the white Tuohy family, and even though the Britts never adopted Dobbs, they consider him their son and brother. After a standout career as a defensive end for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, Dobbs was invited to compete in the NFL Combine.
For now, Britt continues his involvement on campus with a determination to give back to the University that he treasures, by volunteering with the Eagle Athletic Association. “I loved my experiences at Georgia Southern. It’s a University with a big-time feel in a small town environment,” he said.
What makes Charlotte Parrish-Woody True Blue? “Probably because I’ve been here on campus so long!” laughed the alumnus and marketing director for the University’s Continuing Education Center. Her long-standing association with Georgia Southern began in 1980 with her employment as an office clerk for then-Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Austin. Shortly thereafter, Parrish-Woody’s responsibilities changed when she enrolled full time at the University. “Dr. Austin talked me into going to college, and he set up my meeting with the admissions office,” she revealed.
Since that time, Parrish-Woody’s roles have shifted from Georgia Southern employee to undergraduate, then graduate student to faculty member. As an undergraduate, her striking looks and personality landed her a slot on the Homecoming Court, catapulted her to the first runner-up spot in the Miss Georgia Southern pageant in 1984, and earned her the title of “Miss Congeniality” in a prior competition. An accomplished singer and dancer, Parrish-Woody was a member of the Southern Dazzlers dance group, the halftime entertainment at Eagles basketball games, and her melodic soprano voice could often be heard floating out of Sarah’s Place, a favorite local hangout on campus for students.
“I never saw myself as a beauty queen,” she says modestly about her pageant experience, instead viewing those opportunities as a way to meet people and develop her interviewing skills. Parrish-Woody graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in public relations, and moved to Atlanta, using that experience to pursue a career in sales and marketing with the Ivan Allen Company and Xerox.
In the early 1990s, she and her husband, Curtis (a communication arts professor), relocated to Statesboro to live closer to family. She returned to the University again – this time as a graduate student – to earn a master’s degree in technology with an emphasis on printing management. Parrish-Woody’s career soon shifted to the world of academia, and for the next several years, she taught upward of 10,000 University students and served as an academic advisor for early childhood majors as well as students in the Georgia Tech Regional Engineering Program. Parrish-Woody also launched the Manufacturers Achievement Awards dinner, an annual networking event that paired industry leaders from regional companies such as Gulfstream Aerospace, Briggs & Stratton, Wal-Mart and Viracon with Georgia Southern students. The event provided students with scholarship and internship opportunities.
For the past nine years, Parrish-Woody has overseen marketing for the Continuing Education Center’s division which includes the Center for Wildlife Education, the Performing Arts Center, Continuing Education, the Botanical Garden, the Georgia Southern Museum and the Coastal Georgia Center. While it may seem impossible for Parrish-Woody to have any time to spare, she and her husband established their own teaching ministry with sons Jared, 18, (a Georgia Southern undergraduate) and Jordan, 13, two years ago. Right Believing Ministries broadcasts several programs each weekend on Statesboro’s Northland Cable television system.
Martha Abell’s first introduction to Georgia Southern was supposed to be the “Hugo Bowl,” the 1989 game played under the threat of impending landfall from Hurricane Hugo. Abell had just started her new job as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, when she received an invitation from some fellow coworkers to join them in Paulson Stadium. “I decided to stay at home instead,” she said, glad to have missed four inches of rain that drenched other fans that day.
Even though Abell escaped the inclement conditions, she encountered plenty of other intense weather during the rest of the season. “I’ve experienced the extreme heat, hail, snow and sleet of the games,” she laughed, and her love of Eagle athletics has spilled over into the classroom as well.
Through the years, Abell has taught several athletes, including football players, and even one baseball player who competed in the College World Series. “I have fun interacting with the athletes because they work hard,” she said, talking about the extra effort athletes have to make when they are juggling strenuous academic and athletic schedules.
