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Yetta Samford

A Life Invested


By Kathy Dean

Integrity, character, love of family, fairness. These are traits that students at Opelika High School in Alabama learn about through their Character Education Program. The 2009-10 course guide profiled hometown heroes whose lives exhibit inspiring character and influence.

The man they read about is Yetta G. Samford Jr.

It’s a name familiar to the University of Mobile family. A founding trustee of Mobile College, Samford is a past chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees, named a Life Trustee in 1992, and awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 2001.

Samford Hall, the first of three new residence halls constructed during the past eight years, is named in his family’s honor. The Mary Austill and Yetta G. Samford Endowed Scholarship expands the couple’s influence to generations of students who benefit from a UMobile education.

The Character Education Program study guide quotes Samford’s law partner and former Lee County Circuit Judge John Denson II: “Yetta has devoted a huge amount of time and effort to the benefit of many individuals, his community, his state and country.”

Leading in Tough Times

With more than 50 years of involvement in the life of the University of Mobile, Yetta Samford’s influence is immense. His courtly southern gentleman manner and his quiet leadership helped guide the university and its presidents through smooth waters and a few rough winds.

“We’ve had some tough times,” he recalled recently. He was a member of the Board when Baptist-funded Mobile College was first opening its doors – and the state-funded University of South Alabama opened just a year later. While the competition was initially a setback for the private school, ultimately both institutions thrived.

One of his brightest moments came in 1998 as he served as chairman and the Board tapped Dr. Mark Foley to be the third president of the university.

“The best thing I ever did was to be a part of that committee. We are just so grateful to the Lord for bringing him,” Samford said.

Creating Opportunity

Samford said he welcomed the opportunity to be on the ground floor of starting Mobile College.

“I believe young people should have an opportunity to get an education. If I can help them, I love to be able to do that,” he said.

He and his wife, Mary, took a personal interest in creating educational opportunities for students through the creation of the Mary Austill and Yetta G. Samford Endowed Scholarship.

“I feel it’s important for young people to have an opportunity to learn. If we can invest in their lives, it’s very rewarding to me,” Samford said.

Return on Investment

Julisa Theodore ’11 was awarded the Samford scholarship each of the four years she attended UMobile. Now a graduate student at the University of South Alabama working on a master’s degree in sociology with plans to become a sociology professor, she was involved in activities, ministries and service projects throughout her UMobile career. She teaches Zumba exercise classes at Light of the Village, a Christian ministry in the inner city of Mobile where she volunteered as a UMobile student.

None of it would have been possible without the Samfords’ help.

“Having this scholarship meant that my sister didn’t have to find a way to pay for me to go to school. She dropped out of college twice to take care of my little sister and me when our parents died, Mom in 1998 and Dad in 2004. She hasn’t been back to finish yet,” Theodore said.

“Mr. Samford, thank you so much for offering me a scholarship at UMobile! My family and I greatly appreciate your contribution to my education,” she wrote.

Serving with Distinction

From senior class president in high school to Life Trustee at UMobile and past Board chairman and trustee emeritus at the University of Alabama where he graduated from law school, Samford has served with distinction in a variety of areas.

A native of Opelika, AL, where he served as chairman of the Opelika Board of Education, Samford’s dedication to his community was celebrated when the city’s sports complex was named after him “to reflect not only his lifelong dedication to his hometown, but also his status as one of Alabama’s most outstanding leaders,” according to his profile in the Character Education Program.

He served as a B-17 pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, earned a Bachelor of Science in 1947 from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University) and graduated from law school at the University of Alabama in 1949. He was admitted to the Alabama Bar and U.S. District Court Middle District of Alabama in 1949, the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit in 1961 and U.S. Court of Appeals Eleventh Circuit in 1981. He maintains an office in the law firm of Samford & Denson, LLP, in Opelika. He served in the Alabama Senate during 1958-1962, representing Lee and Russell counties. He was a board member or director in numerous areas, including the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama State Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Board of Corrections and Alabama State Docks Advisory Board. He was a director of Torchmark Corp., West Point Pepperell Inc., chairman of the Board of Directors of Farmers National Bank of Opelika, and a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor.

Dr. Mike King, executive pastor of First Baptist Church of Opelika where Samford has been a lifelong member and influential leader, said Yetta and Mary are “the model of a godly, Christian couple.”

King said Samford has served more than 60 years as a deacon, with more than 30 years as a church trustee.

“Any time Yetta was in the room, the professionalism and wisdom was just elevated,” King said. With Samford in attendance “here at church, at deacon’s meetings or trustee meetings, you just knew you would always get the best.”

Reflection

When Samford Hall was dedicated April 25, 2005, UMobile President Dr. Mark Foley expressed appreciation to Yetta and Mary for the couple’s many years of dedication and support to the university.

Several Mobile-area students told the Samfords how the new residence hall impacted their decision to live on campus.

The school’s Voices of Mobile ensemble performed as students stood by with 101 pots of ivy to be planted in the courtyard, representing the 101 beds in the residence hall.

As the ceremony progressed, so did construction work on another residence hall a few hundred yards away – Karlene Farmer Faulkner Hall. Since then, another apartment-style complex has been opened for upperclassmen, The Timbers.

Samford said he is happy to be part of the school’s success.

“It’s done mighty well,” he said.