New students have deep roots at MC

New students have deep roots at MC

Sept. 18, 2019

When Jake Kerr ’23 was looking at colleges, he had a lot of factors to consider when it came to his decision to attend Maryville College.

The standout pitcher for Heritage High School in Maryville, Tenn., was excited to receive an offer to play baseball for the college in his hometown.

His family was excited, too – particularly about the fact that he would be following in the footsteps of several generations of family members who attended Maryville College: his great-great-grandmother, Pearl Lane Everett ’31, great grandfather, Ralph Greaser ’52, great aunt, Linda Greaser Malonee ’78, and mother, Kelly Greaser Kerr ’99. He also has a long list of cousins who are MC students or alumni: Dan Greaser ’60, Eric Greaser ’84, Katie Dunn Connor ’00, Trent Gilland ’04, Stephanie Zilles Smith '07, Shelby O'Brien Sterling ’13, Chase Sterling ’15, Sean Sterling ’20 and Camden Murphy '22.

“I had a pretty good idea early on that I wanted to come here,” Jake said. “My mom always talked about how much she loved it here, and my great aunt loved Maryville College. That wasn’t a big factor [in my decision to attend], but it was something I kept in the back of my head. I knew I wanted to stay close to home, but at the same time, I wanted to get out of the house.”

His mother, Kelly, was always hoping he would choose Maryville College.

“He looked at a couple of other colleges, but when decision time came in the spring, he kept driving around on campus or he would go watch the baseball games,” she recalled. “I was encouraging him, ‘Hey, they’ve got a game tonight – let’s go see the game.’”

She said she is “thrilled and honored” with his decision to attend her alma mater.

“I also feel assured, because I know he will get a quality, well-rounded education,” she said, adding that other family members are glad that Jake will be carrying on the legacy at MC.

Jake said he plans to major in criminal justice, and he hopes to eventually work for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). He’s the first member of his family to major in criminal justice at Maryville College – the direct generations of family members who attended MC (great-great-grandmother, great grandfather, great aunt and mother) were all education majors. Kelly, who has been a teacher for 20 years, teaches 5th grade science and social studies at Fairview Elementary School in Maryville.

“I was so glad (to see the addition of criminal justice as a major in 2015), because I thought that would be a deal breaker,” she recalled. “He has always known that was what he wanted to do.”

As Jake starts his Maryville College career, Kelly said she hopes her son will have the opportunity to experience some of the same traditions she enjoyed, such as Mountain Challenge and Homecoming (Kelly is celebrating her 20th reunion this year).

“It’s also important to me that he lives on campus, because I did not have that experience,” she said, adding that his roommate is a baseball teammate and someone he played little league baseball with as a child. “Especially with him being a baseball player, I want him to have the camaraderie and the experience of being independent and living on his own.”        

The McGill legacy

Ethan McGill ’23 of Rossville, Ga., is a member of the inaugural class of McGill Fellows. The name is not a coincidence; he is the great nephew of MC alumnus Dan McGill ’40, for whom the prestigious fellowship is named.

Established in 2017 with a gift from the estate of Dan and Elaine McGill, the McGill Scholarship Program offers some of the most prestigious awards available to incoming freshmen and transfer students. After graduating from Maryville College, Dan McGill went on to earn degrees from Vanderbilt and the University of Pennsylvania. Considered an authority in the pension industry, he was a longtime professor and administrator at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania.

Honoring Dr. McGill’s impressive academic record, high standard for scholarship and numerous career achievements, the McGill Scholarship Program seeks to attract academically prepared and motivated students who desire to be leaders in the classroom, on the campus and in their communities.

Ethan McGill, who plans to major in biochemistry, said Maryville College had always been at the top of his list, even before the McGill scholarships and fellowships were established. He only met Dan McGill once, but he said his great uncle had a big impact on his immediate family and was a very generous person – to his family, his community, his profession and his alma mater.

“Helping people was something that was very important to him,” Ethan McGill said. “I want to be a doctor, and I’m so glad I can benefit from his generosity [to MC] to do what he did for others.” 

Hitch’s connections pre-date MC’s founding

For Laura Hitch ’23 of Maryville, Tenn., her connection to Maryville College goes way back – even before the College’s founding in 1819. Her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Isaac Anderson, was the great-grandfather of Maryville College’s founder, the Rev. Isaac Anderson.