Abell has found herself in the same position as well, often juggling several important University responsibilities with her teaching schedule, and she exemplifies True Blue dedication in every aspect of her job, as chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
During her employment at Georgia Southern, Abell has dedicated countless hours to curriculum advancement and to individual academic programs, serving as the director for the University’s Honors Programs for three years. Perhaps one of the most significant and labor intensive accomplishments of her career was working as a faculty assistant in the Provost’s office during the University’s conversion from the quarter system to the semester system. During the yearlong process, Abell said that every degree program in the University system had to be recreated. “We had to write a new core curriculum, and it was very challenging, converting the credit hours from quarters to semesters. All of the abbreviations for departmental areas and the course numbers had to be changed. I got this job because of my math background!” she said.
The Columbus, Ga., native’s interest and skills in mathematics were encouraged by her mother, a teacher. “I used to tutor my neighbors in math,” she revealed. After graduating from Mercer University, Abell had plans to enter dental school at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) but instead decided to return to the field of math. She entered the Georgia Institute of Technology, earning a masters and doctorate degree in the subject.
Abell has published numerous articles and various books as well as collaborating with fellow professor Jim Braselton to publish a series of reference books for students and faculty called Mathematica by Example, now in its fourth edition. Georgia Southern recognized her outstanding accomplishments in the field by presenting her with the Award for Excellence in Scholarship.
Just as Abell was encouraged to pursue math as youngster, she also promotes learning opportunities for other young students by participating in the University- sponsored Eagle Math-a-Mania. The spring event is designed for students in grades K-5 as a fun way to practice for the annual Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).
Debra and Mike Skinner have a long True Blue history with Georgia Southern that began when the couple met as undergraduates on campus. During the 1970s, the atmosphere on campus was casual — less than 6,000 students attended Georgia Southern, President Pope Duncan lived in Eidson House and the library was located in the Rosenwald Building. “There was a hippie faze on campus, and students used to walk to class barefooted,” said Debra. With a nonexistent transit system, the pair found alternate transportation. “We used to walk everywhere – from downtown Statesboro to the mall,” she said, and her husband agreed.
“There’s something about it that’s hard to explain,” said Debra, about their lifelong True Blue devotion. “Mike and I started attending the football games before I began working on campus, and we brought our daughter, Beth, to the first game at Statesboro High School in her baby carrier,” she revealed. “We love football,” said Mike, acknowledging that the couple traveled to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to watch the Eagles defeat Wofford in a recent Southern Conference playoff game.
In addition to following their passion for Eagle athletics, Debra has commuted daily from their home in Savannah, Ga., for the past 10 years as one of the 18 librarians on staff in her job as coordinator of cataloguing and metadata at the Zach S. Henderson Library. She enthusiastically related that she has found her niche in the academic environment of Georgia Southern’s library. “I love it more than any other job I’ve ever had,” she said.
Her extensive background includes a bachelor of arts in history and a master’s degree in educational media from Georgia Southern, as well as a master’s degree in library science from the University of South Carolina. During her professional career, Debra has worked as a library assistant at Georgia State University, a librarian at Savannah Country Day School, and as the director of library and media services at Savannah Tech, where she found herself creating a library from scratch.
“They gave me one room and told me to start a library,” she laughed, talking about her Savannah Tech experience, “and it grew to include a computerized system with five staff members that served 4,000 students.”
Mike graduated from the University with a bachelor of business administration in accounting, and is employed as a certified financial planner/partner in the accounting firm of Skinner Barndollar & Lane. Mike’s dedicated service to the University includes board memberships for the College of Business Administration (COBA), Southern Boosters, the School of Accountancy and the Alumni Foundation. He also makes a determined effort to hire Georgia Southern graduates as new employees whenever possible, lending his support to other business groups, through involvement as a search committee member for the chair of COBA’s accounting department. “Our forensic accounting program is one of the premier programs in the country,” he said proudly.
In 1990, he was named Accounting Alumnus of the Year, and in 2003, COBA presented him with the Alumnus of the Year Award. After so many years and so many wonderful experiences, supporting the University is a simple decision. “Georgia Southern is where all of our memories are,” he said fondly.
