Barbara Bennett (BMUS ’74, MFA ’76), Sally Bennett Fillebrown (BM ’71, DMA ’89) and Susan Bennett Gallimore (BMUS ’83, MM ’85) may live across the country, but their mutual love of music keeps the three sisters in perfect harmony.
Barbara, Sally, Susan, and their late sister Carolyn (BMUS ’79) all graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in music performance, just a few years apart. Together, the Bennett women have earned eight total music degrees from UGA.
When they were searching for colleges, the sisters hoped to stay in their home state of Georgia to pursue a music education. The Hugh Hodgson School of Music, then just a single department, was considered the best college music program in the state. Sally, the eldest, was the first of the sisters to attend UGA. The rest soon followed suit.
Their mother, Betty Bennett (MFA ’74), encouraged them to attend UGA because she studied music there as well. She was a part-time flute teacher for the department and impressed upon her daughters an appreciation for UGA and music performance.
Sally said that one of the faculty members, Professor Egbert Ennulat, jokingly called the Bennett women “the dynasty” because for 20 consecutive years, at least one Bennett woman was involved in the Hodgson School as either a teacher or student.
Because they all majored in music performance, the sisters had the unique opportunity of navigating their time at UGA as a family. During the times that more than one of the sisters was at UGA, they would be roommates. Barbara said that living together during college helped bring them closer together.
“When we got to Georgia, we became best friends,” Barbara said.
The Bennett sisters’ long history with the Hugh Hodgson School of Music means that they’ve watched it grow from a fledgling program to its own school, rich with opportunities for students and faculty.
“We contributed at least to the beginnings of that,” Sally said of the school’s growth. “It’s an honor to say I was there.”
Barbara said that the music program’s small community felt like a second family. Because it didn’t have a dedicated building yet, music students would gather in buildings across campus to practice and perform.
Sally said that performing in ensembles with other music students helped contribute to the school’s supportive, tight-knit environment.
“It’s kind of the nature of musicians to build a family,” she said, remembering her close friendships with fellow music students.
Inspired by their family’s connections to the Hodgson School, the sisters donated to establish a merit-based scholarship called the Bennett Family Scholarship for Orchestral Performance.
Barbara led the sisters’ efforts to create the scholarship. She said that although their father wasn’t a professional musician like their mother, he was extremely supportive of the sisters’ music education and was at every one of their concerts he could manage to attend. Barbara chose to name the scholarship after the whole family rather than just the Bennett women so that he would also be recognized in their gift.
They had the opportunity to meet one of their scholarship recipients on a video call and were delighted to see that their gift had made an impact on a student.
“I’m proud to have Georgia in my background,” Barbara said. “I’m glad to be able to give back to the university.”
This story written by Kensie Poor was originally published on Public Service & Outreach News on July 10, 2023.
A swirl of red and white atop a coconut crust, the iconic strawberry ice cream pie at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel has been a highlight of the menu since the 1960s. Adding to the legacy, an alumni business, Rock House Creamery, is now the supplier of the famous strawberry ripple ice cream central to the pie.
“I can’t begin to explain just how important this dessert is to so many people across the state of Georgia,” said Darrell Goodman, director of Food and Beverage at the Georgia Center.
The Georgia County Clerks Association (GCCA) has been holding its annual conference at the Georgia Center for over 40 years—and strawberry ice cream pie is always on the menu.
“Every clerk looks forward to the famous strawberry pie when we are in Athens,” said GCCA President Amanda Hannah. “I have new clerks ask me if we are going to have the famous strawberry ice cream pie at the conference.”
The iconic dessert was created through swift problem-solving when an ordering mishap left the kitchen staff from the Savannah Room with 600 pounds of coconut instead of the required 60-pound quantity. The chefs found a recipe for a macaroon crust, topped it with strawberry swirl ice cream from the UGA Creamery and finished it with a meringue. Retired Savannah Room baker Luetrell Sims perfected the dessert and her influence remains in the double knife method she devised to slice the thick frozen dessert.
