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Living the promise

By Dennie B. Burke
Executive Director, Public Relations and Marketing

Little Jane Corvin, 5, watched the construction of Browning Building from her familys home near campus. Having heard about the razing of the old Castle Building, the little girl with a big imagination was sure, when the clock tower went up, it was a turret on a new castle.
By Dennie B. Burke
Executive Director, Public Relations and Marketing

Little Jane Corvin, 5, watched the construction of Browning Building from her family's home near campus. Having heard about the razing of the old Castle Building, the little girl with a big imagination was sure, when the clock tower went up, it was a turret on a new castle.

“I was so disappointed when I came to the dedication and saw it wasn't a castle,” Jane Corvin Chitwood says. Although APSU didn't build her a castle, it did become her home away from home. “I've spent more of my life at Austin Peay than in my own home,” she says.
But 2006 has marked goodbyes to both homes. In January, she moved out of the family home on York St., where she lived 60 years, into a townhouse. On Sept. 30, she will bid adieu to Austin Peay State University, where she's worked almost 40 of those 60 years.

When the president comes calling
In 1966, when Chitwood was working elsewhere, Dr. Joe Morgan, president of APSU, approached her at church and said he wanted her to be his secretary.

That was before campus jobs had to be advertised. In fact, there was not even an Office of Human Resources. Everyone was hired by Morganan aspect of the job Chitwood loved. “I treasure the friendships I made with faculty,” she says. “They talked with me while waiting to see Dr. Morgan. That work fit my personality.

“I love people and I treat everyonefrom presidents to custodiansthe same. The way I want to be treated. And Dr. Morgan had lots of parties, so I was in my glory.”

She has fond memories of the students. “Often, when students didn't have money for classes, Dr. Morgan would let them borrow it,” she says. “Students would be lined up down the hall and around the corner. I talked to them, heard their stories, while they waited.”

Working for Morgan meant getting it right the first time. There was no delete key on the old executive typewriter. You got it right, or you went to carbon-copy purgatory.

And who handled the budget? “Betty McClain and I were locked in a room to type the budget. When we were through, I ran copies in a closet. It was all so secretive.”

Chitwood was working for Morgan when her son, Jayson, was born. She had been home six months when her husband abandoned his family. She knew she had to go back to work, so she contacted Morgan, only to learn he had filled her position.

“But he created a job for me,” she says, smiling brightly. “Austin Peay didn't have a duplicating center, so he asked me to start one. Chitwood ran it for three years until 1972, when she became secretary in the Office of Purchasing, which then was in the basement of Browning.

Shortly after she was hired, the director had major heart surgery, so she had to learn his job and hers. “After he left Purchasing, I had it by myself for five years,” she says. “I worked weekends, nights, holidays. The campus police would come by at night to check on me.”

Then and now, Chitwood is known for her helpfulness to faculty and staff. “When I was in Purchasing, I'd drop what I was doing to help them. When the auditors came, I wanted everything to be clean for them.”

When Purchasing moved to Shasteen, Chitwood moved with it and continued to work in that office until 1999, when she accepted a one-year appointment in the Alumni and Annual Giving Office.

In 2001, she became the information research technician in the Office of Extended and Distance Education. She admits she's missed being on campus, but says, “It's been exciting to see the growth in online classes. I've had the chance to work closely again with facultywhich I love. I try to make it easy for them. I always felt they are here to teach, and we are here to make their jobs easier.”

Getting involved
Few people have been as involved at Austin Peay as Chitwood. “You name a committee, and I've been on it,” she says. She and Fred Williams, former vice president for finance and administration, started what now is called the Staff Council. She also initiated the tradition of giving service pins to employees on milestone years, and she was responsible for colonizing the now-disbanded chapter of Alpha Omega Pi sorority at APSU. She played an important role in the Miss Austin Peay Pageant, serving as chair one year and chaperone to state, several times.

Chitwood was working in the Office of the President when Austin Peay State College received university status, which meant many visits to campus by dignitaries. “I love to entertain, and pay a lot of attention to detail,” she says. “I'm known as a perfectionist.”

