Love blooms in unexpected places

One of the most rewarding parts of my current job (and something I very much look forward to doing more of at Hendrix) is meeting alums and hearing their stories of what made college so special for each of them. I am complete sucker for all the nostalgic memories of professors who made a huge difference, friends made for a lifetime, momentous career decisions cemented in the weeks before graduation, and fun times had in the days before homecoming. Some of my very favorite stories, however, come from couples who met in college and went on to spend decades together. Since Marjorie and I first met in graduate school, at a drinks party where we were the only two folks not partaking of the spiked punch, I might have a particularly soft spot for tales of college romance.

Not long ago, two SMU grads (now close to my advanced age) shared with me the story of their first encounter. It was set in Hyer Hall, a historical building at the heart of campus and once the site of physics labs (before, it seems, we needed billion-dollar machines tunneled into European mountains to discover things of great import). Hyer is lovely from the outside but a little less charming, shall we say, in its interior decor. After one faculty member once complained of its general drabness, I replied (with my tongue firmly in cheek), “Come on, now, it got a new coat of gray paint just ten years ago!” One would never guess that Cupid would be roaming the hallways of a building so lacking in ambiance. But for this couple I spoke with, Hyer Hall was an absolutely magical place: they started chatting after class one evening in front of a vending machine in the basement and, within six months, had tied the knot. The husband, who seemed like a true romantic, confided that he later tried to buy said soda machine but that cold-hearted bureaucrats, either at the university or at Coca-Cola, vetoed the idea. These days, when I walk by Hyer, I almost always smile and think about how love can bloom in the most unlikely places and how college can be filled with unexpected, transformative, perfectly wonderful moments.

Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to meet dozens of Hendrix alums. To a person, they have been warm, approachable, interesting, and accomplished people, with an abiding affection for the College and a profound attachment to its character, values, and commitment to excellence. Nancy and Tom Fomby are just the kind of folks all of us in the Hendrix family can be proud of. Tom is my colleague here at SMU, Director of the Richard B. Johnson Center for Economic Studies and a distinguished econometrician. He knows as much about “big data” and analytics (among the hottest topics in the academy and the business world right now) as I know about Godzilla. And Nancy worked for 31 years at the Episcopal School of Dallas where, as lead college guidance counselor, she advised generations of nervous students and confused parents (and steered quite a few recruits to Conway). Nancy and Tom can talk about their days at Hendrix as if they were last week: Tom recalls the math professor who changed his life and, even more importantly, the evening he looked down some bleachers and saw his future wife for the first time. The Fombys have been generous supporters of the College and still drive through campus every time they come back to Arkansas to visit relatives.

I am certain there are loads more Toms and Nancys out there, with great stories to tell, memories to reflect upon, and dreams for the future of Hendrix to express. I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can, and hearing all that you would like to share with me, in the months and years ahead.

About Bill

William Tsutsui

Dr. William M. Tsutsui became the 11th President of Hendrix College on June 1, 2014. He came to Hendrix from Southern Methodist University where he was Dean and Professor of History at Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.