The reasons a person gives back to his or her alma mater are often personal ones, stemming from a family history, a profound experience, a sense of civic duty or a private matter altogether. For Walter ’62 and Lynn Ayers, it is a combination of several of these. Ayers was encouraged to attend Ferrum College based on the recommendations of several of his high school teachers. While he acknowledges that Ferrum would have been the best choice for him regardless, he admits he didn’t realize that fact until after he was already a student.
He had a job on campus pasteurizing milk at the dairy farm, which supplied milk to the College cafeteria and functioned as a “hands-on” teaching tool for students. He and a classmate were picking up the milk on particular day and saw that one of the employees was attempting to help a cow with a partial birth. Ayers and his friend, Russell Leslie, were called in to provide further assistance to Mr. Milam, the farm manager and agriculture professor. Their efforts were unsuccessful; the veterinarian was called and as the calf was born, the exhausted cow moaned and collapsed to the floor. Ayers remembers Mr. Milam saying that he hoped the boys appreciated their own moms at this time. “At that moment, I really did have a whole new appreciation for my mother!” he says. Aside from his dairy farm experiences, Ayers says the fact that professors really took time to get to know their students, making students feel important, was the most memorable aspect of his years at Ferrum.
Following graduation, Ayers attended The College of William and Mary. He then went to Richmond, where he began working for the Virginia Farm Bureau. It was here that Ayers met his wife, Lynn. While still in his twenties, he was named the Farm Bureau Director of Government Relations, working with state and federal legislators and heads of federal agencies. This job would prove to be a strong foundation for his position as President and CEO of the Virginia Bankers Association. Retirement found Ayers returning to his boyhood home in Patrick County and to Ferrum College as a member of the Board of Trustees. “While there have been a few trials along the way, Lynn and I have been blessed with two sons, who have blessed again us with four grandchildren, and life has been good,” says Ayers.
Ayers believes that Ferrum College instilled in him the right combination of book knowledge and behavioral expectations. “I continue to believe that one of the keys to success in life, including success in a career, is never losing sight of the fact that one is expected to abide by certain rules—by a code of conduct and a work ethic,” he notes. Ayers says Ferrum reinforced the idea of living up to expectations and abiding by the rules that were set forth by the institution. The standards set by Ferrum College and the lifestyle that was reinforced there are certainly a part of why Ayers supports the College today. “Ferrum was such a key building stone in the foundation of the plan that ended up being my life path, it only seems logical that Ferrum should receive the lion’s share of any support we have to give,” he notes. He and his wife also believe that because Ferrum does not have the advantage of tax resources or a large alumni base, their support is even more important.
The Ayers have endowed a scholarship at Ferrum for a student who comes from either Patrick County where Ayers grew up or Accomack County where Lynn was raised. These areas are quite similar, in that both are rural and do not provide many opportunities for high school graduates. Ayers acknowledges that they are both quite proud of their rural upbringing; further noting that he may never have taken the steps to attend Ferrum if it were not for the environment in which he grew up. He says this of their gift to Ferrum, “I guess you could say this scholarship is our approach to ‘paying it forward’ in the hope that we can help young people have the same opportunities we were given. Including the opportunity that was so invaluable to me and that is to attend Ferrum College.”