EDITOR’S NOTE: The following piece was originally published in the September issue of The Cupola as a continuation of profiles of newly appointed members of the college’s Board of Trustees. We hope you enjoy learning what is behind their membership and connection with Mary Baldwin.
She had not yet laid eyes on Mary Baldwin University when she arrived as a new student in 1956, but Nancy Mayer Dunbar had a clear image of the campus in her mind — of her grandmother pulling up in a horse and carriage during her years as a student at Augusta Female Seminary in the 1880s.
“The Virginia connection was strong on my mother’s side of the family, and I had been to Staunton a few times with my father. When the time came, I knew that was where I wanted to head,” said the Columbia, South Carolina native. Dunbar was enamored with the college and its inhabitants during a fast paced two years here and went on to earn her degree with one more year of study at University of South Carolina.
Dunbar’s time on the physical Mary Baldwin campus may have been short, but her spirit stayed connected. After teaching and volunteering for several years on the West Coast, she returned to South Carolina and quickly reconnected with the strong Mary Baldwin alumnae/i base in that area. She served on the college’s Alumnae/i Association Board of Directors and the Advisory Board of Visitors before accepting the invitation for a seat on the Board of Trustees in 2009.
“I have great respect for women who choose Mary Baldwin for their education,” said Dunbar, who was the recipient of the college’s prestigious Emily Smith Medallion in 1987. “They have opened themselves to a world of possibilities.”
What was your first impression of Mary Baldwin?
I was familiar with Staunton, but not with Mary Baldwin University, from traveling with my grandfather on church business. My first sight of the college was when we pulled up to the Administration Building to unload my suitcases. Ham and Jam were there to greet me. It was beautiful — there were an awful lot of steps to my room in Hilltop, but it was still beautiful.
What were your reasons for saying “yes” when asked to serve on the Board?
I didn’t say yes at first. I wanted to make sure that I could be a productive and active board member, and I knew there were several things I wouldn’t be able to do. I talked personally with Dr. [Pamela] Fox and was honest with her, and she convinced me that I would be an asset to the group. I love the college so much, and I am absolutely in love with the unique programs that have developed over the years. I wanted to be sure I could serve them well.
What did you want to be in college?
To understand my choice, you need to understand that there were basically three things a woman could be trained to do for a career when I went to college: a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. I knew which one I wanted to be, so I earned degrees in history and secondary education and became a teacher. It was a rewarding profession, and I taught English and social studies in California, Virginia, and South Carolina. Later, I earned my MA and PhD at University of South Carolina and worked for the South Carolina legislature — writing and proofreading bills — for nine years.
What sets Mary Baldwin apart from other colleges/universities?
Its signature programs (PEG, VWIL, Baldwin Online and Adult Programs, and MLitt/MFA) and its continued viability during what I refer to as the “co-ed” generation — students who have a wide range of co-educational options open to them. I also believe its continued affiliation with the Presbyterian Church and its success as a single-sex institution are distinctive assets.
How will you support Mary Baldwin’s renewed focus on civic engagement and global citizenship?
My volunteer life in Colorado and South Carolina has been very important to me, and it’s encouraging to see that young people are so passionate about their involvement, too. I’m eager to watch as the changemaker internship program [part of the innovative Residential College for Women stimulus package announced in spring 2009] takes off.
Of the many things you’ve accomplished in your life, what are you most proud of?
I’m not really fond of the word “proud,” so I’ll say that I’m happy to have accomplished many things, including earning my PhD, running marathons, and, of course, watching my two daughters unfold into women. I’m definitely a ‘girl person.’
Why is it important for every alumna/us to support Mary Baldwin?
This kind of college is special — the leadership is first-rate, the programs are ‘with it,’ and there is so much flexibility in how you can earn your degree — and that inspires affection. When alumnae/I and friends support the college with their money, they also support it with their words, their spirit, and their heart.