This year, the Georgia Center was tasked with finding a new source for the strawberry ripple ice cream when Greenwood Creamery in Atlanta closed. Greenwood had been the supplier since the UGA Creamery stopped ice cream production. When UGA actively sought a new ice cream partner, we found one right in our backyard.
The Georgia Center partnered with Rock House Creamery, a family-owned and operated business with strong ties to UGA.
Keith Kelly, owner and operator of the Rock House Farm & Creamery, is a University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences alumnus and University of Georgia Foundation trustee. Keith’s wife, Pam, their son Brad, and Brad’s wife, Larkin, are all UGA alumni.
“We were excited by the opportunity to be a part of such a cool tradition and dessert for UGA,” said Brad Kelly, Rock House vice president of operations.
Rock House Farm was established in Leesburg, Georgia, in 2005 and the creamery opened in 2016 on a 1940s family dairy farm in Newborn. Today, they specialize in grass-fed beef, pork, and artisan dairy products such as creamline ice creams, old-fashioned creamline milks, and hand-crafted cheeses.
Working with UGA’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) over the years, the Kellys received support and resources from the center to help them with business planning, financial modeling, and benefited greatly from their expertise and assistance in rolling out their partnership with Farmview Market in Madison, Georgia.
“Local small businesses like us are good with what we know, but the Small Business Development Center at UGA really helps with filling in the knowledge gaps,” said Laura Rotroff, Brad’s sister and vice president of Marketing and Communications for parent company Kelly Products.
Both the UGA SBDC and the Georgia Center are units of UGA Public Service and Outreach.
“It’s rewarding to be able to utilize opportunities like this, to be nimble and partner with UGA in our community,” said Rotroff. “After all, the community is the lifeblood of small businesses.”
The continued partnership with UGA is a win all around.
“The strawberry ice cream pie is more than just a delicious dessert. It’s a symbol of the Georgia Center and UGA,” said Georgia Center Executive Chef Rob Harrison. “Rock House Creamery’s focus on using fresh, locally sourced ingredients aligns perfectly with our values, and the partnership between the two entities is a testament to the power of collaboration and community.”
Stories like Natalie Navarrete’s would not be possible without the generous support of donors. The Foundation Fellowship—and the role it played in Natalie’s journey—is just one example of how private giving sets students on a path to prosper.
This story, written by Erica Techo, was originally published on UGA Today on July 20, 2023.
Natalie Navarrete didn’t know Russian when she came to the University of Georgia. Now, she has studied it around the globe.
Navarrete graduated in spring 2023 with several new stamps in her passport, as well as bachelor’s degrees in international affairs, Russian and Spanish, and a minor in Latin American and Caribbean studies. She capped off her academic career at UGA as a 2023 Rhodes Scholar, receiving the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship in the world. She was one of only three public university students, in addition to the nation’s service academies, to receive the honor this year.
“Coming to UGA and learning Russian without knowing a single letter in the alphabet was incredibly difficult, but also very rewarding,” said Navarrete, who studied in the university’s Russian Flagship Program, a federally funded languages initiative housed in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Going from absolute zero to now having a business proficiency has been a really interesting and honestly exciting experience.”
And Navarrete was up to the academic challenge.
She received the Foundation Fellowship, the university’s top academic scholarship which has supported students for the last 50 years. The fellowship is available through the Jere W. Morehead Honors College and provides travel stipends, grants for research and conferences and additional funding. She is also a Stamps Scholar, a prestigious distinction only given to five Foundation Fellows each year.
“I can’t say enough good things about the Foundation Fellowship and the support that UGA provides its students in general,” Navarrete said. “I’ve learned so much by being around amazing, curious and passionate people all the time. It also helped make UGA a lot smaller and less intimidating in its first year. The Foundation Fellowship provides support for its students in a way that stands out from other universities.”
The fellowship helped Navarrete build a community, and other campus groups continued to strengthen it.
“For Natalie to accomplish so much in her four years at UGA is a testament to both her incredible drive for learning and the strength of our university’s academic programs,” said Meg Amstutz, dean of the Morehead Honors College. “From her immersion in the Russian Flagship Program to her engagement in the Foundation Fellowship, she has been an incredible example of UGA as an academic powerhouse. We are so proud of her.”
