The Union University they remember was very different from the one that over 3,000 undergraduate students now attend. Many of them went their separate ways, some stayed in touch. They went on to become teachers, ministers, parents, veterans and much more. A handful returned to their alma mater for homecoming. Their stories are more than 50 years in the making.
Charles Hedspeth graduated from Union in 1966 with a degree in history and minor in English and math. It didn’t take long for him to start doing what he loved: teaching. He met Doris, his wife of 46 years, through his minister’s wife, who taught school with her.
“I guess it worked,” he said.
“I even went to a business meeting at church,” she said with a laugh. “Everyone laughed because I was chasing him. And I started going to church on Wednesday night.”
Before the two could get married, he was drafted into the army.
After eight weeks of training, Charles was sent to Vietnam. He served for a year in the Charlie Company, a combat unit that consisted of young men, some still in their teens. He received a Purple Heart for his service. Years later, two Newsweek journalists sought out members of the company.
“They couldn’t find very many from the company,” Doris said. “He has a Purple Heart and other medals that we’ve hidden away. We would have been married earlier if he hadn’t gone over there.”
The memoirs of the servicemen were published in Newsweek and Reader’s Digest and later compiled into a book, “What Vietnam Did to Us.”
Charles married Doris in 1969. They both taught and earned their masters degrees in education. Charles worked in education for 31 years, teaching psychology, history and sociology. For the last 15 years, he taught special education in middle school, a job he especially enjoyed.
“The kids like the teachers, and they were easy to talk to and easy to please and you can get them to do things,” he said. “I don’t want to say trick them, but they were fun to work with.”
Joe Bruce, Charles’s former roommate, called and convinced him to come to the reunion. It was the first time Charles returned to Union. He felt nostalgic driving through the old, rundown campus, but was impressed with the new.
The Hedspeths now spend their time on their farm, raising cattle and white-tailed deer.
“It’s different. Something to do, I’ll say,” Charles said.
The couple also enjoys spending time with their four grandchildren, taking them hunting and teaching them to drive.
“That’s why we don’t go anywhere anymore—we’re already where we want to be,” Doris said.
The Tomlins feel the same way.
Even though there is only a two-year age difference between the two, Matt graduated from Union in 1961, while Carolyn graduated in 1972.
The couple met when they were both sent to speak at a conference. Matt was a college freshman, and Carolyn was a 16-year-old. They dated for three years and both attended Union, but after Matt graduated and left for seminary, Carolyn dropped out of school to go with him. She later returned to get her degree in education.
The couple moved to Jackson in 1983. Matt was a pastor and worked at Union as an adjunct professor of theology for a few years. Carolyn taught in the Union education department until she decided to become a writer. She now teaches writing workshops and writes for magazines, which involves a lot of travel.
“It’s the most exciting kind of life you can imagine,” she said.
She has traveled across Europe and North and South America for articles and plans to do much more.
Matt, who is retired after pastoring for more than 50 years, joins Carolyn on cruises, but usually stays home with their dog, a golden retriever mix named Ernest Hemmingway.
“He is the best-natured. He just loves everything. If anyone comes to our house, he gets one of his toys to show them,” Matt said, pulling up a picture of the dog perched on the couch.
They have watched Union evolve over the years. It has changed campus locations and the number of students has grown significantly; when they attended Union, there were only 800 students.
“We are grateful for our part at Union and what it still means to us,” Carolyn said.
“Some of the best friend we have were made at Union,” Matt said, tapping his cane emphatically. “As a matter of fact, my best friend, who has been my best friend for 56 years, we met here at Union and got to be friends at Union. And we visit back and forth, we’ve been fishing together and hunting together, helped each other in revivals—he was a pastor, too, until he retired—and so those long-term associations you make in college stay with you your entire life. They really do.”