Perhaps that's why, when APSU hosted TBR in 2001, President Sherry Hoppe put Chitwood to be in charge of the gala dinner. Chitwood did it up righteven sweet-talking famed Professor Emeritus of Art Olen Bryant into painting a picture of APSU, past and present. Dinner guests received prints of the original, which now hangs in the Office of the President.

Several months later when Hoppe was invited to Taiwan as an ambassador for Austin Peay and Tennessee, she asked Chitwood to find the perfect gifts for the dignitaries she would visit. Again, Chitwood came through with flying colors, garnering raves from the recipients.

The highlight of Chitwood's “extracurricular” activities came in the early 1990s when she was named grand marshal for the Homecoming Parade. A contest was held to choose the person who best depicted the Homecoming theme, “Govs Go Hollywood.” In a wide-brimmed hat, vintage dress and hose with seams down the back, Chitwood was Hedda Hopper top to toe.

Side by side
Rearing a child alone is difficult but, without doubt, Chitwood's greatest joy is her son, Jayson, 37, executive director of financial applications for Mercy Information Services Division, St. Louis, Mo. After graduating from APSU, until he accepted this new position last year, he lived and worked in Memphis.

“Jayson was born July 20, 1969--the day the first man landed on the moon,” Chitwood says. “The next day was a national holiday. I always told Jayson the president declared a holiday just for him.

“I thank God for Jayson,” Chitwood says. “He's such an intelligent, creative, talented and caring person.”

Storm clouds, silver linings
Just by observing this optimistic woman with her bright smile and laughing eyes, few would know Chitwood's life was not always sunshine and roses.

She grew up with a father who was chronically ill. She was the caregiver for her mother and father in their latter years. The son she adores grew up without his father. And on top of all that, Chitwood has had more than her share of health problems.

In 1994, she began having horrific headaches accompanied by dimming vision. She thought she just needed glasses, but her ophthalmologist said her eyes were fine. Predicting either a stroke or a tumor, he sent her immediately to a Nashville neurosurgeon. An MRI revealed a golfball-sized brain tumor pressing on the pea-sized pituitary gland.

“Such a diagnosis used to mean dying or, at best, being paralyzed,” Chitwood says. The surgeon sliced away some of the tumor, but was unable to remove it totally. Although the pituitary gland received minimal damage, she had to recuperate five months as her vision slowly returned. “Now I take two medicines that, literally, keep me alive,” she says. “And I'm truly grateful to be alive.”

During her recuperation, Chitwood received 275-300 cards from friends, faculty and staff.

“There's no way to repay such kindness,” she says.

Then on Memorial Day 2004, she was at her son's home when a tornado warning was issued. As the two rushed to the basement, Chitwood fell, breaking her shoulder in four places.

The Memphis orthopaedist prescribed daily physical therapy. Wanting to return to Clarksville, Chitwood told him Chuck Kimmel, head athletic trainer, would handle her physical therapy. “The doctor knew about Chuck and told me, ‘That's all I need to hear,'” she says. “I cannot say enough about Chuck and his staff. We're fortunate to have them at Austin Peay.”

Hanging in, hanging on, hanging out
After working most of her life, including almost 40 years at APSU, what will she do in retirement?

“Well, I'm not going to be a couch potato, that's for sure,” she says. “Eventually, I may pursue one of my many interests. My sister and I always talked about opening a part-time antique business. And I'll be able to visit Jayson when I want.”

She also will continue to fulfill a promise she made years ago. After Jayson's birth, she had complications that kept her in the hospital two weeks. During that time, she promised God, if she lived, she would do something good for a least one person every day for the rest of her life.

She's kept that promise. “When I'm shopping, I'll see a little something that reminds me of a friend, so I'll buy it and put it away for a birthday or special occasion.”

Other than that, she says she doesn't plan to do anything between Sept. 30 and the end of Decemberexcept enjoy the holidays.

“Jayson and I are big Christmas people. We love the season and getting ready for it. And I've never had enough time to enjoy it.”

She pauses a moment in thought, then says, “Really, for me, it's Christmas every day.”