This story is about my Mother, Juanita Lee Whatley: a 1943 graduate of Auburn…or Alabama Polytechnic Institute as it was called back then. She was a woman born in 1916 of parents of limited financial means and scant education. Mother’s Auburn Degree was a Bachelor of Science in Education. And her Diploma is dated August 27, 1943.
Mother’s path to “Auburn” came via Troy State Teachers College where she first received a two year degree Teachers Degree on August 21, 1936.
While 7 years seems a long time to complete the remaining credits to gain her Auburn degree, Mother taught full time in rural Alabama and Florida schools and attended Auburn in the summers. During this time, World War II played a part in her ability to focus on her studies.
Money was extremely tight in the Lee family and Mother sent money home to help out her parents to make ends meet. Times were tough and as a child and even when I was growing up and eventually attending Auburn, I did not fully appreciate the sacrifices my Mother made to attend Auburn to get her Degree. And few women born in 1916 came to Auburn to get these degrees.
So what is her story?
Mother was a true child of the Depression and a woman who mattered. In her childhood, Christmas gifts were scarce and onion sandwiches were common. Her parents had grammar school educations; solid values and strong Southern beliefs in everything good. Pineapple sandwiches had to be made to last and each slice of pineapple was cut in half so that each child (Mother and her sister (Auntie Sarah) could have a sandwich.
After Mother and Daddy married in 1950, eventually we lived on a second generation farm and never lacked for anything. Life was full yet remained frugal. Our main meal was served at lunch and leftovers were served at dinner. Our stove had a grease jar on the side for seasonings and below this was Mother’s depression drawer full of used (but clean) plastic bags and crumpled tin foil…good enough to use. Mother (and Daddy) taught us to use what was slightly worn and to appreciate what we already had.
Mother came to Auburn to get her degree against all odds. Her story is she lived the Auburn Creed and would have been 100 last November.