Friends for nearly 50 years, a group of former and current Troy University faculty members have created the Jeff Taylor Endowed Scholarship in memory of the longtime lighting and sound technician for students interested in the technical side of theatre.
Since the summer of 2021, Doc Kirby, a lecturer in the Hall School of Journalism and Communication and a familiar WTBF Radio personality, and retired faculty Tom Smiley, theatre lecturer and scenic designer, Dr. Phil Kelley, Director of Musical Theater and Opera Workshop, and Taylor could be found at their usual table at the Half Shell at 11 a.m. every Tuesday.
Newcomers were always welcome—and would join from time to time—but the core four remained. Kirby said they sometimes called themselves the FOGIES, which stood for “Old Guys Interested in Eating Stuff.”
After Taylor passed in June 2022, his usual order of diet coke remained in front of his seat at the table.
Taylor was hired at then-named Troy State University in the early 1970s while he was still a student. His first job was with the physical plant setting every clock on campus each morning, but he soon worked his way into becoming the technical director of the auditorium at Smith Hall before it became Claudia Crosby Theatre.
“With no formal training in electrical wiring or theater design or sound design, Jeff patiently taught himself to become an expert in theatrical sound and lighting design,” Kirby said.
Over his 27 years at TROY, Taylor was Kelley’s lighting and sound guy on every production. He also completely rewired the sound and lighting booth at the Smith Hall auditorium; Kelley called it “job security.”
“If you went to the old lighting booth and you saw a button that said ‘red lights,’ it would turn on the green lights. If you saw a button that said ‘blue lights,’ it would turn on the red lights,” he said. “Nobody knew what was what but Jeff, so there wouldn’t be any way of someone coming in and taking over. It was so Jeff.”
Taylor was a huge fan of movies and ran movie nights at the Adams Center and in Smith Hall. Also a huge fan of Star Wars, Smiley said he wanted to make the experience special for the moviegoers once they received the film to show.
“He arranged to have extra speakers put behind the screen and in the back of the auditorium. He had all sorts of things rigged up in the sound booth, and I sat at the mixer for two screenings of the movie,” he said. “I knew what was going to happen, so when they started to shoot the blasters, I would shift the mixer so it would zip across the room. He created surround sound, basically.
“When his wife, Claire, came down after seeing the first version, she said people were ducking. I still remember her quote. But that’s the kind of things Jeff wanted to do and what he was good at.”
In 1979, the Taylors became charter members of a circle of friends who started a community theater group named the Trojan Little Theater. Aside from the productions, the biggest part of the Theater’s legacy was totally restoring the auditorium from the old Troy High School, which had been abandoned for over a decade. The group hosted two shows every year until 1990 when updated building codes rendered it unusable.
“Had Jeff done anything like that before? Parts of it, rewiring Smith Hall, but most of it he figured out as we went,” Kirby said. “He was kind of a genius that way.”
In the summer of 1980, Taylor and Smiley designed a “massive” gazebo for a production of “Oklahoma.” After the show was over, the group rolled the gazebo down the streets of Troy to the Taylors’ house where it was permanently installed in their backyard.
“Everything with a purpose, nothing wasted,” Kirby said.
Taylor retired from TROY in 1998 and immediately started his next venture—opening the Continental Cinema 5 movie theater with his son and business partner, Chase. He was also the mastermind behind the much-beloved Dollar Movie Night on Wednesdays for TROY students.
“The people in Hollywood actually called Jeff one day,” Kelley said. “There was this horrible, stupid movie called ‘Piranha,’ and they said, ‘Do you realize that in the entire United States, you had more people see ‘Piranha’ at your theater on Wednesday night than anyone else in the country?”
The idea for the scholarship was born last year when Smiley saw the newly-named TrojanVision studio and had the thought to donate a scholarship in his own name. While at dinner with Kirby and Kelley at their second-favorite eatery, Larry’s BBQ, he had the idea to make it the Jeff Taylor Scholarship in memory of their friend.
“Phil was talking about the Marge and Wright Kelley Scholarship and all of a sudden it came to me, what about the Jeff Taylor Scholarship?” he said. “It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about my friend.”
The scholarship is available to students enrolled in theater who have a special interest in technical theater, particularly lighting and sound.
“We want to encourage other people like Jeff who didn’t necessarily want to be on stage, but who wanted to be important in a show. The behind the scenes stuff is equally important,” Kirby said. “You can’t do a show without everyone behind the scenes. Someone who works tech isn’t just someone who didn’t get cast. They contribute.”
Sarah Betterton had a “big heart” and a “spirit of charity” – and could light up any room she walked into. Her compassion for others was real; her life was centered on helping others, a mission her family will continue in her name.
