*Editor’s Note: The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is Bill Kingery, Director of Campus Recreation Emeritus. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.
What can be said about my dear friend Bill Kingery? He’s the best there is—not only a great friend, but a funny guy, a terrific father and grandfather, and he loves golf. He also loves Ole Miss and worked hard to make it a great place not only for students but for the faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors as well. Bill was destined to be at Ole Miss. He has a great Ole Miss story.
Brown: Where did you grow up? Please talk about your childhood, parents, and siblings.
Kingery: I grew up in Mounds, Illinois which is a small town about 10 miles north of Cairo, Illinois. Cairo is the southernmost town in Illinois and is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. As a kid I was totally involved in sports, hunting and fishing. Mounds was small and everyone knew each other. I mowed lawns, baled hay, caddied, sacked groceries, helped my uncle roof houses, lifeguarded, taught swim lessons, clerked in Dad’s store, and sold The Grit Newspaper on Saturdays. I have one sibling, Bob, who is two years younger than me. He and his wife are pharmacists in Florida.
My parents, Thurman and Hazel, were so special to me. Funny, but it was only in the past 20 or so years that I realized how much they actually did for Bob and me with limited finances. They were devoted to us. Both were very religious, and we basically were in church whenever the doors were open. Dad managed a department store in Cairo and commuted each day. Mom said he never missed a day of work and never set an alarm. Mom was a stay-at-home mom until Bob and I started school. She worked in drug stores in Mounds and Cairo and retired from the hospital pharmacy in Cairo. She also worked at Dad’s store. Special people. Very special. Dad once told me that they dated three years before getting married, but they didn’t live together like kids do today. At the end of my junior year in high school, Mom and Dad decided to move to Cairo. I wasn’t happy at all. I had gone to school with the same kids for 11 years and the move to Cairo was a terrible idea. Cairo was our major rival in sports. I basically knew all the kids in Cairo, but I didn’t want to be one of them. Once the move was done, I adjusted quickly and found a new bunch of friends.
Brown: Where did you go to school?
Kingery: During my senior year at Cairo High School I met with our counselor and he suggested I enlist in the military or try a junior college. I sure didn’t want to join a military branch in 1965. I applied and was accepted at Southeast Missouri State College (SEMO) in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Cape is about 34 miles from Cairo, and for the first two years, I hitchhiked when I went home and then back to campus. I had fun while there. I was involved in athletics for four years which was a great opportunity. I lived in a fraternity house but never pledged–it was the ’60s. I graduated in 1969 with a bachelors degree in physical education. During the fall of 1969 I started teaching in Bethalto, Illinois. I taught sixth grade (all subjects), coached our elementary extra-mural teams, scouted football and basketball for the high school and was the varsity tennis coach.
Brown: Who influenced your career choice? How old were you when you decided your career path?
Kingery: As I stated earlier, I was really involved in sports, primarily basketball and baseball. As with many kids involved in sports we really looked up to our coaches. Coach Glisson and Coach Cowger enjoyed coaching and teaching and it showed. I knew I wanted to pursue the same career. Actually, when Coach Cowger died a few years ago, I drove up to the town where he and Mrs. “C” lived for his funeral. I took the first athletic letter (an “M”) that he gave to me in the seventh grade. I gave it to Mrs. “C” and told her I wanted her to have it. I’m not sure, but she might have placed it in his casket.
Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began? Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?
Kingery: My Ole Miss story? Ha! After our last basketball game my junior year in Mounds, an avid sports fan, Mr. James Atherton, grabbed me and told me if I put a little fertilizer (actually not the word he used) in my shoes and grew a little he might be able to get me a scholarship to Ole Miss. I’d had no idea what/where Ole Miss was. His son Jim Tom, played basketball here back in the ’50s. When we moved to Cairo I lost contact with Mr. Atherton. Then during two summers I managed a swimming pool in Anna, Illinois. One rainy summer Saturday, one of my guards and I decided to take a road trip in my 1960 MG. We ended up in Oxford and Ole Miss. There wasn’t a plan, we just ended up here. We drove around and headed back north. We drove the back roads since Interstate 55 hadn’t been completed yet. This was probably around 1966 or 67.
My second year after graduating from college our high school administration and coaching staff were at the Illinois state basketball tournament at the University of Illinois. During one of the games, a guy two seats to my left looked at me and asked if I was Bill Kingery. I responded said I was. It was Ken Turner. Ken and I had competed against each other in basketball and baseball while in junior and senior high. Turned out he was at the tournament scouting possible recruits for Ole Miss. He was an assistant coach under Cob Jarvis. Ironic – Ole Miss again? During the summer of 1971, one of my best friends from college and Coach Uhls, the assistant basketball and head baseball coach at SEMO, were doing graduate work at Ole Miss. They invited me down for a weekend visit. I fell for what I saw. I arranged a meeting with Dr. J. Robert Blackburn, Chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. That meeting and one year of graduate school led to my being offered a teaching position and the first full-time director of intramural sports. No committee interview at all. Just the one-year job offer for $6,500. Bonnie “Country” Graham had coordinated a few sports for the students, but I took the role as full-time director along with teaching responsibilities. Over the years I taught first aid, golf, tennis, open water scuba, a graduate course in recreational sports, and freshman experience classes. Developing an intramural sports program was my primary focus and it evolved into Intramural Sports, Club Sports, Aquatics, Ole Miss Outdoors, and Facility Management. Thank goodness I had some great team members to initiate and oversee these programs, and our front line student staff kept the operations running smoothly throughout the day.
Brown: What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here?
