Question.) When did each of you graduate from WCU and in what subject areas?
Answer.) Ed: I completed my BSBA degree in December 1979, with a concentration in accounting.
Andrea: I graduated in 1980, with a BS degree in home economics and a concentration in consumer resource management.
Q.) Tell us some of your fondest memories of your days at WCU.
A.) Ed: Wow, there are so many! The top one was meeting my wife, Andrea. We just celebrated 36 years of marriage. Being married to a Catamount sure makes color selection easier. Go Purple!
I was the first person in my family to pursue a degree, so anything short of my best was not an option. I had a good time, but I never forgot how important it was to be there. One memorable PE class that I enjoyed was Cast and Gun Handling. It was easy, since I grew up in Haywood County, but it was my first time learning to reload ammunition. Boy, times have changed!
Other fond memories include special friends made, concerts at WCU, most of my classes in the School of Business, and being one of the first students at WCU in the Co-Op program. It was through this program that I was able to meet and work for Wallace Hyde in Asheville for his insurance agency.
Andrea: I remember dorm life fondly. It was great to have a hall of friends to hang out with. I also remember some great basketball games in Reid Gym and concerts were always fun! The Jarrett House was a treat when we had the money to go. One thing I remember well was enjoying Sunday night pizza from Speedy’s with Ed! I guess some things never change. We still make most memories by enjoying really great meals!
Q.) Who were your favorite professors at Western and why?
Ed: All of my accounting professors, especially Beegle, Barnett and Winiarski. They would all spend time individually helping with questions and problems, even if the assignment wasn’t from their own class. That really impressed me.
Although not one of my professors, Susie Ray really made a difference for me with her leadership and support in the Co-Op program at WCU. Being able to get significant work experience in my field was so important.
Andrea: My favorite professor was Dr. Judy Dowell. She was both professional and personable. She could see beyond the traditional applications of home economics careers, and she appreciated and encouraged my “out of the box” aspirations. My interest in financial planning was a little before its time, so that career path wasn’t an established one at the time. I was able to approach it from a very human and family-oriented perspective.
Q.) Ed, you had a very long and distinguished career with Dixon Hughes accounting firm (retiring in 2011) and you are now President and CEO of Unique Solutions. Tell us a little about your career path and how you got there.
A.) My first position was with Peat Marwick (now KPMG) after being recruited by Ken Hughes. Four years later, he recruited me again—this time to join him in Asheville at what is now Dixon Hughes Goodman.
My career as a CPA in these two firms was an amazing journey. It really fed my entrepreneurial spirit and enabled me to keep growing in ways I could never have imagined.
In 2011, after more than 30 years in public accounting, I was able to retire, get off the road as much and create Unique Solutions Associates, Inc. that guides individuals and organizations to unique ways to save money and time. This has enabled me to make a difference for so many people, businesses and trade associations. We now have more than 40 associates across the country doing the same, including my daughter, Tierney (WCU Class of 2014), who leads our Group Benefit Solutions and Video Productions.
Q.) Andrea, you and Ed have established the Free and Clear Debt-Free Scholarship Endowment here at Western. Tell us about this special scholarship and why it’s so important to you both.
A.) The Free and Clear Debt-Free Scholarship is for the student who is committed to staying free of college loans. We have been motivated to offer this type of scholarship for several reasons. First, we have been financial counsellors for more than 20 years, and during that time we’ve seen firsthand what kind of burden school loans can be for graduates who are trying to make a start on entry-level salaries. We’ve also seen the stress that occurs in families when school loan payments revert back to parents who aren’t prepared to take that on. Finally, the totals that are borrowed each and every year for higher education are astounding; but we’ve been so impressed by the stories we hear from those students who are finding ways to get their degrees with no borrowing that we wanted to come alongside some of them with support and assistance.
We purposely chose not to put our name on the endowment, but to name it for its purpose so that others would be encouraged to join us in helping students remain debt free. The first award goes out this fall, and we will continue raising funds so that more students who want to stay debt-free can find assistance from scholarship funds in the future. If you would like to contribute, make your check payable to “WCU Foundation” and put “Free and Clear Debt-Free Fund” in the memo line.
Q.) Ed, you have been very involved with your alma mater over the years. You are past President of both the Catamount Club and WCU Friends of the Arts, a former member of the WCU Alumni Board of Directors and the WCU Foundation Board, as well. Why do you feel it is important for alumni to stay connected with their university?
A.) Staying connected with the university has truly been a blessing in so many ways. As a student, I received a Helder scholarship which covered about half of my needs. I never forgot being blessed by this, and each year after graduation I found a way to give something back. I joke that I’ve been writing checks to WCU every year since starting as a freshman in 1975. The checks haven’t always been big but they have been consistent.
Staying connected has led to making more great friends who are also interested in making a difference for others. Working for a purpose with others creates excitement as you see things happen.
Staying connected has allowed me to learn more about how the university makes a difference both in WNC and the state. I’m so proud to be a Catamount!
Q.) Now tell us something unique and interesting about yourselves that few people may know.
A.) Ed: More than 18 years ago, the Lord prompted me to use my passion for BBQ to create a ministry called Blessings and BBQ. This team of other passionate folks cooks and serves our homeless veterans in Asheville the first Saturday of each month at the Veterans’ Restoration Quarters. Smoking meat and preparing the meal is an all-day event, so we get to know the residents well, and it’s like a family gathering with 200 to 300 meals being served each time.
Andrea: Blessings and BBQ has given me an outlet for service also. While Ed is smoking meat on those first Saturdays, I show up with my sewing machine, patches, some buttons and do mending and hemming for the residents. They get lots of donated clothing that is new, but the sizes aren’t always as close of a fit as they would like. And I hem lots of pants and sew on many replacement buttons! I have to say, it is a treat to serve our veterans!
Ed and Andrea: We have lived in Asheville for more than 30 years, but some may not know that in 2018 we sold our home there and moved to our coastal home on Ocracoke Island, on the Outer Banks of NC. We are about 12 hours away from Cullowhee, so we don’t get back to campus as often, but we have run across a few Catamounts out here. Who knows? Maybe we can start an alumni chapter on the Outer Banks. As always, Go Cats!