For the past 60 years, Jerry Ney ’57 has had something to prove.
At least he felt that way.
“The friends I made during my two years were very limited,” he recalls of his time at Culver. “Being a two-year cadet made me feel like I was never a full-fledged member of my class.”
As he contemplated retirement back in 2008, he found his thoughts drifting back to Culver, and maybe trying to find a place – a job, a volunteer spot, something — at the school to “ ‘make up’ for only being here those two years.”
Actually, Culver had been percolating in Ney’s mind for longer than that. He came back in 1977 for his 20th class reunion, which, he says, was only attended by five classmates. He wouldn’t come back for another 20 years, when he returned to Culver for his 40th class reunion. By this time, the reunions at Culver had grown a great deal.
“That was when I really connected with Culver,” he says. “I saw a lot of people who I recognized and knew by name but didn’t actually know, but I had a great time getting to know them.”
So great, that Ney decided to get more involved, volunteering to be the “Minister of Information,” that is, writing the class letter several times each year as well as the chairman of the Class of 1957’s 50th Reunion.
“Being the chairman of the 50th was the best decision I ever made,” he says. “This enabled me to get in contact with virtually every member of the class.” After a while “People who had been here four years, or even five, assumed that I had been here as long as they.
As time has gone on, besides having more and more enjoyable reunions and mini-reunions, Ney’s class has established numerous scholarships to help deserving students come to Culver. For his part, Ney personally gives to Culver through his own scholarship, named in honor of his father who graduated Culver in 1924, as well as leads the effort for The Eugene C. Eppley Club, Culver’s planned giving society.
But in addition to the financial side of things, Ney says, he has found a way of giving back that has been richly rewarding for both students and himself in a way that can’t be measured on a chart or balance sheet.
When he finally did retire to Culver, he briefly thought about getting hired on, but discarded that idea.
“Instead of being an esteemed, older alumnus, I would all of a sudden be an employee,” he said. “I thought, ‘That’s going to change the dynamics of me with Culver dramatically’ … This is why I decided to volunteer.”
Ney volunteered in the Culver Museum, and eventually began chaperoning student activities on campus in The Shack and Beason Hall as well as Cultural Trips to Chicago, which are sponsored by Ellen and Paul Gignilliat ’49, grandson of Gen. Leigh Gignilliat.
And that opened up yet another dimension of Culver for him.
“That’s one of my missions I have with the students here today,” Ney says. “They don’t take advantage of me – I still demand respect – but at the same time I still have a relationship with them.
“I’m getting to where I feel like a teacher must feel where you have your favorite students, and at the end of their senior year they’re gone! And you miss them, (but) I’ve managed to stay in touch with a number of them.”
Ney has expanded his reach with students considerably in the past few years, traveling abroad as a chaperone on Global Pathways Spring trips, and developing a very close relationship with many of Culver’s Chinese students.
“In addition to the financial side, volunteering at the museum and chaperoning,” he says, “I think in many ways, my relationship with the students is my way of giving back.”
And that’s all the proof anyone needs.