Growing up, Bruce Jennings always knew the value of hard work and persistence. His parents, both raised on farms in rural Virginia, lived through the Depression, and the success they eventually found was hard-fought. Through their example, and that of a mentor he met later in life, Jennings learned the importance of giving. This year he established Christopher Newport’s first fully endowed professorship, named in honor of his parents: the Silas O. and Myrtle S. Jennings Professorship.
Jennings’ association with CNU began in 2004 when his daughter, Kylene (’08), enrolled as a freshman. “When we visited we were very impressed,” Jennings says. “The caring and family environment was a great fit for Kylene. She had four fantastic years here.” The importance CNU places on honor and character development was also a crucial factor. “It’s the kind of person you are that gets you where you need to be in life,” he says. Jennings has maintained a close relationship with the University over the years and currently serves on the Board of Visitors.
His parents started a construction company in the 1950s after an austere upbringing, and fostered in him a strong work ethic and no-nonsense outlook. “They both had an amazing business knowledge,” Jennings says. “They built a company and were very successful. I learned so much from them, and there was no doubt what I was going to do when I got out of school.” In light of their influence on his own success, Jennings felt it only fitting that the new professorship be named for his parents. “Their names are on it, not mine, as it should be. They’re the ones who struggled in life. My family will always be connected to CNU because of this.”
Jennings’ second impetus for the gift was his relationship with the late Fred Courtney, a retired businessman and professor at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. The two first met as business associates but became fast friends. “He was an amazing person, and I learned things from him that you don’t learn in an academic setting. Whoever has this professorship will touch lives, like mine was touched by Fred Courtney.”
An alumnus of Virginia Commonwealth University, Jennings says he treasured his time and learned much there, but feels a special affinity for CNU. “I’ve kind of adopted this place in my mind,” he says. “I just see so many exciting things going on here. The synergy and unity of purpose among people, that’s what I enjoy. Everyone is on the same page; everyone is pulling together, and that’s inspiring to me.” When the University launched the Defining Significance campaign, Jennings knew he wanted to make a contribution, something that would benefit CNU but that would also enable him to honor those who had made his own achievements possible.
He hopes the recipient of the professorship will not only pass on the type of knowledge and incentive he received from his parents and Courtney’s mentorship, but also inspire students to lead lives of meaning and purpose. For Jennings, that’s the most distinguishing trait of Christopher Newport. “I believe graduates will go out in the world and do the best they can every day, and do something to impact people’s lives,” he says. “It’s altogether different here. There’s something intangible at CNU. When you’re involved you just feel it.”