Steve McClelland has seen a lot of firsts at Georgia Southern University – the first football game played in 1982 under the helm of former coach Erk Russell; the first home game played in the newly-constructed Paulson Stadium; and he is quite likely one of the first True Blue fans. After attending the Paulson Stadium opener, McClelland claims to have fallen down, and started bleeding Georgia Southern blue.
As an undergraduate, McClelland was an active member of Kappa Alpha fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi (business fraternity), and worked as a disc jockey for campus radio station WVGS 91.9. He recalled the start of his True Blue heritage, which occurred when the stadium construction began. “I lived about half a mile from the stadium, and it was an amazing thing to watch. I’ve seen Georgia Southern go from a little bitty college to a big-time University. It was exciting just being able to attend the first game and the first season at Statesboro High, and watch history in the making,” he said.
Even though McClelland currently lives in the Atlanta, Ga., area, it’s almost like he never left Statesboro. The 1985 Georgia Southern University business management graduate has dedicated two basement rooms in his Chastain Park area home that display his undying loyalty toward the Eagles. Enter “The Nest” – as McClelland calls his domain – and it’s like heaven to any Georgia Southern football fan.
Inside “The Nest” are more than 1,000 pieces of Georgia Southern sports memorabilia that could easily catapult McClelland to a spot on the Guinness World Records list. For starters, he possesses every artist’s print of Georgia Southern ever produced (in the range of 50), with images of eagles, Paulson Stadium, Erk Russell and more. Adorning the walls and ceiling are approximately 75 car tags, including the first Southern Boosters tag from 1985, more than 15 Georgia Southern flags, bar stools autographed by Russell, former coach Paul Johnson and quarterback Tracy Ham. Also included in the collection, by McClelland’s best guess, is “every magnet that has ever been made, and every pocket football calendar for the past 30 years.”
The custom-designed ping-pong table resembles Hanner Fieldhouse, and for McClelland’s birthday, his wife Brenda commissioned an artist to construct a football field on the surface of the pool table, complete with end zones to replicate Paulson Stadium. Take a short detour out of “The Nest,” step inside his closet and you are likely to find more than 100 Georgia Southern shirts. For a personal tour of “The Nest,” which was captured when McClelland was named a Georgia Southern Fan O’Maniac, click on the following link:
When McClelland isn’t traveling to Statesboro with Brenda and their “boys” – a pair of four-year-old Golden retrievers appropriately named Georgia and Southern – he works as a financial consultant for AXA Advisors, a career he began with the company one week after graduation. McClelland’s continued support of the University includes service on the boards of the Atlanta Eagle Club and Georgia Southern Alumni.
Although Georgia Southern alumnus Dennette Thornton is one of several thousand True Blue fans living in the Atlanta, Ga., area, her dedication to the University is a way of life that has overlapped with her love of athletics and a career as a senior account executive for the Atlanta Braves.
As president of the Atlanta Eagle Club, this athletic dynamo has impacted thousands of Georgia Southern alumni by effectively leading a network of Eagle Clubs that stretch from Atlanta to Macon. “I want to keep everybody involved and connected to Georgia Southern,” she said, “and there are at least 10,000 people in these various clubs.”
That includes planning annual area sporting event outings for alumni throughout the year, which include the Braves, Hawks and Thrashers. Last year, alumni gathered for a tailgate at the Georgia Tech vs. Georgia Southern baseball game, and a large contingent of fans attended the Georgia State basketball game to support the Eagles. The remainder of the bi-monthly socials consist of networking opportunities at The Twisted Taco restaurant in Buckhead, which is owned by alumnus Rick Seaman. “These meetings are a great way to reach out and connect with other alumni,” said Thornton, “and we are always trying to find different things to do. In fact, some of our athletic coaches also visit as guest speakers.”