In the spring semester of her freshman year, Navarrete joined the Richard B. Russell Security Leadership Program and solidified her academic path forward.
“It was in the Security Leadership Program that I started learning about nuclear policy and nuclear strategy within the field of international affairs,” Navarrete said. “I did my first research connecting how Russian investments in media and education influence the way Latin American countries vote on security issues in the United Nations Security Council. From there, everything sort of snowballed.”
She seized the chance to study abroad. She improved her language proficiency, built a strong professional network and explored additional research opportunities.
“I don’t know how it all worked out, but my study away experiences perfectly built on each other,” Navarrete said.
These experiences started close to home, with opportunities in Athens and on campus, but they soon expanded worldwide.
From Middlebury, Vermont, and Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oxford, U.K., and Cortona, Italy, it all culminated in a yearlong study abroad in Altmaty, Kazakhstan. There were some disruptions due to the COVID pandemic—moving a program to Honolulu instead of Latvia, for example—but the strength of UGA’s Russian Flagship Program eased those transitions.
“Our flagship was extremely creative and managed to come up with lots of solutions,” she said. “I got to study Russian in Hawaii with two of the best Russian professors in the world, who have written dozens of textbooks on learning Russian. It was an incredible experience. And we were all very excited to go to the beach.”
The Russian Flagship Program also connected her to other students passionate about immersing themselves in a language. Daily language classes and intensive study provided their challenges, but on-campus resources offered encouragement.
All flagship students receive a one-on-one tutor and participate in intensive summer programs that help develop fluency. In September 2022, Navarrete had her capstone year at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Kazakstan, a program that included eight-hour days of Russian language and studies, but also opportunities to explore her interests on a new level.
“I took a course on the history of Central Asian Identity and Kazakh identity, and then I was able to apply that during a spring internship,” Navarrete said. “I worked with Altair Academy, a children’s literature group that promotes children’s literacy and reading in Kazakhstan. It was interesting to see how the Kazakh identity was manifested in children’s fairy tales.”
After her year abroad, Navarrete will enjoy a few weeks back in the United States before traveling to South Korea for a five-week conference. There, she will continue her research in nuclear nonproliferation before beginning her master’s program at the University of Oxford.
But first, she made a quick return to campus.
Navarrete lived in a residence hall for three of her four years as a student, even though she spent a large amount of time away from Athens. But any return to campus, she said, serves as a reminder of the university’s dedication to its students.
“You can tell in the way that campus is laid out and the programs that are available that UGA is here to support your everyday life. It really cares about its students,” she said. “And then it goes even further when you see the effort that professors put in to get students interested in different opportunities, to explore their interests and to make the most of their time here.”
Charlene Johnson Benn (BS ’85) had a connection to the University of Georgia before she could even walk. She was named after Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63), who was an award-winning journalist, foreign correspondent, civil rights activist and one of the two first Black students to attend UGA. Benn has big shoes to fill, and she takes honoring her namesake’s legacy very seriously.
Charlene’s family bleeds red and black–she, two of her siblings, her goddaughter and her children attended UGA. Their family’s journey at UGA began when her older sister, Dianne East (BBA ’83, MACC ’86), made the decision to enroll.
Dianne and Charlene babysat as teenagers for a neighborhood family who was deeply connected to UGA, and the family encouraged them to apply. Although neither of the sisters’ parents had graduated from high school, they had encouraged their children to prioritize their education. Dianne enrolled first, next was their brother, Albert Johnson Jr. (AB ’82), then Charlene.
“It was a no-brainer by then,” Charlene said of her decision to attend UGA. It was the only college she applied to.
The start of a family legacy
The three supported one another during their time at UGA, all sharing one car on campus and meeting up frequently for football games and other activities. When the Georgia Bulldogs won the college football national championship in 1980, Charlene and Dianne were cheering on their brother as he played in the Redcoat Band. After Dianne joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Psi Chapter, Charlene joined the sorority as well, an experience she said helped bring her out of her shell and make the most of her college experience.