Her fraternal great-great-grandmother, Jonnie Ann McCully Taylor, graduated in 1914, and her fraternal great-grandmother and great-grandfather, Thomas Lowry Taylor and Barbara Jean Anderson Taylor, graduated from the College in 1940.

Her father, Scott Hitch ’96, is also a Maryville College graduate.

Despite her family connections, Laura was not always sure she wanted to attend MC. She knew she wanted to go to a smaller school, and after “lots of searching,” she decided on Maryville College. She plans to major in exercise science and pursue a career in physical therapy.

“I thought MC would be good fit for Laura and was hoping that she would go to MC, but I wanted it to be her decision,” said Scott, who majored in math and computer science with a minor in physics at MC. “As much as I got out of Maryville College, I've always felt like I missed out on a lot of experiences not living on campus. So even though we only live 10 minutes away, I wanted Laura to live on campus.”

When asked about how it feels to attend the same school attended by so many family members, Laura admitted “it has not yet sunk in.” Her father said he appreciates the deeper connection to MC more now than when he was a student.

“I treasure the yearbooks that we have that were my grandparents’ and great grandmother's,” he said. “The yearbooks are available online, but what's not online are all of the messages that their friends wrote to them in their yearbooks.  Maryville College will always be a place where I feel a special connection to my family - even if they had passed before I was born. Not to mention the walks my wife and I took around the campus (years before we were married), Coach [Kandis] Schram helping us teach our kids to swim when they were little, the kids swim team practices or the numerous dance recitals and shows that we've attended at MC through the years.” 

Laster follows 16 family members to MC

Grace Laster ’22 of Nashville, Tenn., is the granddaughter of Maryville College alumni Hal Laster ’65 and Ibbie Jack Laster Muntz ’67 (pictured, left), but her legacy connections don’t end there.

In fact, her great-great-grandfather, Thomas Greeley “T.G.” Curtis, attended in the late 1880s. He left Maryville College in 1888 to tend to his family, after his family’s store in Louisville, Tenn., burned to the ground.

Her great-grandfather, J. Hayden Laster ’30, and great-great-uncle, H. Gordon Harold ’27, both served on the Maryville College Board of Directors. They, along with Grace’s great-grandmother, Willie Nell Harold Laster ’30, and great-great-aunt, Betty J. Sharp Harold ’29, are buried in the Maryville College cemetery.

Her great uncle and great aunt, James H. Laster ’56 and Madlon Travis Laster ’56, are still involved with MC; James is a choral conductor, and his works are often performed by the Maryville College Concert Choir. The two are often in attendance at the annual scholarship luncheon, representing the Laster Family Scholarship.

Other legacy connections include Grace’s great-great-uncle and great-great-aunt, Dr. Lynn F. Curtis ’39 and Mildred Lane Curtis ’40, as well as several first cousins twice removed: Ruby Nell Laster Alexander ’52, Charlotte Laster Van Kampen ’49, Lawrence L. Lowe ’40 and Johnnie Childers Lowe ’42 (the Lowes were married at MC’s House in the Woods). A second cousin, Martha C. Lowe Richesin, attended from 1963 until 1965.

Grace had not originally planned to attend Maryville College. In fact, her path to Maryville College is unconventional, and a series of events eventually led her to the college of her ancestors.

After years of hard work, she was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy – a longtime dream. In June 2019, she was in the middle of Plebe Summer, when a life-threatening heart defect was discovered, forcing her to be medically separated from the Naval Academy. This summer, she had surgery to implant a defibrillator and pacemaker in her chest, and upon receiving clearance from her doctor to attend school, she began to explore her options for continuing her education this fall.

“I knew about Maryville’s veterans program and how veteran-friendly the campus is. I knew the staff would be accommodating with my situation and decided that MC would be the best place to start over,” Grace said. “I visited a couple times as a kid and even climbed the tower [at Mountain Challenge]. I also attended soccer camp in middle school. I didn’t think much about MC then, but I am glad I knew about MC via family members when I was looking for a new school to attend after being medically separated from USNA.”

Grace said she plans to major in biochemistry at Maryville College.

“I want to be a forensic scientist for one of the ABC agencies (CIA, FBI, NCIS, etc.) since I can no longer serve in the U.S. Military,” she said.

Her grandparents couldn’t be more proud of their granddaughter, and they said they look forward to watching her thrive at Maryville College.