The Sarah Rebecca Betterton Memorial Scholarship will assist students pursuing a Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management degree on the Troy Campus.
“Sarah was a hard worker, dependable, cheerful and encouraging to everyone she met – especially her co-workers,” said Ibrahim Yildirim, General Manager of Sodexo Dining Services at TROY. “I miss her so much.”
Sarah graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and was employed by Sodexo in catering before moving to Florida to be closer to family and to take a position with the Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf and Spa Resort. She passed away July 20, 2021 from a brief illness.
“Sarah was a kind, genuine person who made friends with everyone she met. With her role in the catering department at TROY, she knew almost everyone on campus and built many great working and personal relationships,” said Brent Bookout, Sarah’s boyfriend. “Sarah had a big heart and a spirit of charity. She was always talking about ways she could help others because she genuinely cared.”
Bookout recalled how Betterton would visit an arcade, win a handful of tickets, and then just hand them to a child.
“She just wanted to watch the joy that ensued,” he said. “She was always doing little things for other people to make their day happier.”
To be able to help a student at TROY would have made her smile, as well.
“This scholarship was created because it is important to her family that she continues to make a positive impact at Troy University by helping deserving students achieve their goals,” Bookout said. “Helping a student at Troy is exactly what she would have wanted. Sarah deserves to have her name live on at Troy University, where she shared so much kindness and love for almost a decade.”
For Sarah’s father, Steve Betterton, the establishment of the endowed scholarship is about keeping Sarah’s memory alive on the Troy Campus.
“The way I feel about it is that you’re not really gone if you have something still calling your name out,” he said. “If they’re talking about you, you are pretty much still there. She was a great girl.”
Berry family charitable trust will support students with adaptive needs
When it came time for Jayne Berry to look for colleges, she and her family knew they
were looking for somewhere special. Diagnosed with a learning disability in the 7th
grade, Jayne was looking for a school that was the right size and with the right support
system to help her succeed.
After considering several options, a recommendation from the Copper family in Shorterville, Ala., led Jayne and her parents Bryan and Liz to a university that met all their criteria. Eight hours from their home in Tampa, Jayne found a home away from home at Troy University.
“School has never been easy for me, but TROY gave me an avenue to be very successful as an adult,” Jayne said. “The adaptive needs programs were a perfect fit for me, and I was able to take advantage of resources that are free of cost to any student.”
Jayne credits her advisor, Allison Hughes with helping her plan her schedule and directing her to resources available to students who need additional academic support, including extra time for tests. In addition, Careers Service Director Lauren Cole helped her develop a career plan, setting her on a path to her current job in insurance in the Birmingham area.
“It was just an amazing program to be in and I don’t think enough students take advantage of those resources,” Jayne said. “I think they are nervous about utilizing some of those things, but I did get the confidence in college to use them. I wasn’t afraid to take a test outside of the classroom because I knew that was the way I had to learn, and it was a better fit for me.”
Today, the Berry family is hoping to help future students take advantage of the community feel and support systems at TROY. The family has recently established a charitable remainder trust that will establish the Berry Family Endowed Scholarship Fund to provide scholarships for students with Adaptive Needs.
“TROY turned out to be an outstanding opportunity for [Jayne],” Bryan said. “We are very fortunate and very blessed and we want to share that. And with this gift that we will give to the University in time, hopefully, it will help others and down the road, they will pay it forward to the next group.”
Bryan worked 40 years as a mechanical contractor in the Tampa area, rising through the ranks right out of high school to eventually become president and co-owner of the business. The company recently sold, and the Berry family was looking for a way to invest those proceeds to meet their goals of both giving back and securing income for their retirement. A charitable remainder trust was the right option, and when considering possible beneficiaries, Liz said TROY and the adaptive needs program seemed like a “no-brainer.”
“We want it to go to this program that shaped her so much and it seemed like a win-win,” Liz said. “Hopefully with this endowment, we can affect students going forward who may be like Jayne, that just need that little push along the way to help them launch.”
Liz recalls the feeling of dropping Jayne off at a campus so many miles from home and in another state. But TROY’s small-town feel compared to larger colleges gave Liz peace of mind.
“If I had a question, you called a number and talked to a live person,” Liz said. “That is huge for any parent sending their kid to college.”
Jayne agreed that TROY’s campus environment makes it easy to get to know your professors, find friends, and get involved. Although initially worried she might be a “fish out of water” coming from Tampa to Troy, Jayne says she quickly got involved in organizations like the Phi Mu sorority and found her footing on campus.
“If you take advantage of how to get involved at TROY, you can set yourself up for success and that’s what I did,” Jayne said.
Bryan said the family is grateful to give back to a university that has meant so much to them.
