Golden Panthers: Thornton Turman ’63
Community involvement, a love of the outdoors, and a faith-based lifestyle are common threads in the lives of many Ferrum College graduates. Thornton Turman ’63, or “TL” as he is called today, is no different. Turman followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Charles ’61, and chose to attend Ferrum College. He believed the Methodist support and the small school environment close to home would be a good fit for him. At the time, Ferrum was still a small junior college, and Turman felt two years at Ferrum would be a solid foundation for a degree he would complete at Virginia Tech.
While at Ferrum, Turman earned the nickname “Termite,” based on his last name and his small stature. By the end of his freshman year, he had grown nearly six inches—but the nickname stuck! Turman fondly remembers several professors, including Coach McPherson, his PE teacher, and Ms. Lolene Hodges, his math teacher. “Ms. Hodges helped me to become stronger in math, but more importantly, to build my self-esteem as I made higher grades with her encouragement and kindness.” Turman notes that Coach McPherson inspired him to be competitive even though Turman was not a college athlete. He also believes that Ferrum’s faith-based education “planted the seeds” for the continued importance of faith in his life.
Following Ferrum College, Turman attended Virginia Tech and graduated with a business degree in 1965. He also served in the United States Army and spent a year in Vietnam. Shortly thereafter, he began a career at EI DuPont; his 30-year career spanned manufacturing and management. It was at the Martinsville DuPont plant that he met his wife, Linda; they have one son, Lee.
Shortly after retiring at age 55, Turman was reading an article on hiking and decided he’d like to try it. He and a friend from DuPont started hiking, and Turman was hooked. He set a goal to hike half of the Appalachian Trail in 10 years; he has met that goal and then some. As of today, he believes he has hiked more than 1,100 miles of the Trail with plans to hike as much more as his health will allow. “Hiking has shown me life’s ups and downs while depending on God and others to help with the rocks, roots, falls, weather, and challenges along life’s pathway,” Turman reflects.
Along the way, Turman became involved in his community of Bogart, Georgia. He has served as a member of the City Council for almost 18 years, the County Development Authority & Planning Commission, and several other volunteer positions benefitting the local hospital, the Council on Aging, and a veterans’ transportation group. The group Turman speaks most fondly of, however, is not a public service group; it is his weekly men’s prayer group. This group was started after attending a men’s Promise Keepers event in Atlanta in 1995 with Coach Bill McCartney and his team at the Atlanta Braves Stadium. One of the purposes for his small group was to hold themselves accountable to each other. Sometimes with only a few members each week, the group discusses topics of interest and holds devotionals and prayer time. Additionally, the prayer group participates in various community service activities, such as carrying or delivering groceries or doing light repair work. His group supports two missions on a regular basis: the Eagle Ranch in Georgia and an orphanage in Russia. Both organizations are Christian based, and Turman’s group supports them monthly.
Turman believes the size of Ferrum allowed the faculty and staff to focus on individual relationships and education excellence instead of being focused on large enrollment numbers. This “smallness” is still evident, despite all the changes he has seen on campus and the carefully managed expansion. At Turman’s 50th Class Reunion this year, he was able to tour The Norton Center and see firsthand how the College has maintained its identity in a changing environment. Turman notes, “The importance of relationships was displayed by the staff and college leadership during my class event; in addition to celebrating 100 years of Ferrum, the homecoming events and recognizing our national football teams on the same day was very special.” He speaks fondly of two classmates he saw at the reunion, Danny Dodson ’63 and Johnny Smith ’63. Says Turman, “We quickly reconnected, becoming even more bonded than before. We got together after 50 years like we never missed a beat!”
Turman credits relationships like this to the culture of Ferrum and the lasting impression the College makes on alumni. He believes the true nature of a faith-based atmosphere creates solid believers and “rubs off on people” with whom the College is associated, while maintaining a focus on education excellence and creating a positive presence in the local community.