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News & Press: Featured Alumni

Jane (Janie) Allen Semple Umsted

Tuesday, August 03, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Robert Nordmark
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Born: December 21, 1946 in Durant, Oklahoma
Masters in Education at Southeastern 1988
Mother- Jane French Semple, she was an artist and a tennis player in college
Father- Allen William (Bill) Semple, he was a pilot in WWII, a Veterinarian and member of The Benevolent Order of the Red Red Rose at Southeastern, later to go on the Oklahoma A&M (OSU) to become one of the first college educated Veterinarians in Bryan County.
Southeastern experiences have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. "The College" was located in the city where I was born and raised. My grandparents attended Southeastern as well as my parents. My grandfather, on my mother's side, Lester M. French, in 1911 played on Southeastern's First Football Team with Paul Laird as his coach. His sisters, my great aunts, were in the classes of 1915 and 1917. My great aunt, on my father's side, was one of Southeastern's first five Graduates, Clara Petty Semple. She was the Valedictorian and became the President of Southeastern's first Alumni Association. My aunt, Dr. Anne Semple, was a faculty emeritus at Southeastern having taught there for 43 years. Her brother, my uncle, was William F. Semple, Chief of the Choctaws and was a lawyer in Durant that was also a State Representative. He was one of a handful of influential Durant citizens that went to Oklahoma City to fight for Southeastern to be established in Durant. He was married to Clara Petty.
From the time I was a very small child Southeastern was a place of wonderment and learning. Our house was only five blocks away. It was an easy walk or an easier bicycle ride. Many an afternoon was spent on the Morrison lawn, climbing the Magnolias or roller skating on the sidewalks. It was like a huge park dotted with grand buildings inside of which were great halls and staircases. What a wonderful place to explore and learn. The north side of campus with its thick post oak woods behind the amphitheater was a special place to play hide and seek and stay cool in the summer. We were not supposed to go there. There was lots of poison ivy and it was easy to get lost.
My siblings and I were exposed to many aspects of culture at an early age because of Southeastern. While in elementary school we took many kinds of private lessons at Southeastern. There were lessons available in violin, French and Spanish, Music and Art. I took my first formal art lessons on campus from Madeline Stevens, wife of Coach Dave Stevens. I took French lessons from Mrs. Wade Baskin when I was only eight years old. My sister took lessons on the French horn from Dr. Paul Mansur when she was 12. All of my siblings and I were so lucky to have had Clarence Dyer as a tennis coach. Tennis was in our blood.
My mother and her twin sister had played doubles tennis at Southeastern. Brother Allen Webb French was among the handful of Southeastern earliest tennis players along with Truman Wester and others under the tutelage of Clarence Dyer. The French home was only one block from Southeastern so she had dozens of stories about growing up on campus a generation earlier. In those days (late 30's and early 40's) there was a swimming pool at the low place where 6th street dips down. It even had a bathhouse and a high diving board. My mother, Jane, and her twin Jean spent many nights in the President's home when T.T. Montgomery was the president. He had children that were my mother's friends. Miss Sally and Miss Lucy Leonard were dear friends of my grandmother French and Miss Floy Perkinson Gates lived next door on 6th street. C.B and Louise French and their five girls lived across the street from my grandparents. The neighborhood which was only blocks away from Southeastern was always exciting. Louise French painted in her spare time and the most outstanding thing about her paintings was the fact that she was considered the foremost painter of Magnolias in Durant. C.B. was the Industrial Arts Professor for many years and it was under his supervision that the Amphitheater was built by Southeastern students during the Depression Years.