“It's truly wonderful to have my only granddaughter attending Maryville College, even though she had an almost tragic and very circuitous route to get there,” said Hal Laster, adding that he expressed his deep appreciation to MC's Office of Admissions and Jim Humphrey, MC’s director of military recruiting and outreach, “for opening the doors after so many options seemed fruitless following her near-fatal cardiac situation.” He also expressed his appreciation to all the Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy for their quick response to her emergency medical situation – which he believes saved her life.

“I also know that her great-grandparents – J. Hayden and Willie Nell Laster, members of the Class of 1930 and both of whom bled orange and garnet – would be bursting at the seams with pride!” he said.

Hal said he is grateful for “the numerous and varied leadership opportunities that were afforded me during my four years at MC.”

“Had I attended a large university, I'm sure I would have been a fish out of water, but MC provided fantastic leadership experiences and opportunities that I am certain would not have been available elsewhere,” he said. “Even today, I reflect on many of those learning and maturation opportunities that were offered to me at Maryville, and I am certain Grace will be grateful for the numerous doors that will be open to her, as well.”

For Ibbie, two words came to mind when asked how it feels to have her granddaughter attend her alma mater: “surprising” and “lovely.”

“Surprising, because MC was not originally in Grace’s plan. When difficult circumstances necessitated an abrupt change in her plan, a ‘late in the game’ MC admission ensued. We are grateful to all who helped Grace facilitate that admission!” Ibbie said. “Lovely, because Grace’s time at MC will fill her with knowledge, confidence, competence and worthy gifts which she will use wisely while making her amazing mark in the world. I am sure each of Grace’s numerous MC ancestors would agree!”

Ibbie reflected on the similarities and differences between her own MC experience and the experience her granddaughter will have as a Maryville College student.

“There will be 56 years between Grace’s MC graduation year and mine,” she said. “Because of this time gap and our widely differing majors, likely, there will be minimal similarities in the day-to-day MC experiences of grandmother and granddaughter. This is Grace’s time to soak up the joy of her own MC experience and graduate with her own life-long gratitude for such a great liberal arts education and so many friendships made. These, we definitely will share! Go Grace and Go Scots!” 

Twenty Legacies Among New Students:

In all, 20 new MC students who arrived on campus this fall are legacies, meaning they have relatives who are current or former Maryville College students. In addition to Jake Kerr, Ethan McGill, Laura Hitch and Grace Laster, legacies include:

  • Anna Kate Bechman ’23, Thompson Station, Tenn. – Daniel Bechman ’98 (father)
  • Sydnee Bryant ’23, Powell, Tenn. – Kelley Wandell ’20 (cousin)
  • Josh Fisher ’23, Chattanooga, Tenn. – Zach Fisher ’22 (brother)
  • Jazmine Geary ’23, Maryville, Tenn. – Ashleigh Geary ’22 (sister)
  • Jack King ’23, Louisville, Tenn. – Heather Baker Lowry ‘04 (cousin) and Ryan King ‘13 (cousin)
  • Logan Kirby ’23, Loudon, Tenn. – Vance Kirby ’98 (father)
  • Lindsey Kizer ’23, Maryville, Tenn. – Angie McCampbell Kizer ’95 (mother)
  • Realynn Lanagan ’23, Maryville, Tenn. – Meagan Lanagan Byrd ‘10 (aunt)
  • Christina LaFreniere ’23, Knoxville, Tenn. – Jenny LaFreniere ’17 (sister) and Machelle LaFreniere ’97 (mother)
  • Alex Lensgraf ’23, Knoxville, Tenn. – Derek Lensgraf ’92 (father)
  • Caroline Malone ’23, Maryville, Tenn. – Jay Malone ’91 (father), Cameron Malone ’20 (brother) and Jeanni Atkins ’65 (great aunt)
  • Marshall Palmer ’23, Kingsport, Tenn. – Thomas Palmer ’17 (brother)
  • Daderick Phillips ’23, Clarkrange, Tenn. – Autumn Phillips ’21 (sister)
  • Kris Seiber ’23, Maryville, Tenn. – Kristin Oliver Mays ’10 (cousin) and Holly Gordon Roberts ’09 (cousin)
  • Bella Valentine ’23, Pigeon Forge, Tenn. – Melanie Kyte ’19 (aunt)
  • Ron Villalobos ’23, Seymour, Tenn. – Edith Villalobos ’22 (sister)

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”