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Keith Elliott Alumnus of the Month

Keith Elliot

 

Q:) When did you graduate from WCU and in what subject area? 

A) I graduated from WCU twice: 
June 1969, with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, General Management 
June 1973, with a Master of Business Administration in General Management 

Q) Keith, who were your favorite faculty/staff at Western Carolina and why? 

A) Mr. Leland Waters, assistant professor of management, was a great encourager. I could talk with him about classes and papers. He was great in helping me prepare for job interviews. He was interested in me being successful in the classroom and as a person.

Coach John Wike was my favorite coach. He heavily recruited me to WCU. I liked him as a person. He was dedicated to WCU.

Mr. Jay Ivan Kneedler, assistant professor of management, was retired from Westinghouse before arriving at Western. He shared real situational teaching. His pop quizzes gave you much incentive to come to class. He drove a beautiful corvette and I wanted one.

Q) What are some of your fondest memories of your days at WCU? 

A) I remember my father bringing me to campus as a freshman, and reporting to fall practice. That was my first time ever being away from home and my parents. I had lots of concern, but after our practices started those concerns went away.

As a varsity football player, I remember the hot and cold days of training, just trying to survive. This was very hard, but I loved those days.

I loved eating slaw dogs at the Town House Cafe with Henry Logan and Herbert Moore.

I remember “the guys,” and our sharing our time – the card playing and the trash talking, and all of us being broke.

I remember one Spring Day event, the football players lifting and carrying a Volkswagen Beatle a distance to win an event. That was crazy and memorable.

During my graduate school days, I remember my wife and I going on a date on campus. I did not have an official date as an undergraduate on campus. That date was good!

Early days of my freshman year, I remember wearing the traditional beanie. All freshmen football players’ heads were shaved by the upperclassmen. Walking around campus with a shaved head was not a good look in 1965. The beanie was great cover.

Graduation day, June 1969. I remember being dressed in my cap and gown. I was so proud of this accomplishment, as was my family.

Q) Keith, you were a real groundbreaker at Western Carolina University. You were the first African-American scholarship football player at WCU, as well as the first African-American student to receive an MBA at Western. Tell us a little bit about what that historical experience was like. 

A) I came to Western to earn a college degree, and playing football would pay my cost. I never viewed myself as being the first African-American student athlete while I was at WCU. I did know the reality of this role and responsibilities. I knew that people were observing what was going on at Western, because I experienced that when my high school became the first in the state of North Carolina to integrate, allowing participation in all sports programs. Our success at Brevard helped to further integration in the state and the south. 

At WCU, I was a student-athlete trying to compete and earn my scholarship. However, I knew I would play an important role as Western moved forward. There was no fanfare, no reporters – just players and coaches trying to become a team. Coach Dan Robinson never gave me any special consideration or any promise of playing time. He stated he was hard but fair, which was true.

I believed there would be some challenges, and there were. I knew I was young, but I had been given an opportunity to do something special, and I did not want to let anyone down. There was some pressure and anxiety on the team.  We all had to make some sacrifices. Joe Love and I were in a situation in which this was probably the closest our teammates had ever been to Black athletes, or Black people in general.

The student-athletes at Western were great people. We did not do a lot of thing together in our social lives, but we championed our commitment to Western. We respected each other, encouraged each other. I never experienced any negative or stereotype comments from any of my teammates.

As a student, I never was in class with another Black student or had a Black professor. There were minorities in housekeeping. These were wonderful people who encouraged me along.

The classes were challenging and professors were very capable. They were fair and some not so fair. It was hard being a student and an athlete at Western. There were few outlets for pressures relief on campus.  

I am proud of the diversity of our university. I hope I played a role in its rich history. Western was the right place for me.

Q) Keith, your wife, Nina, received her master’s degree from Western in 1972. How did the two of you meet? 

A) I met her at a social event her sorority, (Alpha Kappa Alpha) the AKA, was sponsoring on Knoxville College campus in 1969. That event changed my life for good. We will have been married for 48 years this June.

Q) You became a member of WCU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018. Tell us what it means to be a part of such a special and select group of former WCU athletes and coaches. 

A) Being a member of WCU’s Athletic Hall of Fame represents that a significant accomplishment/achievement has been made to enhance Western Carolina University in athletics. 

I love this university, and being a Catamount and wearing the purple and gold. I feel blessed, grateful and fortunate to be in the Hall of Fame with so many distinguished Catamounts. I hope my being at Western has made an impact on some lives that came after me. 

My induction ceremony will always be an important part of my life moving forward. I was blessed to have my family, grandchildren and some hometown friend sharing it with me.

Q) Keith, you had a very distinguished and successful career with the U.S. Postal Service, and currently serve as pastor for Sentertown Missionary Baptist Church. Tell us a little bit about your career path and how you got there. 

A) The USPS was recruiting MBA graduates for a management associate training program in Washington, D.C. to out-place in mid-level executive jobs in the organization. 

After completion of this program, I was promoted to management sectional center director, Employee and Labor Relations, Johnson City, Tn.; then mid-south district safety manager, Memphis, Tn.; and then postmaster, Oliver Spring, Tn. I had to physically relocate my family six times, in five states.

I have served as pastor of Sentertown Missionary Baptist Church for almost 21 years. I started as a bi-vocational pastor in 1998, and became full time upon my retirement from USPS in 2004. I love pastoring this church and serving our community.

Q) Keith, you are currently a member of the WCU Alumni Association Board of Directors. Why do you feel it’s important for alumni to stay connected and involved with their alma mater? 

A) You spend years earning your degrees, and many graduates disconnect themselves from the college after completing their degrees. I was one of them. There are many ways graduates can stay connected, through services programs, alumni clubs, giving back to the university and attending and supporting athletic events. I would encourage graduates to connect to your university. You need to come back to campus frequently because your university is growing and rapidly changing. You are staying connected to a place where you were trained and educated, and who need you to be involved.

My adult kids told Nina and I, when we were considering selling our home, that this was the only home they remembered and knew. It placed guilt on us. I will tell you this: Western is the only college I really know and really love, and I want to be connected to my home.

WCU needs you, and you need WCU.

Q) Now tell us something unique and interesting about yourself that few people may know. 

A) I am a granddad with seven grandkids – five girls and identical twin boys. It is a great joy watching them grow up.

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