As a student, Charlene devoted herself to uplifting UGA’s Black community. She served as president of Delta Sigma Theta as well as being involved in Pamoja Singers and the Committee for Black Cultural Programs.
Charlene has continued her service to the university as an alumnus through her giving efforts and membership on the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors. She has had the opportunity to meet her namesake, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a few times, an experience which deepened her emotional connection to UGA even further.
She served on the Black Alumni Leadership Council, focusing on ensuring that all alumni feel a sense of ownership and passion for continuing the legacy of Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes through their giving and their support of diversity and inclusion.
Continuing the legacy
When it was time for her children and goddaughter to apply to college, Charlene strongly urged them to attend UGA because of her own experience. Both of her daughters and her goddaughter chose to attend and remember being impressed by Charlene’s love and commitment for the university years after her graduation.
Charlene and her sister were overjoyed that her children had chosen UGA because it continued their family’s legacy and deepened their own connections to the university. She showed her daughters around campus during their orientation, pointing out places that were important to her along the way—places at which her daughters would go on to make their own memories.
Peyton Fraser (BS ’14, BSED ’14), Charlene’s youngest daughter, said that coming to UGA “felt like a sense of home.”
“Our family legacy made our experience unique,” she said.
The impact of giving
Charlene’s family ties to the university have inspired her to give back. Both she and her sister received scholarships to attend UGA and are very grateful for the contributions that helped make their time at UGA possible. The two created a need-based scholarship in 2020 in support of minority students. The scholarship, called the Albert and Naomi Johnson Scholarship, is named in honor of their parents and empowers students who otherwise may not have been able to attend college.
“We wanted to make a path for anyone who really wants to get an education,” Charlene said. “Small scholarship funds made all the difference for us.”
Charlene credits UGA with her professional success. She got her first job after graduating from UGA at SunTrust (now Truist) after meeting her boss, a fellow Bulldog, at a UGA job fair. The job launched her lifelong career in information technology and financial services. She currently works as senior director of operations and technology strategy at Fiserv, a financial technology company.
“I will tell anyone that my attendance at the University of Georgia has made all the difference in my life,” she said.
Delia Owens, author of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” recently made a $50,000 commitment to the University of Georgia to establish the Delia Owens Fellowship in Ecology.
For Owens, creating support for graduate students—specifically, doctoral students in Ecology or Integrative Conservation and Ecology in UGA’s Odum School of Ecology—is something that hits close to home.
“I remember what it’s like to be a graduate student,” said Owens, who received a bachelor’s of science in zoology from UGA in 1971. “I had been working for seven years, doing research for zero salary, when I decided to go to graduate school. I was basically broke, wondering how I was going to pay for it, when someone came along with a scholarship, and I’ve never forgotten that. So, I thought ‘well, I can do the same thing for other people.’”
The Thomasville native’s $50,000 pledge will be matched by the UGA Foundation to establish a $100,000 fund that will create the Odum School’s first doctoral student scholarship. Initially, the scholarship will prioritize summer stipends for Ph.D. students, who often go without support while performing field work in remote locations during the summer months, or for the development of research projects separate from those funded by students’ faculty mentors.
“I thank Dr. Owens for her generosity and express my gratitude to the UGA Foundation for their ongoing support of student scholars,” said Sonia Altizer, interim dean of the Odum School. “Scholarships like this one are crucial for recruiting and retaining outstanding, diverse graduate students to the Odum School, to produce the next generation of leaders in the field of ecology.”
The idea to create a fellowship came after UGA Libraries proposed that Owens donate her papers—manuscripts, records, field notes, research papers, and more—to the university’s Special Collections Libraries.
“I was so honored by that,” said Owens. “Just a couple of months into the publication of ‘Crawdads,’ they asked me to donate my archives. It’s something I hadn’t even thought about, but now it’s wonderful to know that my notes and so forth will be preserved.”
With her archives secured in a place where they could be of use to generations of students, it didn’t take long for Owens to consider other ways she could help UGA students. Owens chose ecology as her fund’s focus not just because it’s been at the center of her career—she co-wrote three non-fiction natural history books before “Where the Crawdads Sing”—but because she feels supporting the study of ecology is of the utmost importance.
