VOLUNTEER Spotlight: Jim Southerland
From occasional stints as a painter and groundskeeper to head academic officer, Jim Southerland has filled many roles during his nearly 50-year association with Brenau University.
“Being affiliated with Brenau through these decades has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said Southerland, who retired in 2013. “I entered the teaching profession believing it to be one of the most noble and rewarding careers one could pursue, and all these many years later, I still believe that to be the case. Through lean times and times of enough, the one constant has been the caliber of our students.”
Southerland vividly recalls his early Brenau days as financially challenging ones. Ever the historian, Southerland placed this temporal event in historical context as he remembered how in the early ’70s, universities and colleges hit an enrollment slump due to a drop in birth rates back in the mid-’50s. The birth rate dip was the first hiccup in what is known as the U.S. baby boom period that lasted from 1946 to 1964. “Of course, it’s one thing to recognize historical context,” he said, “and it’s quite another to adequately address the financial concerns the occurrence spawned.”
As has been the case throughout the history of Brenau, the faculty gathered to discuss ways they might increase revenue for the institution as well as save money – thus, the all-hands-on-deck approach to taking care of the buildings and grounds. Southerland said one lasting idea from those trying days was the birth of the professional school that primarily attracted working adults for evening and weekend classes. Similar programs today are among the signature academic offerings by the university. “I guess the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention is true,” he said.
“And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the unwavering and entrepreneurial leadership of the Brenau trustees during those days and, indeed, over the life of this institution, as well as the outpouring of support from the surrounding community and alumni.” Southerland is chronicling his days at Brenau and other life events in a book that will be published during the 2017-18 academic year through Brenau University Press.
Candidly, Southerland says he is not at all surprised by the ongoing success of Brenau’s $40 million ForeverGold: An Extraordinary Legacy campaign. “Year after year and decade upon decade, I have seen the momentum building toward this moment. We have graduated thousand of students who have become leaders in their professions and in their communities, many of whom have remembered how Brenau helped prepare them for their chosen paths, and they have given generously to this cause. As a longtime Gainesville resident, I have seen that as the city has prospered, so has Brenau, and many understand that these go hand in hand.
“Although historians loathe predicting the future, I will go out on a limb and say that as rich and rewarding as Brenau’s past is, its future is full of promise, and I encourage our alumni and friends to join usin this bold endeavor.”