Susan Pope remembers the day she realized she belonged at the University of Mississippi: She was an 8-year-old participating in a baton twirling camp hosted on campus under the canopy of the Grove’s majestic oaks.
More than five decades later, Pope, a retired elementary school principal, continues as an enthusiastic participant in the life of Ole Miss, and she has committed a $1 million planned gift to strengthen the university she loves. Ninety percent of the gift is designated as unrestricted, which means the funds, which will be endowed, will be used by the chancellor and provost to address the university’s most pressing needs.
“Ole Miss is always like coming home – it’s part of who we are. The environment of the campus keeps alumni and friends coming back, which strengthens their affection for the university,” said Pope, who has actually been a giving back to the university since 1982. “I felt it was the right time in my life to make a decision about how I wanted to share what I have with Ole Miss.”
UM Chancellor Dan Jones said he was moved by the gift.
“We are humbled by Susan Pope’s deeply felt dedication and connection to Ole Miss. We thank this amazing alumna for her generosity as well as her vote of confidence. As she knows from her own professional experiences, unrestricted funds allow administrators to take advantage of opportunities and address a myriad of needs that arise during an academic year. We will be good stewards as we make thoughtful decisions about how best to utilize the resources Susan is providing,” he said.
With the gift endowed, the funds will be held in perpetuity with the annual income disseminated as Pope has directed. Another portion of her gift is dedicated to the School of Education, reflecting her lifelong passion for education. The granddaughter of a school principal and the daughter of a second-grade teacher, Pope taught as a classroom teacher; served as an assistant principal, a principal and a staff developer; and worked as an Exemplary Educator for the State Department of Education.
The seasoned educator became principal of Willow Oaks Elementary in Memphis, where the academically enriched optional and non-optional programs promote enthusiasm and excitement for learning. Both programs offer a diverse curriculum that includes all state performance standards while stressing a higher level of learning in reading, math, science, social studies, computer literacy, physical education and the arts. The academic program is further enhanced by cross-curriculum projects, creative writing activities, and field trip experiences.
“Our school had additional staff members to lead special offerings, and the children were exposed to the arts and sciences in creative ways,” the educator said.
During Pope’s recent visit to the Oxford campus, Dean of Education David Rock showed Pope some of the innovative offerings, such as virtual classrooms that are used to prepare students for careers in the education field.
“It is easy to see why Susan has such a love and passion for education. She has dedicated her life to helping children. Susan has made a tremendous commitment to support new and exciting opportunities for our students to become exceptional teachers. I personally want to thank Susan for her incredible dedication to the teaching and learning of children but more importantly her love for education,” Rock said.
Pope reflected on the offerings she was introduced to on her tour of the UM School of Education.
“Preparing young educators is a top priority,” she said. “The technology available to help train Ole Miss students to stand in front of a ‘live’ classrooms full of students and effectively teach lessons is absolutely fascinating. Technology is such a constant in our lives but to see its application helping with the preparation of teachers and the education of children is really exciting. Dean Rock has a vision for how future educators should be trained and equipped to really make an impact on their students’ lives.”
The alumna’s path from Germantown High School didn’t lead straight to Ole Miss. The lifelong Memphian earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee-Martin before coming to the Oxford campus to pursue a master’s degree in education, which she earned in 1974, as well as an Education Specialist degree in 1976. During this time, she enjoyed living in the Alumni House – a former practice for graduate students and visiting professors. For this reason, a small amount of Pope’s gift will be used to purchase a bench for the lawn of the Triplett Alumni Center, where she and her friends tailgate nearby before football games. The plaque on the bench will read “Hotty Toddy, Susan Pope, 1972-76” because she considers that phrase the “universal language of people who love Ole Miss.” Pope also explained, laughing, “And at heart, I’m a cheerleader.”
“I had great professors, and the small classes meant students got a great deal of attention,” Pope said of her Ole Miss experience. She has chosen to return to campus often and is dedicated to cheering on Rebel athletic teams by attending home and away games and by participating in the annual Ladies Football Forum.
Pope’s planned gift gives her membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university opened the Lyceum doors to the first students. The society recognizes generous donors who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts. For more information, interested individuals can call the UM Foundation at 800-340-9542 or 662-915-5944, or visit www.umfoundation.com/planning.