“Ecology has always been important, but right now it’s critical,” said Owens. “We’re down at our own one-yard line. We’re not where we want to be right now with Earth. So, we have to do everything we can to keep our first-string in there, and hopefully this fellowship helps us do that.”
Owens becoming a graduate student may have seemed unlikely before she went to UGA—“In high school, my friends never thought of me as a good student”—but she credits a liberating experience in Athens for opening a world of possibilities to her.
“Just opening the catalog and seeing all the courses I could take was eye-opening,” said Owens. “I knew I loved nature, but I had never seen all the details of how I could explore that. And I had a great professor, Dr. Murray Blum, who made me realize how connected all the different sciences are. It felt like he really brought me into the field of science more than just teaching me as a student.”
That feeling is one she hopes her fellowship can help students experience: realizing that they can be a valuable part of the scientific community, even as a student.
“That was an important part of the process,” said Owens. “A lot of people fail when they perceive this huge line between student and scientist. But if you have the right help, you realize ‘I can do this,’ and you can start passing that line early on in your career.”
Owens currently lives in North Carolina, where she is working on her next novel, a story of mystery, romance and nature that weaves an ecological message into the narrative.
This story was written by Charles McNair.
Dr. Jack Schaeffer (BBA ’72) first visited the University of Georgia on a football weekend.
“I always thought I’d go to Tulane,” he recalled. “But the experience at a Georgia-Vanderbilt game and that whole weekend changed me. In my mind, I’ve never left Athens, Georgia, since. UGA is the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
Jack’s three children had similar insights.
Dr. Brooke Schaeffer Kaplan (BS ’03) planned to attend the University of Texas, but she took time to visit a cousin’s sorority house at UGA.
“I got to campus, and I knew it was where I was supposed to be,” Brooke said. “I felt that sense of community. I was searching for a sense of belonging—UGA made me feel the way I wanted to feel.”
Dr. Mark Schaeffer (BBA ’06) knew UGA’s pull long before he arrived as a student.
The Schaeffers had cheered at Georgia football games for years from a family suite at the UGA Center for Continuing Education. The day Mark walked onto campus as a student, he already felt like an ambassador for the school—and then he was one, becoming a Visitor Center tour guide.
“I was an official representative of UGA,” he said. “It was so rewarding to just talk about how great UGA is. I felt like I helped high school visitors decide to come to college here.”
Dr. David Schaeffer (BS ’12) is the most recent family UGA alum. Though he’d been accepted at another prestigious university, he just couldn’t imagine himself there.
“I’d gone to Athens dozens and dozens of times,” he said. “I didn’t have to picture myself there. I just felt like I already was there.”
The eyes have it
All four Schaeffers, two generations, followed their 20/20 UGA visions into the same field of study: optometry.
Jack set up practice as founder and CEO of Schaeffer Eye Center in Birmingham, Alabama, after advanced study at Southern College of Optometry. His firm grew to 18 locations and a refractive laser center before he sold it to MyEyeDr in 2017.
The Schaeffer kids grew up in a world of eye charts, lenses, and frames.
“Schaeffer Eye Center was basically a family business,” Jack said. “All my children participated in the practice. And they all understood we were not only an eye clinic, but a community company.
“We cared for patients. We cared for families. We cared for our communities. We always believed in being something bigger than just a business.”
UGA focused the Schaeffers on service
Brooke works today as a clinical assistant professor at UAB in addition to practicing optometry at MyEyeDr as a market clinical manager. Mark serves not only in MyEyeDr but also within the larger optometric community as a board member of the Intrepid Eye Society. David joined the family business after he finished studies at the Illinois College of Optometry.
All three Schaeffer kids say UGA prepared them for lives of service.
“We all wanted to do something bigger than just serve ourselves,” said Brooke. “We all wanted to help people in some way.”
Brooke lauds UGA professors for sharpening her professional capabilities. “I learned time management skills. I learned study skills. I had the ability to talk with my professors one-on-one. It set me up for success.”
