Bill Vernon’s life epitomizes what a Marietta College education is all about.
On Sunday, he will be the final graduate of the Master of Arts in Liberal Learning at Marietta College and join the rest of the graduates during the 176th Commencement on Sunday, May 12. The M.A.L.L. program was launched in 1974 during Dr. Sherrill Cleland’s tenure as Marietta president.
Though Vernon began taking graduate courses at Marietta in 2004, his ties to the College began decades earlier.
“I have always held education and Marietta College in high esteem,” Vernon says. “It means a lot to have earned my degree from here.”
After graduating from Marietta High School in 1959, he enrolled in classes at Ohio University for a year before deciding to join the United States Navy. During his four years in the Navy he served with the Naval Security Group and was stationed at NAVCOMMSTA Guam and then the Naval Security Group Activity in Kami Seya, Japan. After he was separated from active duty in 1964, he resumed his education at Marietta, taking a broad range of courses that included business, psychology, history and political science. He also began his career in sales and marketing of specialty products for the chemical industry.
“I go back to the days when Jack Prince was running the Evening School,” Vernon says. “I took classes from some of the ‘greats’ at Marietta: Bob Deets, (Bill) Hartel, Bob Fischer... Jack Prince — all those professors were great teachers. When I started back at Marietta, my mission was to achieve and earn my bachelor’s degree because I didn’t have it yet.”
He attended the Evening School for a decade before transferring his credits to Ohio University, where he enrolled full time, worked full time and was a full-time family man to his wife, Mary, and daughter, Traci. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Generalized Studies at Ohio in 1976.
Traci (Vernon) Perry, who is the Director of Budgeting, Grant Reporting & Student Accounts at Marietta College, recalls her dad attending college courses during her childhood and says her parents emphasized the importance of continuing education throughout her rearing.
“My parents have always encouraged me to continue to learn every day — no matter your age, there are still new things to learn,” Perry says.
While Vernon’s actions exemplified his desire to grow intellectually, his hard work and dedication to take care of his family reassured his daughter that a college education could be in her future as well.
“There wasn’t any doubt about it,” he says. “If she wanted to go, the opportunity was going to be there for her. And she did want to go.” When she chose to attend Ohio University, his first alma mater … “I smiled.”
About the same time Vernon was finishing up his degree at Ohio, his father, the late William J. Vernon Jr., enrolled in the newly created M.A.L.L. program at Marietta. He was among the second class of graduates, earning his degree in 1980.
“My dad was a very smart man,” Vernon says. “He always yearned for education.”
Though he had accomplished his goal of earning a bachelor’s degree, Vernon set his sights on taking advantage of the educational opportunities that Marietta College offered, so he earned his Associate of Arts degree in 2003 before beginning the graduate program his father completed more than 20 years earlier.
“My first class was Early Asian History with Matt Young… and my last class was a specialized study on the investigation of the attack of the U.S.S. Liberty in the Mediterranean Sea in 1967 with Matt,” Vernon says. “I have had wonderful professors throughout my graduate studies at Marietta. Matt Young, Mike Tager and Mark Schaefer — all three of them have been quite fantastic.”
Young, who is the McCoy Associate Professor of History and the Andrew U. Thomas Chair, says Vernon was a hard worker who went beyond what was expected in his course studies.
“I was always impressed by what he produced because he was working full time the entire time he was a student,” Young says.
Sunday will be a special occasion for Vernon, as his wife and daughter will be attending Commencement to watch him receive his master’s degree.
“This was my personal challenge,” Vernon says. “This was me against me — a test to see if I could accomplish this. Once I got into it, started studying, I figured out that I really could do it.”
Watch a webcast of the 176th Commencement starting at 1 p.m., Sunday, May 12.