January 15, 2001
When there's a question about any aspect of Austin Peay State University's history, the reply often is "Ask Virginia."
Who will we ask now? Virginia Tenney, executive aide to the vice president for academic affairs, is retired last month after 35 years of service.
Considered an anchor at Austin Peay, she's remained steady in both good and turbulent times, her smile as reassuring as a rainbow.
Tenney could have retired with full benefits five years ago. Why didn't she? "I love it here," she says, simply. "I felt I was contributing something."
At the time this interview and with retirement imminent, she's riding more of an emotional wave than she wants to admit. Despite a flash of that familiar smile, her eyes fill slightly as she remembers.
In 1965 Tenney was hired as a clerk by the dean of admissions and registration, M.P. Bowman. At the time, Austin Peay's enrollment was about 800 students.
Besides Bowman, Tenney was one of six employees in the Admissions and Registration Office, then housed in Browning Building.
"All applications came into our office," she says. “I processed each one by hand." She entered every new student's name in a large book and assigned each a student identification number. Since that was the pre-computer era, all student records were kept in one of the vaults in Browning.
After six months, she transferred to the President's Office where she filled in for President Joe Morgan's secretary, who was on maternity leave. When the secretary returned, Morgan named Tenney to a secretarial position in the Dean of Faculties Office, headed by Dean Felix G. Woodward. Dr. William Ellis was assistant dean.
In 1968 when Ellis became director of graduate studies and, subsequently, vice president for academic affairs, Tenney was his secretary and assistant. Since then, the Academic Affairs Office has been her home. She's watched VPs come and go; each has credited Tenney with "training" him well.
Dr. Herbert Stallworth (1972-76) replaced Ellis; Stallworth was succeeded by Dr. James Sawrey (1976-84), who was succeeded by Dr. John Butler (1985-96). Following Butler was Dr. Steve Pontius (1996-99).
Scattered among the VPs were a few interim appointments, including Dr. Linda Rudolph, current interim academic affairs vice president.
Does Tenney have a memorable anecdote the VPs? "Not any I can tell," she says with a sly smile. Although each was unique, they shared one trait. "All were excellent leaders," Tenney says. "I have great respect for each one."
Those who drop by the Office of Academic Affairs know how busy Tenney is. Is there ever a "down" time? "The two days before Christmas break," she says, laughing.
Technology has not lessened the workload; in fact, according to her, it is heavier each year.
Tenney is responsible for maintaining permanent personnel files for all faculty, processing new faculty applications and ensuring personnel processes for tenure-track faculty are followed in a timely manner. She also generates "lots of reports" to the Tennessee Board of Regents and similar entities.
Hers is an Austin Peay family. In 1976 her husband, Gerald, now deceased, became APSU's firstâ€”and onlyâ€”director of photographic services. During a budget crunch, that department closed, never to reopen. Both their daughters, Debbie and Diana, attended APSU.
Not only is Tenney an Austin Peay employee, she has been a student. As VP for academic affairs, Sawrey focused on increasing nontraditional student enrollment. Tenney was 45 when she took the ACT. Encouraged by her boss, she began evening classes in 1977, completing 24 credit hours before family and job responsibilities intervened.
"I never took classes during working hours because I always felt I was being paid to do my job then," she says. "Looking back, my only regret is I didn't finish my degree."
Always a "star" among the staff, she was selected in 1982 as Austin Peay's first "Employee of the Year," an honor that still means a great deal to her.
Having been so busy for so many years, what will she do with the free time of retirement? After "hibernating two months," she wants to travel, especially in Tennessee, as past vacations were geared toward visiting her husband's family "out west."
She wants to do volunteer work as well as become more active in her church. And, believe it or not, she's agreed to help out part-time at APSU this spring. "Personnel processing is done in the spring. It's an intensely busy time," she says. "I want to help, if they need me."
She won't miss the pressure of deadlines and multiple reports, but she says she'll miss the faculty, staff and students at Austin Peay.
“Where else could I have been with so many talented and educated people who are such nice folks, too?"