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Alumni Are Disappointed, But Still Support Armstrong

Alumni Board Members John Sewell and Patty Parker with the Alumni bannerEmotions ran high when Armstrong alumni gathered in Brunswick, Ga., on March 14 to hear the latest news about the consolidation between Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University. After a lengthy question-and-answer period with fellow alumnus and Armstrong Vice President for Advancement Bill Kelso ’88, Alumni Board Member John Sewell ’60 stood up.
“I’m just like you,” Sewell told the assembled group. “I don’t understand why the state is doing this. I’m upset and I’m disappointed, but I have come to realize that this isn’t about me; it’s about the students.”
Sewell is one of a growing number of Armstrong alumni who are stepping forward to renew their commitment to Armstrong and to see that Armstrong’s heritage remains strong through the consolidation process. He served on the Alumni Board committee that proposed that the Savannah campus be known as the Armstrong Campus and that all of the historic building names be preserved.

However, that wasn’t enough for Sewell. “As alumni, we always have to remember the students, too,” he said. That’s what inspired him and his wife, fellow alumna Pat Sewell ’61, to send another contribution after January’s consolidation announcement, even though they had recently given a gift in December.

Three-time Armstrong graduate Gail Rountree ’84 ’98 MEd ’03 is also unhappy about the consolidation and wants to make sure that Armstrong’s history is preserved as part of its future.

“I’m sad because Armstrong began in 1935 at a time during the Great Depression when families couldn’t afford to send their students to UGA or to the schools in the northeast,” she said. “Our history is significant. We can’t lose it.”

Part of the history that Rountree values so much is Armstrong’s longstanding support of the liberal arts. So, she didn’t hesitate to make her traditional contribution in memory of her son Rhett Rountree to support the university’s Visiting Writers Series, which recently presented a poetry reading by Emily Rosko.

“I have to continue to support the Visiting Writers Series and Armstrong because we can’t take higher education for granted,” Rountree said. “I believe that the relationship between professor and student is where transformation happens. I treasure Armstrong because it has always been a place where that transformation happens.”

For brand-new alumnus Vancci Celestin ’16, his love for Armstrong didn’t end with the consolidation announcement. If anything, he is more devoted than ever to preserving the legacy of the old university as part of the new industry. As a member of the Collegiate 100 before he graduated, Celestin started working with fellow students to raise money to create an annual scholarship to honor Otis Johnson ’64, who was the first African-American to attend and graduate from Armstrong and who went on to become a leader in education and the second African-American mayor of Savannah.

“Dr. Johnson made his mark on Armstrong by being the first African-American student, and he continues to impact Armstrong and Savannah,” Celestin said. “That should be recognized and other Savannah students should be encouraged to follow in his footsteps.”

In the new consolidated university, Johnson will continue to be the first African-American graduate since Georgia Southern did not admit its first African-American students until the year after he graduated. So, Celestin with the Collegiate 100, Anointed Voices Gospel Choir, the Student African American Sisterhood, the Network of Black Alumni, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Alumni Association and many individuals among the faculty, staff, students and alumni are working together to make a more lasting commitment to Johnson’s legacy. They are planning to raise at least $25,000 to create a scholarship endowment in his name.

“We have to continue to recognize our history. It’s really important that the alumni make sure we keep that rich history alive,” Celestin remarked.

They hope to have the endowment fully funded before the consolidation is approved next January, so that it can begin awarding scholarship dollars as soon as possible.

“The Board of Regents has assured us that Armstrong is a full partner in the creation of this new university, and I am glad to see that so many alumni are working very hard to make sure that is the case,” said Senior Director of Alumni Development Cheryl Ciucevich. “The last couple of months have been truly heartbreaking for the alumni. But their Armstrong resilience is really starting to show. After all, being an alumnus isn’t just about remembering the past, it’s also about taking care of the future.”

If you would like to know more about any of the programs mentioned here or want to know how you can help move Armstrong forward, please call the Alumni Center at 912-344-2586 or email

Brent Feske, Ph.D.

"I love seeing students get inspired by chemistry, in the classroom and in the lab."

Brent Feske, Ph.D.
Teaching since: 2005