Published on November 1, 2014 by Jack Brymer 

Samford University alumni attending the annual Homecoming Banquet were told they were continuing a tradition that dates back to 1866.

Gil Simmons, president of the Samford Alumni Association, welcomed the 250-plus alumni to the event that he noted began in 1866 when alumni of then-Howard College hosted a banquet welcoming former college president Samuel Sterling Sherman back to Marion, Alabama, following the Civil War. (Samford began as Howard College in Marion.)

“I am pleased to welcome you to what could be considered the 148th anniversary celebration of an alumni homecoming in our great school,” he said. “For decades after that, alumni hosted a candlelight banquet at commencement to honor the graduation class. That is the tradition we celebrate tonight.”

The annual event was revived 11 years ago to welcome alumni returning to the campus and to honor outstanding alumni. Senior Will Yarbrough, chaplain for the Student Government Association from Gallatin, Tennessee, and the son and grandson of Samford graduates offered an invocation and blessing for the meal.

Randy Pittman, vice president for Advancement, declared “the final victory” of the $200 million capital campaign and presented a symbolic check in the amount $202,542,091 to Samford President Andrew Westmoreland. Calling it “the most aggressive fundraising campaign in Samford’s history,” Pittman noted that 18,276 donors contributed gifts ranging from 36 cents to $13 million.

“Samford is better today because of what donors provided through ‘A Campaign for Samford,’” Pittman said. “Tonight, we celebrate victory, but, tomorrow we start planning for the next campaign.”

Lauren McCaghren, a 2007 alumna and senior director of Alumni Programs and Annual Giving, recognized several classes who “have gone above and beyond their generosity to the school.” These included the Class of 1974, the Top $ Producer ($1,004.262); Class of 1970, the Largest Number of Donors (59); Class of 1944, the Highest Percentage of Donor Participation (43 percent); and Class of 2012, the Highest Percentage of Donor Participation among Young Alumni (9 percent).

McCaghren also noted several groups who were celebrating reunions. These included the classes of 1974, 1989, 2004, Daniel House (London) 30th Anniversary and Zeta Tau Alpha 50th Anniversary. Together, these groups raised $20,545 in gifts to the university.

Highlighting the event was recognition of four Alumni of the Year, which Simmons noted was “the highest honor that Samford University bestows on its graduates.” They were Brenda Mitchell Hackney ’90, ’M.B.A. 94, Birmingham, owner of Jefferson Giles Investments LLC and president of The Hackney Foundation; Helen Shores Lee ’87 Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, the first African-American woman to serve in the civil division of Jefferson County Circuit Court; Bryan K. Owens ’81, Atlanta, Georgia, founder of The Owens Group International which includes Unclaimed Baggage Center Inc. in Scottsboro, Alabama, and Samford’s Young Alumnus of the Year, Houston Estes ’04, Nashville, Tennessee, a claims adjuster for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co.

Following a video presentation of the winners, President Westmoreland presented each their Award.

The banquet concluded with the group, led by members of the A Cappella Choir, singing the Alma Mater.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 37th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 97th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,758 students from 48 states and 22 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 3rd nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.