By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
Dry eyes were hard to come by in the ballroom at Vestavia Country Club on April 8 as the Legacy League dedicated its membership meeting to celebrating the tenure of Samford University first lady Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland, who has served as executive director of the organization for the past 15 years.
This summer, she will retire alongside her husband and current Samford President Andy Westmoreland, passing the torch on to the university’s 19th president and first lady, Beck and Julie Taylor.
Westmoreland was presented with the Legacy League’s Lolla Wurtele Wright Award, its highest honor for members and named for the university’s first first lady.
Alta Faye Fenton, last year’s award winner, presented the award to Westmoreland. Fenton was the first president to serve under Westmoreland.
“She is a visionary leader with a positive attitude who always places the good of others above any selfish ambition,” Fenton said. “When I grow up, I want to be like Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland.
“The wise, visionary leadership and unselfish service to our organization as well as to our students over the past 15 years by our current first lady and executive director have left an immeasurable impact and legacy on our organization,” she added. “There is no one more worthy to receive this award.”
Andy Westmoreland noted that his wife has achieved goals beyond expectation throughout her career and during their time at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, where he served as president from 1998 until 2006.
She was a teacher and administrator in the Arkansas public school system for 10 years before joining the Ouachita faculty in the School of Education. She moved up to become dean of the School of Education and served as chair of the Arkansas State Board of Education from 2003 to 2006.
“She had done all of that before she was the age of 50,” he said.
When they made the decision to move their family from Arkadelphia, Arkansas, to Birmingham, Andy Westmoreland noted that his wife had the most to lose in leaving behind her career.
“Jeanna gave up an awful lot to come to Birmingham, Alabama, and to Samford, and so I worried about what would happen,” he said. “She found the Legacy League and it became her passion. You invited her into your homes and into your hearts and then she worked you so hard and you wondered about whether it was wise to invite her into your homes and hearts, but you kept working, God kept blessing and dollars kept coming in – not just to make gifts – but for the purpose of changing these student lives.”
According to Legacy League Director of Development Sharon Smith, under Jeanne Westmoreland’s 15 years as executive director, the league added 27 endowed scholarships, and the total endowment has increased by an estimated $3 million dollars.
Smith, who has worked with the league for more than nine years, said she realizes she has had a front row seat to see not only God’s redemptive work, but Westmoreland’s hard work to serve students in need.
“Whether it is toting chairs, arranging flowers, sweeping up at the last minute before the guests come in or standing at that door for hours and hours with a smile on her face … greeting thousands of people opening her home and her heart,” Smith said.
“There’s a saying that goes ‘dream big dreams then roll up your sleeves,’ and that is exactly what Jeanna did when she came to this place 5½ years before I did.”
Major milestones during her tenure included the first gala, now known as the Scholarship Celebration, in 2009. The first Fall Luncheon was hosted in 2009. In 2011, the auxiliary took on the Legacy League name and hosted its first Scholarship Luncheon and the first Christmas Home Tour. In addition, the junior board was launched in 2016 along with the first new member orientation.
In January, the league announced that a new endowed scholarship would be formed in honor of Westmoreland’s contributions, called the Jeanna King Westmoreland Legacy League Scholarship.
At the time of the meeting, Smith noted that more than 200 donors already had contributed to the scholarship’s endowment, resulting in more than $102,000 in donations. In addition, funds for the scholarship were raised at the event through a silent auction and a Kendra Scott give-back sale.
The new scholarship will aid students who face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, such as homelessness, violence, foster care, the death or disability of a parent, abandonment or sacrifices due to full-time ministry.
Growth and Enhancement
Westmoreland noted that, during the pandemic and both before and after her husband announced his retirement, there has been ample opportunity to reflect on the couple’s 15 years at Samford.
“I would say that, as we have had those conversations, the word that continually comes to mind and is part of each and every one of those conversations is gratitude,” she said. “We’re grateful that you welcomed us into the Samford family and the Samford community.”
She noted that one of her first introductions to the Legacy League, then known as the Samford Auxiliary, came when then-coordinator Elouise Williams picked her up from a hotel during a traditional visit and drove her to campus.
“She is the one who first told me about the scholarship program,” Westmoreland said. “I immediately connected with that and thought, ‘I can get behind that. I can work with that.’ So, I am so grateful that we had that time together and she was able to share her love for the organization with me.”
In addition, Westmoreland noted that one thing that both she and her husband are most thankful for is Samford’s bright future as the Taylors transition into their leadership roles.
“I think that the foundation that was laid by (former Executive Director Marla Corts) and Elouise Williams in this organization and that you all have helped to enlarge and build is going to be a fantastic launching point for what Julie Taylor will be able to do as your executive director,” Westmoreland said.