Forty-nine years after graduating with her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, Nancy Philley Russ, an annual member of the Arkansas Alumni Association and member of the Capital Chapter, continues to view her alma mater with pride and appreciation. However, as she reflects on the years spent at the University of Arkansas and the people she has come to know, Russ acknowledges the important role that the Arkansas Alumni Association played in her academic career.
Until she could save enough money to attend college, Russ worked for a small, weekly newspaper in Eudora, Arkansas, after graduating high school. Bob Wimberley, who was president of the Association at the time and advertising manager of what is now Entergy, approached her and asked why she was not in school. “He asked why I was not in college, and I told him I planned to go after I saved some money. He asked if I would go now if I had a scholarship, and I said, ‘Yes,’” she said. Russ soon found herself with a scholarship to the University of Arkansas, as well as a part-time job with the Northwest Arkansas Times, where she worked for George Gearhart, the father of Chancellor G. David Gearhart, in the advertising department.
Life on campus was new and exciting for Russ as she met top administrators and college deans, all who helped welcome her to the area and the campus. At the time, curfews were instilled when students stayed in dorms. She recalls a time when she received special permission to stay out past curfew because of a new movie featured at a local theater. “I remember getting special permission to stay out late when the movie ‘Ten Commandments’ came to town because it was so long it ran past curfew,” she said. Any other time, students could expect to be locked out of their dorms if they were late.
Aside from meeting with higher officials at the university, Russ remembers forming close relationships with her professors in the journalism department, all of whom she considers to be influential in her years at the university. “Mr. Lemke and Mr. Russell, as well as Mr. Blake’s wife, Ruth, who was sponsor for Mortar Board and recommended me for their scholarship, which I had for three years,” all played an important role in Russ’ schooling, motivating her and giving her the experience she would need when applying for jobs once she graduated.
These same professors encouraged her to write, which proved useful in her years after school. She went on to receive her Master of Arts in English at the University of Arkansas, as well as a second master’s degree in counseling at Henderson State University. Apart from working in the mental health field for many years, Russ has also worked as a communications specialist for Systematics, Inc. However, her love for writing re-emerged when she and her daughter co-wrote two books, Was the Funeral Fun and What’s More Fun than a Funeral in 2002 and 2008.
Now living in Little Rock, she is retired, but finds herself busier than ever. However, she still takes the time to look back and gives thanks to the institution and association that has given her so much. “I joined the Alumni Association because it was a very small way to give back some of what the Association did for me,” she said.