Alumni Association awardees from both 2020 and 2021 were recognized during a combined Homecoming and Alumni Weekend celebration March 26-27. Alumni Association President Herbert Jordan ’68 led the Saturday morning meeting of the association in Lesesne Auditorium. He offered an opening prayer, and then Erskine President Dr. Robert Gustafson spoke to the group.
“Welcome back to a changing place that’s still the same,” Gustafson said. After naming some of the new buildings, programs, and renovations on campus, he cited three elements that remain essential to Erskine. “Erskine will always be a place of relationships,” he said. “Erskine is a place of focus on the liberal arts. And Erskine is a Christian place.”
Gustafson, who has announced that he will be leaving Erskine at the end of the fiscal year, was given a gift by the Alumni Association Board of Directors in recognition of his service over the past several years.
The top honor bestowed by the Alumni Association, the Alumni Distinguished Service Award, recognizes service to one’s church, community, profession, and alma mater over a lifetime. Dr. James Wylie Gettys, Jr. ’62 was the 2020 recipient, and this year’s winner is Dr. Mabel L. Purkerson ’51. The presentations were made by Jordan.
Gettys, who was named McDonald-Boswell Professor Emeritus of History, served as Vice President and Dean of the College for 11 years, taught history at Erskine for more than 40 years, is regarded as an expert in the history of Abbeville County and of Erskine, and has enriched the field of South Carolina history through his research. At the Due West ARP Church, he has served as deacon, elder, Sunday school teacher, and clerk of the Session, and at the denominational level was elected Vice Moderator. He and his wife Sandra Lockaby Gettys ’62 minister to members who are unable to participate in church fellowship. He has been president of the Abbeville Rotary Club and is a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow and a Rotary International Benefactor. He and his wife are active members of the Due West Lions Club, and he has served on the Abbeville County Development Board.
Gettys expressed pleasure at being honored by the Alumni Association and said of Erskine alumni, “They are the leaven that energizes their communities” through service on church and school boards, in youth athletic organizations, and in other groups.
Purkerson, a clinician, teacher, investigator, and administrator, was the first woman named full professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. She also served as chief of nephrology for the Washington University Medical Service at John Cochran Veterans Administration Medical Center as well as associate dean for curriculum and associate dean for academic projects at the School of Medicine. The Washington University website describes her as a physician and scientist “leading by example, focusing on excellence, always open to new opportunities and techniques.” She is praised for her interdisciplinary approach which “allowed her to make substantial contributions in the field of renal physiology.”
Jordan noted that Purkerson is a longtime member of Ladue Presbyterian Church in Ladue, Missouri and said her “zest for life and the enjoyment she receives from serving others is an example of faith in action.”
In a recorded video, Purkerson expressed appreciation for her award and spoke about elements that have contributed to her success, including the opportunity afforded her by the background she gained at Erskine College. She cited the support of her family, excellent mentors, her commitment and persistence, and her enjoyment of her work.
The Outstanding Young Alumni Award winners were presented by coordinator of Alumni Relations Hope Crenshaw Seymour ’19. The 2020 winners were Dr. David Dangerfield ’05 and Elinor Griffin ’15. The 2021 recipient is Cameron Whitehurst ’17.
Dangerfield serves as assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie. He has received many academic awards, grants, and honors. Active at Asbury St. James United Methodist Church, he has served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors and is a member of the University South Caroliniana Society and the St. George Tucker Society. “David is a frequent speaker on the topic of free people of color in antebellum South Carolina and on various aspects of the Revolutionary War,” Seymour said. He has been a consultant for “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates” on PBS.
Griffin’s work has focused on the plight of refugees. She interned with refugee resettlement organizations and served as Refugee Ministry Coordinator for Outreach North America, an agency of the ARP Church. She delivered the Cardwell Lecture at Erskine in 2018, sharing with students the difficulties faced by refugees. “Elinor’s love for mission work and her compassion for the plight of refugees was nurtured at Erskine,” Seymour said. Griffin currently serves as a Refugee Ministry Assistant in France. Her mother, Sharon Bell Griffin ’81, accepted the award on her behalf.
Whitehurst, who originally intended to become an actuary, enjoyed many fellowship and service opportunities at Erskine. “Along the way through Erskine, Cameron realized the Lord was calling him into a ministry of evangelism,” Seymour said. As a student, he was asked to speak at worship services of the Renaissance Senior Living Community in Due West. He is currently working on a Master of Divinity degree at Reformed Theological Seminary and serves as Director of Youth Ministry at Plains PCA Church in Zachary, Louisiana.
“Erskine is rich in alumni who are called to serve others and who commit their lives to that purpose,” Seymour said. “We are delighted today to recognize these three who so vividly represent the ideals of Erskine and of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Congratulations to each of you!”
The Erskine Service Awards were presented by Alumni Association President-Elect E. Phillip Cook ’92. The 2020 recipient was Robert N. “Tripp” Boykin III ’92, and the 2021 winner is Angie McNeill Grooms ’77.
Boykin, headmaster of Laurence Manning Academy, has been instrumental in sending nearly two dozen students to Erskine. “Because of his enthusiastic fondness for Erskine, Tripp has often served as a scholarship competition interviewer and is a frequent featured speaker at summer orientation for incoming freshmen,” Cook said. He has served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors and has been nominated for a second term.
Grooms retired in 2013 after a distinguished career with Duke Energy. She has served on the Board of Counselors as well as the Alumni Association Board of Directors and was president of the Alumni Board from 2017 to 2019. “Being the president of the Alumni Association Board carries with it the duty of serving simultaneously on the Erskine Board of Trustees,” Cook said. “Angie’s skills as a negotiator and mediator were put to use as she helped those two boards navigate some turbulent waters and reach a peaceful compromise.”
Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Relations Paul Bell ’84 presented honorary alumnae Reba Stille, who was named in 2020, and Jennifer Cooley, the 2021 inductee.
Stille served for nearly 40 years as Erskine’s campus nurse, caring for thousands of students and “in her quiet and reassuring way, not only dispensing medical care but providing a kind listening ear and wisdom for life,” Bell said. During the late Dr. Harry Stille’s years as Erskine’s head baseball coach, she was known among the players as “Ma Reba.” A former baseball player said of the Stilles, “Any time of the day or night, it didn’t matter— if we had a problem, they were there for us.”
Cooley formerly worked in the Student Services office, now Student Development, and has since served Erskine as Assistant to the Chief of Police and Victims Advocate. One of her Student Services colleagues said she “never failed to put students’ needs first.” She recently became a certified law enforcement officer and South Carolina state constable police officer. Her current supervisor, Erskine College Police Chief Matthew Busby, uses three words to describe her work—“Service above self.”
Alumni Association President Herbert Jordan ’68 passed the gavel to President-elect Phillip Cook ’92. Results of the election of Alumni Association Board members will be announced at a later date.
The Rev. Leland Beaudrot ’79 offered the closing prayer.
Award recipients pictured at top are, from left, Sharon Bell Griffin on behalf of her daughter Elinor Griffin; Jennifer Cooley; Reba Stille; Tripp Boykin; Dr. David Dangerfield; Dr. James Gettys; and Angie Grooms. Pictured separately are Cameron Whitehurst, who was unable to stay for the group photo, and Dr. Mabel Purkerson, who was unable to attend the meeting.