Mark strongly credits UGA for his community consciousness.
“The environment at the university emphasized collaborative learning and collaborative work to create a better student,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege to work in many different settings using the shared community to promote growth not only in myself but also in the greater world.”
Among David’s favorite memories is a scavenger hunt held at his induction into the Dean William Tate Honor Society, the most prestigious honor UGA can bestow on a first-year student. The hunt took him to notable locations on campus, ending at the Founders Memorial Garden.
“It was a search for something hidden, that you might miss if you didn’t have some idea of what you were looking for,” David said. “It was powerful and memorable.”
The scavenger hunt could serve as a metaphor for what every scholar at UGA seeks.
Understanding this, the Schaeffers have always placed great value on giving back—to communities and organizations and institutions that help shape values, instill wisdom, and equip people to succeed in life.
Jack, the patriarch, speaks for the whole Schaeffer family.
“When you are passionate about a place, a cause, or an institution, it is imperative that you demonstrate that passion by being involved,” he said. “That includes gifts of time and money. There should be a commitment to both.
“It does so much good when you give back. And it just feels good.”
Somewhere, there’s a swim coach that swam for Jack Bauerle at the University of Georgia.
Actually, there’s more than a few places where this is the case.
In June, Jack Bauerle, longtime head coach of UGA’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs, announced his retirement. Bauerle’s time with the University of Georgia spanned over 50 years, beginning with his undergraduate years as an athlete on campus and ending after 46 years as a coach—43 of which were spent as a head coach.
Bauerle’s teams won SEC and NCAA championships, he coached Olympic gold medalists and NCAA Woman of the Year award recipients, and he was the head coach for the U.S. women’s team at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games—and this list doesn’t even scratch the surface of his accomplishments. Bauerle’s list of accolades is extensive, but he is even more well known for his dedication and passion for UGA, the sport of swimming, and his athletes.
While Bauerle’s retirement means that he’ll be seen around the pool deck less, his influence can still be felt across the country through the network of his former swimmers who went on to be coaches themselves. At every level, you can find a coach—from age group to NCAA Division I—who was coached by Bauerle and is now leaving their own mark on the swimming world.
Coast to Coast
UGA Swimming & Diving won its first NCAA women’s team championship in 1999 with Bauerle at the helm–a moment which has become a cornerstone memory for Julie de Fabrique (BSFCS ’99), who was a senior at the time. The win was the first of seven national titles for Bauerle’s women’s program, with the most recent coming in 2016.
de Fabrique recalls falling in love with UGA during her official visit in high school. She recorded an impressive four years as a Bulldog, including winning SEC titles and ending her collegiate career with an individual NCAA title in the 1650-yard freestyle. When reflecting on her time swimming for the Bulldogs, de Fabrique remembers the way Bauerle believed in his athletes in and out of the pool, constantly encouraging them to give their best at practice and in the classroom.
de Fabrique is now a head age group coach in her home state of California at San Clemente Aquatics, but she wasn’t always interested in becoming a coach. It wasn’t until nine years ago, when her husband volunteered her to coach a local club team, that she began her first official coaching role. As a coach, de Fabrique keeps in mind the many things she learned from Bauerle, from the way he structured practice to the way he motivated his athletes—things she feels fortunate to be able to pass on to her swimmers today.
“I feel fortunate to have been a part of this program and to share that experience with those who I coach now.”
– Julie de Fabrique (BSFCS ’99)
Coaching isn’t the only way de Fabrique is able to pay it forward to the next generation of swimmers. Recently, she had the opportunity to return to Athens and share her love for the University with her family. She even stopped by Gabrielsen Natatorium on her visit to share her story with the current women’s team.
Bauerle’s influence doesn’t ring any clearer than right here at the University of Georgia.
Following the announcement of Bauerle’s retirement, UGA Athletics named Stefanie Williams Moreno (BSED ’03) women’s swimming and diving head coach and Neil Versfeld (BSFCS ’10) men’s swimming and diving head coach. Both had accomplished college careers at UGA under Bauerle, each accruing SEC and NCAA championships among numerous other accolades.