Thornton’s love of athletics reaches back to her high school days when she played basketball and softball, which ultimately led to her sport management degree from Georgia Southern. As an undergraduate, she gained experience from the sidelines working as an equipment manager for the football team. “It was like a fulltime job,” she says. “We were at practice every day, setting up drills, making sure all of the equipment was ready to go in the stadium lockers, even putting air in the footballs.”
After graduation, Thornton began working with the Braves in 2002, handling group and suite sales for companies such as Coca-Cola, Georgia Pacific and Georgia Power. “These clients plan group outings every year and each event is unique. It can range from 16 to 60 people for a small group to more than 4,000, and the group tickets can range from an overall price of $200 to $10,000,” she said. Some of the specific arrangements that Thornton manages include having a Braves team player visit a private suite to sign autographs, and also allowing guests to go on the field during batting practice. Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences for Thornton – out of the season’s 83 home games – is when she runs the bases at the annual Atlanta Braves employee softball game held on Turner Field.
Thornton, her husband Richard and young sons Avery and Connor travel faithfully to Paulson Stadium to watch the Eagles, and even though the football and baseball seasons overlap, she rarely misses a home game. In a 24-hour time period, Thornton has worked at Turner Field for a few hours, driven to Statesboro for a home football game, and then returned the same evening in order to work during a Braves game the next day.
Mallory Luber Fannon and Kenneth Fannon on their honeymoon in
Glacier Bay, Alaska.
Construction Management and PR/Communication students on
the set of Extreme Home Makeover!
Mike Sizemore is a humble ambassador spreading his goodwill around the globe, one child at a time. The medical case management business owner has plenty of interaction with elderly residents around the state of Georgia in need of personalized care, but he recently experienced caregiving on another level during a mission trip to Swaziland, Africa. Sizemore and his son, Scott, joined members from their church in Augusta, Ga. as well as members of Children’s Hope Chest, a nationwide mission organization based out of Colorado, in distributing shoes to orphans in the impoverished country that has been ravaged by poverty and AIDS.
“This was a chance to be the hands and feet of Christ, and it’s hard to forget an opportunity like that,” Sizemore said, describing the moving experience. He and his son were based in one of the 27 Care Points located throughout the countryside, and two times each day, the pair would watch small orphans walk there to be fed. After a meal, the Sizemores would place each child on a bench, wash their feet and put new socks and shoes on them. In fact, the father and son collected and purchased more than 350 pairs of shoes for the trip, and the photo above shows them with some of the children that hold a special place in their hearts.
Although Sizemore’s True Blue spirit and compassion for his fellow man has traveled beyond the borders of Georgia, the Georgia Southern University alumnus maintains many fond memories of his alma mater. As the first member of his family to attend and graduate from college, Sizemore was a public recreation major, and he created the first set of canoe races for Greek organizations held at Lake Ruby for various Greek organizations. “I ran the student intramural programs for softball, basketball and football for the last year-and-half as an undergraduate at Georgia Southern,” he recalled.
“These were the best years that a college student could have. It’s very similar to how things are today – professors know you, and you establish relationships with them that continue through the years,” he said. One of those friendships, said Sizemore, is one that he shares with Frank Hook, one of his former recreation professors, currently the senior director of alumni relations and annual giving.
After graduation, the Evans, Ga., resident worked in the employment industry for more than 32 years. Three years ago, Sizemore took that employment expertise, and together with his wife Connie, a registered nurse, launched their firm, Sabea LLC, which works with senior adults in 14 counties across the state. The business provides patients with personalized in-home care services, eliminating the need for them to live in nursing homes.
Sizemore’s continued involvement with the University remains strong. The Southern Boosters charter member is proud to count his oldest son, Mike, Jr., a recent summa cum laude graduate of the College of Business Administration, and youngest son Matt, a sixth grader, is a future Eagle in the making.
The Human Resources Department goes Western and ‘True Blue’
The Georgia Southern Cheerleading Squad welcome a
new member at the 2010 Homecoming Downtown Tailgate.
John Chapman (’04) representing Georgia Southern on the island of
Mont Saint-Michel, just off the northern coast of France.
