Western Carolina University alumni Jane and Ken Teasley readily agree they are products of their respective environments, and that has made all the difference in their lives.
“We’re both first generation college graduates,” said Ken Teasley, who graduated in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in social science and sociology. “We were children of the Greatest Generation, the people who came through the Depression and World War II, who made all the sacrifices for us. They wanted our lives to be better than theirs.”
In return, the Teasleys, who are WCU’s Alumni Spotlight for April, have spent their lives helping others, whether through their careers or through their scholarship support and planned giving to WCU.
Ken was a social worker who worked primarily in administration for what is now the Haywood County Department of Health and Human Services, before ultimately retiring as a consultant and trainer for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Jane graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1970 and a master’s degree in education in 1974. She is a retired school teacher, having taught kindergarten through fourth grade in Haywood County.
“Both of us were particularly influenced by people in need. We were pretty much engaged with that population for a very long time in our careers,” Ken said.
The Teasleys grew up in Shelby, but didn’t officially meet until both were standing in a “long, line at the bookstore” to pick up their books, Jane said. Ken realized Jane couldn’t leave the line so she had to talk to him. They’ve been married for 54 years.
In addition to meeting each other, the Teasleys say WCU gave them a playbook for life, which has served them well and in turn has allowed them to help others through their endowed scholarships and other planned giving. “We both feel like every kid who wants to go to college deserves to go to college,” Jane said.
Additionally, they believe in the simple act of giving back to those helped them. “Western was really, really good to me,” said Jane, who earned her master’s degree tuition free through Teacher Corp, a former teacher recruitment program. “It’s just been important to me to give back.”
Ken loves the university so much he decided to work for it after he retired from the state in 1999. He has worked as an assistant to the Catamount Club, in Alumni Affairs and as a student recruiter for admissions, attending college fairs in the eastern part of the country. “It was a fun job,” Ken said. “I talked with parents and students about coming to Western and what it offered, about the community, the culture, about the things that made it a great place for me, at least. I’ve always loved the place.”
In addition to being season ticket holders for nearly 50 years, the Teasleys are members of the Catamount Club – Ken has served on its board of directors – and the Madison Society. They established the Elizabeth Teasley Endowed Scholarship for students majoring in social work and named in honor of their daughter who died in 2007, and the Jane L. Teasley Endowed Scholarship for students majoring in education.
The couple, who live in Spindale, say they are able to help others today because of the sound advice they got from WCU professors and instructors more than 50 years ago to be critical thinkers and stay educated beyond their degrees. “You’re not fully educated the moment you walk across the stage; you should make a lifelong commitment to stay current,” Ken said.
Jane, who is 74, and Ken, 73, say they stay tech savvy, watch their health, stay active and “do things that provoke or promote” their own thinking. “We both read and we both consider the source of information that we are subjected to daily,” Ken said. “I think we try to put facts before feelings, and we try to be happy.”
And another key ingredient to their success? “We still try to engage with lots of people. We don’t live in a bubble. We’ve managed to amass some wealth because we pay attention to what’s going on culturally and economically,” Ken said. “We never wanted to be confined in what we thought or how we reacted to the evolvement of the culture that we live in, to not resist everything.”
“We also like to travel and see how other people live and not go to all the tourist attractions, but to different parts of the country just to take in the environment and the culture,” Jane added. “You can’t stay in your hometown all the time and visit the same few places, hang out with the same couple of people. You’ve just got to get out there and see the world.”
The Teasleys said despite growing up in a small town, they always believed they could make a difference in the world, and it’s because of their upbringings they have been able to do so. “The thing we took away from all of that was to be as generous as our parents had been as we grew into our own lives, to try to help other people; be kind to animals,” Ken said. “That’s the way my folks were, and Jane’s were too.”