Williams Moreno knew she wanted to be a swim coach as soon as her time as a collegiate swimmer came to a close, thanks to her experience at UGA—something she strives to replicate for her team.
“My mission has been to provide an environment for success like the one I experienced at the University of Georgia.”
– Stefanie Williams Moreno (BSED ’03), Women’s Swimming and Diving Head Coach
Versfeld represented South Africa in the 2008 Beijing Olympics—the same year Bauerle served as a head coach for the United States—and after an impressive career as an athlete, his passion for the sport drove him to pursue coaching in 2013.
“Words cannot describe how blessed I am to have this opportunity to give back to this University and the swimming and diving program that gave me so much.”
– Neil Versfeld (BSFCS ’10), Men’s Swimming & Diving Head Coach
For Versfeld and Williams Moreno, the opportunity to be a head coach at UGA is a dream come true. As they continue the legacy that Jack Bauerle built, they will also strive to emulate a practice Bauerle implemented during his years at UGA: looking beyond the pool.
“Jack has an incredible ability to connect with his swimmers as people,” says Neil Versfeld.
Williams Moreno agrees: “What stands out to me is Jack always understood the bigger picture. Everyone is more than a swimmer; one day, their swimming career will end.”
January 2022 was quite the month for Stacy Willingham (ABJ ’13).
Her beloved Georgia Bulldogs defeated the University of Alabama to claim the national title on January 10. The next day, her first published novel, “A Flicker in the Dark,” was released. And on January 30, that novel landed on the New York Times bestseller list—the same day she turned 31.
For the 2013 UGA graduate who now lives in Charleston, the process of becoming a published author was a whirlwind affair … one that began on UGA’s campus more than a decade ago.
“My sister attended UGA in the Class of 2010,” says Willingham. “When I was deciding between schools, I spent one weekend with her in Athens and was sold.”
A Start in Athens
While on campus, Willingham—described by her college roommates as “creative, uplifting, easygoing and active”—kept busy. She joined Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, majored in magazines in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and studied abroad.
“I was lucky enough to study abroad twice,” Willingham reflects. “The first time was in Cortona, Italy. The second time was in London, where I interned at a marketing and PR company called Bespoke Banter. I still think about both experiences often and never take them for granted.”
But it was her Grady classes that laid the foundation for the transformation of her writing hobby into a career.
“Learning how to interview is a skill I still use, even though I don’t interview people anymore. Understanding how to get past surface-level answers taught me how to find the real meat of a story, which now influences the way I create my characters,” explains Willingham. “Studying journalism helped me realize that everyone has a story to tell, and it’s usually not the one we expect. In addition, knowing how to craft a pitch—which I learned at UGA—was invaluable when querying agents.”
Finding the ’Write’ Path
After graduation, Willingham moved to Atlanta and worked for a local marketing agency, Havas Sports & Entertainment. Even with some occasional freelance work on the side, she yearned for more opportunities to write. She began dabbling in fiction, noting that while she had dreams of being published, she was primarily seeing it as a creative outlet. After a few months, though, she realized that she enjoyed writing fiction more than anything. She decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design while continuing to work full-time.
By 2019, she had completed graduate school, was back home in Charleston and had two finished novels under her belt. She unsuccessfully shopped the first book around to publishers for five years, but her second novel catapulted her into the high-stakes world of book publishing.
“I secured a literary agent about two weeks after finishing ‘A Flicker in the Dark;’ we spent about six months editing it together,” says Willingham. “Then, we sent it out on submission in June 2020, which ultimately led to my book deal. The road from book deal to publication took another 18 months, during which I got to peek under the hood of the publishing process.”
A Dream Come True
By January 30 (her birthday), Willingham’s thriller hit the New York Times bestseller list and was being developed into an HBO Max series by actress Emma Stone’s Fruit Tree and A24.
“I did a lot of anxious thumb-twiddling until it finally hit the shelves,” she says. “It landed on the bestseller list instantly, which means our presales and first-week sales were enough for it to debut at No. 9. I’m still in shock! Hitting the New York Times bestseller list was a dream come true.”
