Published on January 13, 2009 by Mary Wimberley  
Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2009-08-25

Samford University recognized outstanding faculty and staff members and a special group of friends of the university during the opening convocation of the fall semester Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Longtime art professor Dr. Lowell Vann received the John H. Buchanan Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching, given annually to an outstanding faculty member.

Senior systems analyst Debi Whitcomb received the President's Award as a Samford employee who merits special recognition for performance.

Samford president Andrew Westmoreland used the gathering of all faculty and undergraduate students to announce the installation of the charter members of the Founders Circle, a new designation to honor those who have supported the university with annual financial commitments for at least 35 years.

"All together these alumni and friends have contributed more than $17 million to support the university's mission," said Dr. Westmoreland, who reminded students that from the beginnings of the school in 1841, there have been several times when friends of the university stepped forward to assist the institution in times of financial trouble.

Sharing the stage with Westmoreland were several friends who have supported the university for a continuous 40 years or more.

Dr. Westmoreland called on one of those, Mary Louise Hodges, to give an impromptu "interview" and tell students about her love for Samford.

Mrs. Hodges shared how she met her husband, the late Andrew Gerow Hodges, while they were students at the school in the early 1940s. "He loved Samford, and was so proud of it," she said of the longtime board of trustee member, adding that she, too, thinks of Samford as the "best school in the country, and the finest Christian school."

Dr. Westmoreland responded that Samford is a special place because of the special people such as Mrs. Hodges.

Other Founders Circle members who have supported Samford for 40 years or more include Walt and Kay Barnes, Carlton R. and Rhonda Cook, Pat Courington, Sr., John C. Pittman and Ruric E. and Joyce Wheeler.

Many of the 53 Founders Circle members who have supported Samford for 35 years were also in the audience to applaud the winners of the faculty and staff awards.

Buchanan honoree Dr. Vann joined the faculty of his undergraduate alma mater in 1965. Provost Dr. Brad Creed cited Vann for his devotion to his students and to Samford.

Students who nominated Vann for the award, said Creed, describe him as a "hard, productive and learned teacher who gives his all and more to his students," and as a professor "who makes art fun and opens the eyes of those who take his course for even just an elective."

Vann, who holds a master's degree from the University of Alabama and a Ph.D. from Florida State University, was chair of the Samford art department for 36 years. A co-founder of the Artists Incorporated, he has served as pastor of Rocky Ridge First Baptist Church in Hoover since 1992. Well known for his chalk drawing ministry, Vann has presented his chalk work in more than 1,600 services since 1953.

President's Award winner Whitcomb was described as an employee whose expertise and ability to understand her work allows departments to better achieve their end result, and one who takes the time to understand what is needed and works to fulfill that need.

It was noted that her work in the technology services department impacts almost every academic and administrative division on campus, and that her support has been critical to the success of Banner software implementation. Whitcomb joined the Samford staff in 1996.

Dr. Westmoreland also named three Meritorious Service Award winners. They are: Janet England, campus counseling services; Glenda Martin, Howard College of Arts and Sciences; and Linda Sneed, Bursar's Office.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.