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
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
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
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.”