Becoming an Immortal Link to JSU
By Dr. Bill Meehan
When should you give back to your university? According to Gary O. Lewis, a '92/'94 Jacksonville State University alumnus, it is never too early to establish a link to the chain of support for your alma mater. Soon after he graduated, Gary linked himself to JSU in a way that would allow him to begin helping students like himself.
In 1988, Gary made the decision to start taking classes at JSU. He did not have a reliable car or a big bank account. What he did have was charisma, work ethic and dedication. By 1991, Gary held three top university leadership positions at one time: first chief justice of the Student Government Association, certified peer counselor and resident assistant of a dorm.
Originally from Gadsden, Ala., Gary says JSU was his only choice. He remembers struggling, but he was determined to complete his college career. He became known as the guy who pushed a baby stroller around campus. With his young daughter in tow, he walked into the Office of Financial Aid for help, asking for work study and any other financial assistance available to keep from having to return home. These steps were the beginning of his journey at JSU.
Gary became very active on campus and grants and scholarships started to ease his financial burdens. He worked at the student center and university library, and he dived head-first into student activities.
"This is what got me through it," Gary says. "It's as if somehow I made it through all the cracks and was favored. I wanted to finish what I started, and, by the grace of God, I did."
Because he is so appreciative of the opportunities he received at JSU-those things that made it possible for him to complete his educational goals-Gary never thought twice about giving back to the university as soon as he could. After completing his undergraduate degree, he became a lifetime member of the JSU National Alumni Association; later becoming the second president of the then newly formed Black Alumni Chapter.
In 2008, Gary went against the grain and decided he did not want to wait until he was 50 or older to donate to his alma mater. He became a very young scholarship provider and endowment holder of the university. Becoming a lifelong link-and beyond-in the chain that would connect him to JSU and allow him to begin helping students, was his new goal.
"The two scholarships are my commitments while still living and the endowment is my long-term commitment to the university after I'm gone," Gary says. "I remember and am very thankful for the opportunities I had while I was there. I am giving back."
When Gary's daughter chose a college, Shaquana (Shay) Gregory followed in her father's footsteps and came to JSU. Elated with her decision, Gary says although he once pushed his daughter around campus, he never pushed her to choose JSU. He also jokes that he was happy about her college choice because he did not want to pay for her to go anywhere else!
Gary says that having her on campus during her developmental years was great exposure for her. She went to class, meetings, and campus events-she even studied when I studied. "My daughter knew what a board meeting was before she ever knew how to spell it," Gary says.
Shay is now in her third year as a nursing student at JSU, holding an excellent grade-point average.
While supporting a child in college, there are many people who find what Gary is doing senseless, while others find it unprecedented. But he is adamant to express there is no need to wait.
"As soon as you are in a position to give back, you too should consider adding a link to the chain of support at JSU," Gary says.
Learn How You Can Help
If you would like to learn how you, too, can support JSU through planned giving, contact Earl Warren at 256-782-5608 or firstname.lastname@example.org today, at no obligation.
Gary Lewis graduated from JSU in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in political science and in 1994 with a master's degree in public administration. He went on to further his education by earning a doctorate degree at Faulkner University. Lewis is currently the executive director of the Etowah County Community Services.
-Erin Chupp, a freelance writer for the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.