Helping hands

Written by: 
Randena Hulstrand

Each generation’s college experience is stronger because of the pride and support of those who have come before. Annie Wilkerson and her siblings Roberta, James Claude, Elie and Ruth attended North Texas for teaching certificates during its earliest days from 1903 to 1908.

“Education was highly valued in their family, and Grandmother would often reminisce about her mother reading poetry to them,” says Nancy Kelly (’82, ’83, ’91 M.S.), Annie’s granddaughter and an academic counselor in the College of Visual Arts and Design since 1999.

That legacy was passed along to Helen Peden Kelly (’49) — Annie’s daughter and Nancy’s mother — who passed it on as well.

“I remember Mom saying, ‘We weren’t the richest folks in the classroom, but we were usually the smartest,’” Kelly says.

And the Wilkersons guided others. Elie taught elementary school for 50 years, the last 14 in a one-teacher school in Three Rivers, and she helped and encouraged her nieces and nephews to go to school.

Helen, who passed away in 2007, was a “Rosie the Riveter” for Conair (now Lockheed Martin) in Fort Worth during World War II. She traded in her war bonds to come to North Texas and work on her degree at 28, older than the average female student at the time.

“Mother credited Imogene Dickey, the dean of women, for giving her a job as a house mother to give her a place to live and make extra money to finish school,” Kelly says. “She wore her Golden Key Society charm around her neck for her Golden Eagles reunion in 1999. Mother was always so proud of her degree.”

Nancy, through her work at UNT, also has been a mentor to many — especially her nephew, Austin Alexander Kelly (’10), a senior psychology major who graduated in May and plans to continue with graduate studies in counseling at UNT in the future. A fourth-generation UNT student, Austin lived in Maple and Traditions halls and minored in counseling like his Aunt Nancy. He says he tries to pass on her advice and helped other students with their classes.

“I try to be a good listener,” says Austin, whose dad, Gary Kelly, attended in 1973 and was a member of the 12 O’Clock Lab Band. Even though the campus is vastly different today than it was in 1903, Austin says the North Texas spirit he was raised with remains.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he says. “Coming to UNT just felt right.”


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