Staff at Lakeside Cafe celebrate in ‘True Blue’ style!
If you’re a True Blue fan, then you probably know him as “War Wagon.” This beloved figure joined the ranks of diehard True Blue fans more than 15 years ago, when he began roaming around on game day, snapping pre- and post-game photos. The unofficial Eagles’ photographer is Ben Garvin, a Beaufort, South Carolina, resident who faithfully drives his custom-painted blue-and-white Georgia Southern van (called “War Wagon”) to every home game.
The retired U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor was first introduced to Georgia Southern football in 1986, when he was stationed at Parris Island. A friend and fellow Marine brought Garvin to his first game in Statesboro. “I started taking photos at the Georgia Southern games in 1995, with just a regular camera. I thought this was a great way to get the fans as excited as me about Georgia Southern,” he said. He then began posting the game day photos on a separate page of his store’s website, Sports Cards Unlimited, which was created just for Eagles’ fans. In the early days before digital cameras, Garvin painstakingly printed and scanned each photo. “It would take hours,” he said.
Soon, the single page that started with just five photos quickly ballooned into the current site, www.eaglewarwagon.com, which recently included more than 480 pictures Garvin shot at the Georgia Southern vs. Elon game. Garvin still carefully edits each photo before posting them, just, as he says, “to make sure that someone doesn’t have their eyes closed.”
Eight cameras and more than 40,000 photos later, “War Wagon” continues to be a regular season ticket holder in Section K of Paulson Stadium, and he isn’t likely to miss a Georgia Southern game anytime soon. In fact, Garvin has only missed one home game since 1996, and his wife Agnes and grandchildren join in the True Blue spirit, traveling with him to many away games as well.
“Everybody knows everybody in this section and it’s really tight. These are loyal friends who have been there for the wins and losses, and every week we’re back. I remember fans bringing their babies in the carrier, and now these babies are students at Georgia Southern!” he laughed.
After so many years and so many memories, Garvin recalled his favorite photo op, when students were passing Gus (the Georgia Southern mascot) from the bottom of the stands up to the top. “It looked like Super Gus was flying to the top of the stadium!” said Garvin.
Gracie, Gabriella, and Grant, children of Stacey Roach (’01) and Emily Roach
celebrate Halloween True Blue style!
Georgia Southern’s Financial Aid Department celebrate True Blue Friday with GUS!
True Blue Eagle fans travel to Charleston, SC for the Citadel/Georgia Southern
Conner Edwards, son of Jeff (’96) and Angie (’96), grandson of Bobby Bryant (’66), celebrating his 1st birthday in ‘True Blue’ style!
Only the best tailgating group in the ‘boro! GSU vs Samford 2010 – Delta Chi, Phi Mu, and Kappa Kappa Gamma alumni with friends.
Charles Hodges, College of Education, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Orange County California on the way home from presenting research at the annual meeting of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
Jay Canady carved this awesome ‘True Blue’ Jack-o’-lantern with the
True Blue Pumpkin Carving Kit.
Georgia Southern’s Eagle Dining Services Central Office on True Blue Friday.
The Georgia Southern University Department of Human Resources on True Blue Friday!
Marla Bruner Carved these pumpkins using the Georgia Southern Pumpkin Carving Kit
Georgia Southern alumna, Heather Jo Harralson (’09) and Stephen Warner at the
Stephen Stanley & Haelie Mcglon at the Georgia Southern vs. Coastal Carolina game.
Mark (’05) and Tracy (’05) Spain are enjoying the view from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
Tradition lives here at Georgia Southern University, and True Blue is the way we express dedication to our Eagles. It can be memories of strolling through the historic campus, the teamwork of tackling academics with fellow students, or simply a surge of pride as Freedom takes flight over Paulson Stadium during a home game. Sharing the True Blue spirit with family, friends and alumni bonds the Eagle Nation in the community and around the globe. True Blue celebrates the great respect we have for our University.
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