Built in 1957, the indoor pool in Bloomer Sullivan Gym, was quite a unique place that was available to the youth of Durant as well as the College students. I took swimming and diving from Miss Bertha Mae Treadway. One of my proudest moments was passing the Red Cross Lifesaving and Water Safety Instruction courses taught by her. She is remembered by so many as a stern but dedicated member of the faculty. I must have been in high school at that time but earlier when I was in elementary school all of my friends and I had great fun participating in something called "Girls Clinic". It was 1957 and the Bloomer Sullivan Gymnasium was brand new. It had fold out bleachers, a huge gym, an indoor swimming pool and a trampoline. The last two things on the list were a novelty in Durant, Oklahoma in 1957. At "Girls Clinic" we spent the afternoon engaged in various group sports activities such as basketball, dodge ball, tennis, tumbling, trampoline, swimming and diving. It was wonderful! That program was directed by much loved, Pudgy Bowers. How we all miss him.
Each year the sixth graders were given wondrous tours of the Science Building by Dr. Earl Kilpatrick, He showed us fascinating things in jars of formaldehyde and models of the human skull that you could take apart and see the brain inside. I loved the Science Building and the Music and Art Buildings, but the building we all loved to be in the most was Morrison Hall and its wondrous Montgomery Auditorium. What a magical place! Even as elementary children, those of us in the Durant Schools were afforded the joyful experience, year after year, of attending so many performances of all kinds in Montgomery. Morrison was and still remains the grandest example of Greek influenced, stone buildings in all of southeastern Oklahoma. Its copper clad roof and pediment are fine examples of the grandeur of glorious workmanship and thoughts of magnificent sense of permanence that our ancestors provided for us. I will never forget how tragic it was in 1957 when a tornado ripped through Durant and tore the roof off of Morrison Hall. When it was repaired much of the copper on the roof was never replaced due to the exorbitant cost of the copper. What a grand building. It is such a treasure.
Each spring, for almost one hundred years, Southeastern has hosted the Curriculum Meet (back then we called it simply, Track Meet) only it was for academics. As early as 7th grade, I was competing in it. I won medals in art and Oklahoma History. We were on campus for dance recitals and Candle lighting at Christmas. Yes, the nativity scene was always a part of this program. My of my friends participated in band and choir contests in Montgomery.
In the middle of the campus was Russell Training School. Today it is the John Massey School of Business. My mother, Jane and her twin sister, Jean attended Russell. My aunt Mary Jo French and my uncle Allen Webb French also attended.
I can not imagine what my childhood would have been like without Southeastern. It was the source of so much learning and opportunities that we could never have experienced in a town without this special "College". Of course, I know that it is a University now and has been for many years, it is just that since I am writing about a very nostalgic time in my life, to me it was "The College".
Even though I do not like to admit to having regrets, I have to confess that even though at our Durant High School Graduation ceremony of 1965 the commencement speaker was the wonderful, Dr. Allen Sherrer, President at the time; it was not enough to keep me at Southeastern. Because of an offer of the President's Leadership Class Scholarship, I decided to go to the University of Oklahoma and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. I suppose that I must have had stars in my eyes. My friends called me a "Tea Sipper" for choosing OU. I did receive a fine education there and it was great, but when I returned to Durant after being gone for 20 years to pursue a Masters Degree in Education at Southeastern, I discovered something about my second alma mater. After receiving my Masters, I was fortunate to be employed as the Director of Public Relations and Alumni for 10 years at Southeastern. That is when I discovered that I had missed out on some much. During those ten years (1990-2000) I had the privilege of hearing countless stories from Alumni that had spent their undergraduate years at Southeastern. As I listened with delight to so many Alumni shared their stories about their early years on the Campus of a Thousand Magnolias, I could not help feeling that Southeastern would always be a special place for me and my family as well as for so many others who have had the wonderful opportunity to have been a part of the ever growing "Southeastern Family". For me, Southeastern is one of the most important experiences that has contributed to making my life has been indeed " A Wonderful Life".
Today, I am proud to say that the legacy continues because not only is my husband, Earl (Gus), a Business major, a SE graduate, but three of our five children are also graduates. Our son, Allen Cook , a Biology and Chemistry major, our daughter, Ericka Umsted, a Physical Education major and our daughter, Elizabeth Cook, a recent graduate in the BSN, Nursing Program.

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