Kingery: Not a lot. I was somewhat familiar with what happened on campus in 1962. Since then I’ve attempted to learn more about what actually took place by talking to individuals who were on campus and reading articles/books. On two occasions I had the opportunity to have short conversations with Mr. Meredith. I’m still fascinated about that time in Mississippi and Ole Miss history.
Brown: Tell us about the Bill Kingery Outstanding Student Staff Award.
Kingery: The day I announced my retirement plans to my staff, I told them that I had expressed to my Vice Chancellor that I didn’t want any retirement receptions or anything. I just wanted to turn in my keys and walk away. During the meeting, it was suggested that if I was in agreement, a Student Staff Award would be created. The award would be given to a campus recreation employee who displayed leadership in the department and throughout campus. I readily agreed. Two awards have been presented during the spring Student Appreciation Ceremony. If anyone is interested in making a donation to the fund it is administrated through the University Foundation Office at this link.
Brown: What one question can you ask someone to find out the most about them?
Kingery: I guess what they feel like they have accomplished thus far in life. Not just educationally, but life in general.
Brown: What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?
Kingery: That’s a hard one for sure. I guess the opportunity to work with some great people in the department and throughout campus had to be a highlight. I learned so much from others.
Being involved from day one in the planning for the Turner Center and being there when we opened on March 21, 1983. I was like a proud daddy when we opened the doors at ^ a.m. that morning. Over the years we were able to make some interior changes with the Fitness Center being the most needed addition. Under the current leadership, they have continued to make additional and positive changes to the indoor and outdoor facilities. I’m looking forward to the completion of the new facility which was the old Whirlpool plant. I toured it a couple of months ago, and I was totally impressed. It will be a much-needed addition to campus life.
Brown: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Kingery: Job related–the first day we opened the Turner Center on March 21, 1983. That was a special day opening the doors that morning after all the years of planning. Family related–watching my daughters grow up and have families of their own.
Brown: Your wife Mary passed away suddenly and at a young age. Please tell us about Mary. How did you all meet?
Kingery: During my second year teaching the wife of the high school basketball coach suggested that I ask Mary out. I knew a little about her family and had seen Mary a few times. I asked her out and the rest is history. We got married in August of 1972. Three days later we were in Oxford moving into a mobile home at Pleasant Drive Trailer Park Lot #32. She finished her bachelors here and a few years later completed her masters. We had two daughters, Jenni and Megan. Mary was a stay-at-home mom early on, and was involved with the girls’ schools and church. Once the girls started school, she began teaching kindergarten at Bramlett Elementary School.
On December 5, 1991, I was in Texas for a conference and I received the call that Mary had died. She was 40 years old and in perfect health. When I got to the airport in Memphis the girls were there. Jenni had just turned 17 on December 4th and Megan was 13. Our lives changed. I can honestly say that the girls have been a blessing. They have never given me any problems. I tell people that they are still attempting to raise me! It’s been 27 years now and it’s still hard to believe Mary Kay is gone.
Brown: You have two lovely daughters and three beautiful granddaughters. Please tell us
Kingery: This is the easiest question to answer. Jenni lives in Memphis and is a stay-at-home mom. She graduated from Ole Miss and received her masters of social work from the University of Alabama. In 2002, she married Andrew Pappas. We had one big fat Greek wedding. They have two daughters. Elena is 12 and Cora is 9.
Megan lives in Water Valley and works at Ajax Restaurant. She graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in Fine Arts with an emphasis in painting. In 2010, she married Matt Patton. They have a four-year-old daughter, Hazel Sue (HS). Being so close to Oxford, I get to spend more time with HS than the Memphis girls.
Brown: If there was something in your past you were able to go back and do
differently, what would that be?
Kingery: Tough one. I’ve often thought about what profession I might had enjoyed other than the career path I took. Looking back I think I would have enjoyed something like the FBI, marshal service, secret service or something along those lines. I don’t know why, but those are fields I think I would have enjoyed.
Brown: What is the best advice you ever received?
Kingery: I guess my folks always impressed on my brother and me to be honest. They told us that one little lie can come back to haunt us.
Brown: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Kingery: Enjoy whatever career path you choose and be open to suggestions, change, criticism, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Brown: What are some of your personal “rules” that you never break?
Kingery: I attempt to be honest at all times, but golf can test that honesty at times.
Always be considerate of others and be a good listener.
Strangers are just friends I haven’t met.
Brown: If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what rule would you make?
Kingery: “Put your damn phone down when driving!”
Brown: What do you do to improve your mood when you are in a bad mood?
Kingery: I don’t really get in a bad mood. Yes, I do get down sometimes, but not to the point of being in a bad mood. I enjoy meeting people but I’m actually a private person.
Brown: Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.
Kingery: People who know me might think that I’m someone who enjoys company and being around others, but actually I’m not. Good or bad, I enjoy my alone time and there’s a lot of that.
Brown: What “old person” things do you do?
Kingery: Old person? Who are you referring to? I’m not one who goes to social events. I don’t like to travel at all. A trip from my house to Kroger is a long trip for me. I’m not one that reads either. I just don’t have that desire. I do enjoy listening to music, yard work, and golf.
Brown: What gives you great joy?
Kingery: Ha! Keeping the golf ball in the fairway and actually hitting the ball where I wanted to–both are rarely accomplished. But family is my greatest joy. Each of them continues to impress and amaze me with the things they have accomplished and what they will do in the future. They are definitely my pride and joy.
Brown: What has become your routine since you retired? I know you play golf. Do you have hobbies?
Kingery: Other than golf I really don’t have any hobbies. I really don’t have a “go to” hobby.
Brown: What’s the title of the current chapter of your life?
Kingery: “It’s Great to be Alive!”
Brown: What do you want your epitaph to be?
Kingery: I really don’t know if one is necessary or needed.
Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.
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