A Cheering Section
After years of hard work, Willingham celebrated with an array of supporters—many of which are listed at the end of “A Flicker in the Dark.” This includes her husband, Britt (BSES ’13), who she met through a mutual friend during her junior year at UGA.
“Being married to a fellow Dawg is amazing—he’s even crazier about football season than I am, so we spend a lot of time watching games at our local alumni bar (Home Team in Charleston), as well as going to Athens as often as we can and traveling for the big away games. The most fun was probably the UGA vs. Notre Dame game in 2017.”
As she answers questions for this profile and reflects on her dream coming true, she admits she had doubts and fears throughout the process. The words of Teddy Roosevelt, shared by her dad, ring true and spur her on.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Advice for Future Dawgs
Roosevelt’s remarks resemble the advice she would share with graduating Bulldogs.
“Entering the working world is amazing in many ways, but don’t forget to make time for yourself and your passions. Your job is important, but so are your hobbies and your free time. A lot of figuring out what you want to do with your life is through trial and error and giving yourself the space to explore. It’s tough to do that when you’re glued to your desk.”
Just think if Willingham had not dabbled in writing fiction and given herself the freedom to write novels. It’s a risk that paid off—and a success that can never be taken away.
“It’s an accomplishment that I get to carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Willingham’s thriller, “A Flicker in the Dark,” is a page-turner from start to finish. Set in Louisiana, the novel’s lead character explores a tumultuous and sordid family history to discover new secrets that threaten her happiness. Secure your copy from any major bookseller—or Avid Bookshop, a Bulldog-owned business in Athens. (And mark your calendar: Willingham’s second book, All the Dangerous Things, will be released on January 10, 2023!
This story was originally published on UGA Today on Feb. 9, 2022.
The University of Georgia named Eugenia Harvey as the recipient of the inaugural Footsteps Award during the university’s annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 1.
The award recognizes a UGA graduate who follows in the pioneering footsteps of Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Hamilton Holmes and Mary Frances Early, UGA’s first enrolled Black students and first Black graduate, respectively, by making a significant positive impact in human rights, race relations or education in their community.
“When I received my acceptance letter from UGA, my mother reminded me that I was following in the footsteps of those who paid the price for me to attend my desired school,” said Harvey, who graduated with a Broadcast Journalism degree. “I bring those words up from deep within my heart today as I receive the inaugural Footsteps Award from this, my university. With gratitude and purpose, I walk forward, hoping to brighten the path for those yet to come.”
Harvey serves as the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for The WNET Group and is part of the organization’s senior leadership team. She plays a central role in the efforts to build a more inclusive, equitable and anti-racist organization. The WNET Group is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, operator of New Jersey’s statewide public television network NJ PBS, and Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM.
In addition to her role as Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Harvey also oversees The WNET Group’s Community Engagement team, which has partnered with thought leaders from over 400 community organizations to convene solutions-oriented discussions around systemic racism in New York City and across the country.
Harvey is also an award-winning producer, and continues to serve as Executive Producer for The WNET Group’s Chasing the Dream: Poverty & Opportunity in America, providing critical programming on poverty, opportunity and justice in America; Peril & Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change, a reporting initiative reporting on the human stories of climate change and its potential solutions; and Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and Extremism, examining the roots and rise of hate in America and across the globe.
“Eugenia brings diverse and underrepresented stories to light and diversifies the talent behind and in front of the camera,” said Yvette Daniels, president of the UGA Alumni Association board of directors. “Her impactful work promotes social justice and inspires audiences to improve the world. We are honored to call her a Bulldog and honored to name her the winner of the inaugural Footsteps Award.”
“Eugenia is such a great example of UGA alumni at their best: she went out into the world, she is excelling in her field and she is making a real difference,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson, executive director of the UGA Alumni Association. “The work she has done and will continue to do makes her a perfect choice for this first Footsteps Award.”
Harvey will be honored in Atlanta at the spring reception of The 1961 Club, a UGA giving society named for the year of desegregation at UGA and composed of donors to the university’s Black Alumni Scholarship Fund. Nominations for the 2023 Footsteps Award will open in the fall.