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From Power Five to SoCon, English professor’s affinity for athletics leads to providing financial support

By Bill Studenc

With fond memories of attending intercollegiate sporting events during her undergraduate and graduate years at what are now considered “Power Five” athletics conferences, Western Carolina University professor of English Mae Miller Claxton has become a long-time supporter of the athletics program at the institution where she works.

Claxton, now in her 27th year as a faculty member at WCU, has been donating consistently to the Catamount Club since she first landed in Cullowhee after earning her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Georgia and her master’s degree at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

“While at these institutions, I enjoyed participating in athletic events with my friends. It truly was a key part of my student experience, one I wouldn’t trade,” Claxton said. “Here at WCU, I enjoy the community experience of sitting with friends and colleagues in the stands, watching the band, meeting alumni and seeing students outside of the classroom.”

She began her career at WCU in 1996 as a visiting instructor, but her affinity for the university goes back longer than that. “I learned about WCU during my time as a graduate student at UGA from two proud WCU alumni,” she said.

She and husband David, retired head of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at WCU, are regular faces in the crowd at Catamount athletics events.

“Last year, we really enjoyed the successful men’s basketball season and almost always go to the Southern Conference basketball tournament,” she said. “And we attend a lot of other sporting events, too—track and field, baseball, soccer, softball, volleyball.”

Mae Claxton

Mae Claxton

For the Claxtons, supporting WCU athletics has become somewhat of a family affair. “We first brought our son, Brannan, to games when he was an infant, so it was always something fun we enjoyed doing as a family,” she said. “We live 10 minutes from campus, so our entertainment has always centered around campus activities.”

Although not an alumna of WCU, Claxton is a faithful member of the Catamount Club, and she said it is important for faculty and staff at WCU to support the institution in ways beyond their work in the classrooms and day-to-day responsibilities.

“It’s about community and about supporting our students—whether it’s a play, a concert or a game. And it’s just something fun to do with friends and colleagues,” she said. “College should be about so much more than the classroom, and we have the benefit of being part of a small, close-knit community here in Cullowhee and Jackson County.”

In addition to supporting Catamount athletics, Claxton and her husband also have established the Claxton Family Endowed Scholarship to provide financial assistance to students majoring in health and physical education.

 “Our parents supported our higher education goals, and we wanted to honor them,” she said. “Specifically, David’s parents never had the opportunity to go to college, and yet all of their children have graduate degrees. My dad was in student affairs as the dean of men of a junior college. I grew up around a college campus.”

Claxton is a member of the steering committee for the comprehensive “Fill the Western Sky” campaign, an effort to raise a minimum of $75 million in philanthropic support for the university’s academic, student engagement and athletics programs.

She also is among the more than 350 faculty and staff who go beyond their job duties by making financial contributions to WCU and who are recognized as members of the Shetland Society.

One of four giving societies established by the Division of Advancement in 2020 to celebrate the impact of philanthropy, the Shetland Society is named for the Shetland ponies that then-Chancellor A.C. Reynolds purchased in 1912 to haul supplies by cart back and forth from Sylva to campus.

A campaign to increase faculty and staff membership in the Shetland Society is underway through Friday, Oct. 20. For more information, contact Rebekah Cheney, director of annual giving, at 828-227-2868 or via email at

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