Alums open hearts and home to UNF


Debbie and Jay Johnson like to open things. They have opened their home to UNF alumni on many special occasions. They have opened their checkbook for a variety of UNF causes. Most importantly they have opened their hearts to help others gain access to a college education.


Their love for each other, and for UNF, began on campus more than two decades ago. As students, Jay met Debbie in front of the UNF Bookstore when they were both graduate students. That meeting led to their first date on Valentines Day 1986. They became engaged July 4, followed quickly by their marriage in December 1987.


Debbie, who received her undergraduate degree in business administration in 1985, was already active in the Alumni Association when she met Jay and invited him to join her at several alumni events. Both graduated with master’s degrees in business administration – Debbie in 1989 and Jay in 1990.


Their graduation marked a new chapter in their involvement in UNF, which has covered everything from serving as presidents of the Alumni Association to sponsoring the “Johnson Social” at their home for the last 14 years. “We’ve been blessed to open our home every year since 1997 and invite our fellow alums over for a night of good food, good times and good friends visiting with each other,” Debbie said.


Debbie and Jay also have the same last name as another remarkable UNF alum – Dorothy Johnson. Dorothy’s outstanding involvement with the Alumni Association resulted in her becoming the namesake of the Dorothy G. Johnson Medallion in 2006. Jay and Debbie were named recipients of the award in 2007. “Jay and I were both honored by this award because I’ve come to admire Dorothy as such a great ambassador for the University,” said Debbie, who ranks the honor among her most memorable UNF experiences.


For Jay, the maturing of the Alumni Association has been one of the most noticeable changes he has witnessed at UNF. “It has become a very well-organized group with many events for alumni of all ages,” he said.


The transformation of the Alumni Association is matched by the transformation of UNF, he says, from primarily a commuter school to a traditional college campus. Both Jay and Debbie credit this transformation to the outstanding leadership of the University.


“Every president from [Curtis] McCray to [John] Delaney has raised the stature of the University. They have enhanced the value of the diploma I received 25 years ago,” Debbie noted.


Jay, who works at Fidelity Information Services in Jacksonville, said he is particularly impressed by how UNF has maintained its emphasis on individual students despite its rapid growth. “The University has always amazed me in how well it has adapted to its growth. They have maintained small class size and I think that’s important and sets UNF apart from other state universities.”


One example of the individualized attention cited by Debbie is the On Campus Transition Program, which provides young adults with developmental disabilities access to a college experience. The program is provided through a partnership with The Arc Jacksonville, a non-profit organization on whose board Debbie serves. Now in its fifth year, Debbie praises the program. “Many young adults who might not ever have had an opportunity to go to college are now having a rewarding and fulfilling college experience. I applaud UNF for its willingness to be part of this wonderful program.”


Their involvement with UNF transcends the Alumni Association. Debbie is out-going chair of the Student Affairs Community Council and both Debbie and Jay serve as officers of the Coggin College of Business Alumni Chapter Board of Directors. This involvement has broadened the scope of their UNF experiences.


And it’s the experiences that they treasure. Debbie said, “UNF and the Alumni Association should not be doing anything for us but rather we should always be thanking the University for providing us with some of the most fulfilling memories of our lives.”