PLAINVIEW – As Wayland Baptist University’s Director of Alumni Services, Joe Provence always enjoys seeing old friends and former co-workers return to the university to celebrate homecoming.
But this year’s event will be bittersweet as Provence celebrates his last homecoming as director, announcing his retirement effective the end of June. Provence’s departure will mean the end of an almost 50-year association with Wayland that began as a student in 1957 and has seen several position changes over the years.
But those who know Provence know the retirement won’t mean he drops off the face of the earth. Provence and wife Freda, who works as executive assistant in the Office of the President and plans to continue that role for a few more years, plan to remain in Plainview and involved in Wayland life.
“At one time we had thought about moving to San Angelo, but now I can’t imagine leaving Plainview and not being here for the Wayland basketball games and concerts and the plays,” Provence said. “I will miss being as integrated into the university as I have been, though.”
Provence has been a fixture at the university for decades, a familiar, supportive face at nearly every student endeavor on campus. Through his work, he’s keep contact with thousands of alums, turning into nearly a Rolodex of information related to former students. All this from a man who never expected to stay at Wayland very long.
“I figured I’d stay a few years and then move on to something bigger and better,” Provence recalled. “But West Texas and Wayland really get into your blood. Through the years, when I’ve had job offers or calls, I’ve always been flattered, but I would think, ‘This is home’ and I’ve always stayed.”
Wayland and West Texas weren’t always home for Provence, though. A native of Arlington, Provence said he learned about Wayland in high school and decided to try to school out west, “mostly because my family all wanted me to go other places.” He arrived in the fall of 1957.
“I’d never been farther west than Abilene, so when my parents dropped me off, I wondered what in the world I had done,” he said. “But when the other students started coming in, I knew I was at home and in the right place.”
Wayland was home for Provence, but family duty soon called. When his brother contracted polio and was not given a positive outlook, Provence returned to Arlington in January 1959 to be with him. When his brother’s health improved and he was moved to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Joe followed to help care for him.
He was finally able to return to West Texas in 1960, where he reconnected with an old friend, Freda Taylor. The two married in 1961 and moved to Clovis, N.M., where Joe served as youth minister for three years.
Always wanting to finish his degree, though, Provence moved back to Plainview to reenroll at Wayland. Then PR-director Ailese Parten arranged for a full-time job as news service director, and Provence attended classes around his work, finally finishing his degree in 1966.
After graduation, Provence continued his education at the seminary but decided that wasn’t for him. He soon went to work for a private medical clinic in Dallas, but had decided he would like to work for a Baptist college someday.
Several positions came up at once, and Provence called his old coworkers from Wayland for recommendation letters. It just so happened, however, that the trio – led by president Dr. Roy McClung – were meeting to formulate a job description and proposal for a Director of Recruitment and Promotion. And they wanted Provence to fill it.
“My loyalties were at Wayland, so I called those other schools and said I wasn’t coming,” he said.
Nearly 40 years later, Provence has worked his way through Wayland, working as director of public relations, then moving to student development as director of student activities before taking the helm as alumni services director in 1985. The move was a natural one, he felt.
“Since I’d served on staff and been here for more than 25 years, I think the strength I brought originally was that I knew so many students and worked with so many alums over the years,” he said.
Looking back now, Provence is hard pressed to narrow down his favorite memories as the longest tenured alumni director in Wayland history. He’s proud of what he has been able to accomplish and how far he’s seen Wayland come.
“We have really made a concentrated effort to connect with graduates from the other campuses,” he said, adding that several have been added in his tenure. “I’m proud of the connections that we’ve made in those places and we have great response from our BSOE graduates.”
Provence notes the mailing list for alums has grown from 3,000 to 38,000 during his years in alumni services, with graduates growing increasingly in their financial support for the university.
Another major change was in the alumni magazine, Footprints, which was only a four- to eight-page publication in 1985. Currently, the publication is a full-blown, 64-page, full-color magazine produced in cooperation with the office of communications and PR, a fact of which Provence said he’s particularly proud.
He’s also proud of a program he started in 1976 called Active Americans, which allowed senior citizens in Plainview to obtain a card to attend Wayland events at the same price as students and included the option of auditing classes for free. The program is still in existence but is now called the Gold Card.
Fond memories accompany Provence’s years as cheerleader sponsor, a job he inherited while serving as activities director and took with him to the alumni office. Though he eventually had to give them up due to the busy job, he continued to run cheerleader camps in the summer and built close ties with the squads, saying many of those students were like children.
Though the Provences never had children of their own, Joe said he and Freda “adopted” many through their work and still keep in touch with them. Of those, he built a special bond with former Miss Waylands as the couple worked for 18 years with local winners, preparing them for the Miss Texas pageant.
He’s worked under seven presidents, including one interim president, and he’s seen a host of vice presidents and other staff members come and go. Physically, Provence has moved around the campus often, working in Gates Hall, then in the Alumni House – the building that once was the president’s home years ago – and finally being housed in the Trinity Building.
He’s also seen Wayland through several highs and lows, but overall the memories have been rich and warm. Provence can’t pin down what he’ll miss the most, stating simply, “This has been my life for 40 years.”
Betty Donaldson, vice president for institutional advancement and Provence’s supervisor for the past two years, said Provence would be missed.
“He has a wealth of information and history, all wrapped into a love for this university, and he exudes that in everything he does,” Donaldson said. “It’s been our good fortune to work with him and be associated with him. His relationship with the university will definitely continue, and we’re grateful for that.”