Three Maryville College alumi receive awards during banquet

Maryville College honored three alumnae during the National Alumni Association’s annual meeting and banquet held Oct. 14 in the Cooper Athletic Center on campus.

Erin Palmer, a member of the class of 1999, was named the recipient of the Kin Takahashi Award for Young Alumni during the banquet. The college’s Alumni Citation was presented to Corita Erwin Swanson, a member of the college’s class of 1958, and Mary Lee Witherspoon, a member of the class of 1956.

Since 1961, the college’s Alumni Citations have recognized graduates who have "rendered such service in professional, business, civil, social, or religious endeavor as to benefit humanity and bring honor to the college, or who have rendered unusual service in any capacity on behalf of the college," said Maryville College President Dr. Gerald W. Gibson, who
presented the awards.

The Kin Takahashi award, instituted in 1999, honors alumni "who have, within 15 years of graduation, lived lives characteristic of college legend Kin Takahashi, who, in his 36 years of living, worked tirelessly for the betterment of his alma mater, his church and his society," Gibson said.

Palmer honored for leadership, commitment to College
Erin Nicole Palmer, daughter of Gail and Lee Palmer of Winchester, Tenn., and a 1995 graduate of Franklin County High School, was honored for her promise as a leader and young attorney, her commitment to the College and her contributions to the community.

As a freshman at Maryville, Palmer began her active and engaged career as an MC student and member of the women’s soccer team, Gibson told the 300 individuals in attendance at the banquet.

"Once at Maryville, Erin jumped into her studies, earning placement in Alpha Lambda Delta Freshman Honor Society," the
president said. "But Erin, as we want all our students to do, also jumped into student life, serving as secretary of her class and on Student Government Association committees. She was also a journalist for [the campus newspaper] The Highland Echo and worked as a peer mentor and student worker in the office of development.

"? Erin wove her leadership skills into her athletic endeavors, serving as a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the student-athlete advisory committee and the Athletics All-Academic Team," the president added.

Upon graduation, she was honored within her discipline with the John W. Burgess Award in Social Sciences and was named the College’s 1999 Outstanding Senior. She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in Spanish.

Palmer attended the University of Tennessee-Knoxville College of Law and received her juris doctor in 2002. Despite long hours and challenging studies, Palmer served in leadership positions, such as president of the Student Bar Association, and published "The World Trade Organization Slips Up," an article in the Tennessee Law Review.

She joined the Nashville firm of Walker Tipps and Malone in 2002 where she continues to work today. A member of the Tennessee Bar Association and Nashville Bar Association, Palmer still makes time to remain active and give back to her wider community. She serves as a Youth Recreational Soccer Coach, as a member of the Young Leaders Council, and as an intern for the Nashville Children’s Theatre Board of Directors and First Steps Inc., Board of Directors.

Seeing similarities between Palmer and Takahashi, the 1895 graduate and college legend for whom the award is named, Gibson said the two were the same height (5-feet-2) and shared the same entrepreneurial spirit for athletics. (Takahashi organized the first football team.)

Swanson makes a difference through social work, church
Corita Erwin Swanson made the trip to campus from her home in Levittown, Pa., to enroll at Maryville College in 1954.
"Just as she was a good fit for Maryville College [then], she’s an even better fit for this Citation," Gibson told banquet attendees.

While at Maryville, Swanson majored in Bible and religion and minored in sociology. She was a member of the College’s championship debate team and was active in Theta Epsilon, the YWCA and Pi Kappa Delta.

Following graduation, Swanson took the advice of former sociology teacher Dr. Ralph Case, and accepted a position in
social work with the Blount County Welfare Department. Her territory was the six miles of Happy Valley.

Moving to the Minneapolis area in 1963, the MC alumna accepted another social work position with the Hennepin County Department of Human Services. For the next 32 years, she handled cases in the department’s Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Work and Training and Foster Care Licensing programs.

"Just as she had done in high school and at Maryville College, Corita got involved in the Twin Cities area and committed herself to causes she deeply believed in," Gibson pointed out, listing the Bloomington Natural Resources and Planning Commission, charter commission for the to-be-constructed Mall of America and Bloomington Republican Party as organizations benefiting from Swanson’s leadership.

Active in the Presbyterian Church throughout her life, Swanson was ordained an elder in 1969 and a deacon in 1970. In 1989, she was a commissioner to the 200th General Assembly. Mission work has taken her to Korea, Jordan, Israel and the Philippines.

Soon after Swanson’s return to Blount County in 1995, she joined Highland Presbyterian Church and founded and directed the Ecumenical Action Council’s "Good Neighbors" program. For the next eight years, she led this important ministry that exists to help people in extreme emergencies and served on the Blount County and East Tennessee Councils on Aging, Blount County Families First Council and the United Way Helpline Advisory Committee. She has tutored children in the Blount County Schools for numerous years.

In 2004, the Chilhowee Club named her one of six "Women Who Make a Difference in Blount County."
A loyal and active MC alumna, Swanson has served as president of the Blount County Alumni Association and is a member of the Board of Church Visitors, the Isaac Anderson Society, the Society of 1819 and the Calvin Duncan Society.

Witherspoon dedicates life to peace and justice initiatives
Mary Lee Witherspoon came to Maryville College from the Pensacola, Fla., area. A lover of literature and art, she majored
in English at the college and was involved in Writer’s Workshop, Bainonian and the YWCA.

Following graduation, the alumna enrolled at the University of Tennessee and earned a master’s degree in English in 1958. That same year, she married Newell Witherspoon, a member of the MC faculty and of the class of 1952. The couple lived in Maryville from 1958 until 1963. She taught at Bearden High School, the University of Tennessee and, for the 1961-1962 academic year, taught English at MC.

In 1963, the family moved to Huntsville, Ala., where Witherspoon accepted a part-time teaching position at the University of Alabama. Teaching at UAH until 1979, she later accepted a position in the Huntsville Public School System’s gifted-student program. During this time, she continued her own studies at local universities.

In Huntsville, Witherspoon became an active member of Covenant Presbyterian Church, the local branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and various non-profits dedicated to the arts.

She became a passionate advocate for peace and justice through her work as an educator and her service with the church and AAUW. Witherspoon served on the organizing committee of the Huntsville Interfaith Peace Group and later organized and chaired the North Alabama Presbytery Peacemaking Committee. In 1999, she was co-chair of the denomination-wide Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference at Montreat.

"A Presbyterian since the age of 12, Mary has probably never been accused of being simply a ‘pew warmer,'" Gibson said in his presentation. "A Sunday School teacher since her days at Maryville, she was ordained an elder at Covenant Presbyterian in 1977 and has found meaningful service as a member of the session and clerk of the session, committee chairperson, Bible study leader and Presbyterian Women’s president, just to name a few roles.

She is currently serving her fifth term on the Maryville College Board of Directors. Over the last several years, she has chaired both the Board’s Admissions Committee and the Student Development Committee and has served on numerous others. She and her husband are longtime members of the Isaac Anderson Society, the President’s Circle and the Society of 1819.

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