“I think a big part of what TROY does is provide students confidence,” Bryan said. “Once you have confidence in yourself, there’s nothing you can’t do.”
Greg Knedler, Associate Vice Chancellor for Development, said the Berry family’s generosity will have a lasting impact on Troy University.
“Bryan, Liz and Jayne are an outstanding Trojan family with a lot of pride in TROY and their legacy gift will make a positive impact on the lives of many students in the years to come,” Knedler said.
A Charitable Trust, such as the one established by the Berry family, can be a great option for people looking to make a positive impact with an investment while establishing income for retirement, according to Knedler. Find out more about Charitable Trusts or other giving options at troy.edu/give.
Weavers continue family legacy with endowed scholarship for Monroe, Escambia and Conecuh county students
To continue his parents’ legacy and love for Troy University, Monroe County Judge Jack Weaver and his wife, Barbara Marthe Weaver, have established the Joseph Barnett Weaver, Jr. and Joyce Booker Weaver Endowed Scholarship for students from Monroe, Escambia and Conecuh counties.
A 1985 alum, Weaver comes from a long line of TROY graduates beginning with his parents who attended then-named Troy State Teacher’s College. To date, 11 members of the Weaver family boast TROY degrees.
“TROY’s been the Weaver Family lifeblood,” he said. “We’ve all enjoyed getting our education there, and it’s led us to where we all are today.”
The senior Weaver enlisted in the Navy at age 18 and was sent to Pearl Harbor during World War II. After the war ended, he returned home to Conecuh County to finish high school.
After graduating from TROY in 1953, he began his teaching career at Excel High School in Excel, Alabama while simultaneously teaching fellow veterans in Conecuh County. Later, he served as Dean of Students, Dean of Business Affairs and as the yearbook and newspaper sponsor at Jeff Davis Junior College in Escambia County. He retired in 1989 after 23 years at Jeff Davis.
He and Joyce married on June 1, 1956, and had four children and eight grandchildren.
When his father passed, Weaver and Marthe searched for a way to honor his memory in a meaningful way. Eventually, the pair decided to partner with TROY and created the Joseph Barnett Weaver, Jr. Endowed Scholarship.
“Being that my dad was a lifelong educator, we wanted to set up a scholarship in honor of his name so that some young deserving students would have an educational opportunity. He’d be honored that some young person was having an opportunity to get an education,” he said. “I’ve heard my parents say you can take away a lot of things in life, but you can’t take away someone’s salvation or their education.”
The initial $25,000 scholarship was created in 2020 but was renamed this year after another $25,000 gift in honor of Weaver’s mother’s 90th birthday on Sept. 4.
As her husband taught high schoolers, Joyce specialized in educating younger children, teaching at elementary schools in Excel, Monroeville, Frisco City and Brewton, all located in Alabama.
Her education career lasted for 30 years.
“She was really surprised. It made a great 90th birthday present,” he said. “My parents have preached that education opens the doors to so many worlds, and without education, those doors are closed.”
The scholarship is intended for students from Monroe, Conecuh and Escambia counties who will be attending the Troy Campus. The requirements are: applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and must write an essay explaining why they are applying, if they will have student loans, how it will benefit their future plans, why they chose TROY and a description of their leadership roles or service to their community.
The Weavers said the scholarship was created with a particular type of student in mind.
“I’ve been to class nights where I see so many scholarships awarded to the valedictorian and salutatorian. That’s great, and they worked hard, and they deserve it, but they’re only going to accept one,” he said. “There are other students that really have a need who are working as hard as they can, and they may be a C student. If they’re giving it their all and that’s what it is, they should be rewarded too, and they should be given a chance for an education as well.”
Because of the drive and determination passed down from his parents, the couple started the Monroe County Chapter of the TROY Alumni Association. Since then, they have worked to help raise scholarship money for students in need and to support TROY in any way they can.
“It is extremely important that we give back to the things that have been given to us, and TROY is a wonderful University. You’re not just a number. You’re a person,” Weaver said. “They know you by name, and if you walk on campus, people still know who you are. I want to see TROY succeed in every way.
“It’s a great University and a gem to this state. I would like to see it continue to grow. It’s a beautiful campus, and it just makes you proud to be an alumnus.”
Dr. Kelley honors late wife with gift to Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park
Dr. Philip Kelley, longtime voice of the Sound of the South Band Program and director
of many memorable musicals during his tenure on the Troy University John M. Long School
of Music faculty, recently made a gift to the Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park in
memory of his late wife, Margaret White Kelley.
A memorial bench now sits in her honor, with a plate that reads “Margaret White Kelley - An Unsung Hero - Lover of Books and Art.” Dr. Kelley, a long-time resident of Troy, says his goal is to walk the mile and a half from his house to sit on the bench to remember and reflect.