Norm Naylor leans over to the student sitting next to him before their Critical Thinking class begins.
“In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a slight generation difference between us,” says Naylor, 77. “This whole thing about R. Kelly. Is he a big star?”
While his fellow student explains she doesn’t listen to the kind of music R. Kelly makes, Naylor’s genuine curiosity leads several students to offer their opinions in what morphs into a conversation about rock ‘n’ roll. After all, Naylor has visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame five times.
“If a class opens up (to me), it’s pretty good,” explains Naylor, who has been auditing one class per semester at Pellissippi State since fall 2007. “I’ve got a lot of good stories.”
Like the time his Introduction to Theatre class was divided into groups to brainstorm how to present the classic Greek play “Oedipus Rex” in just five minutes.
“The challenge was to think outside the box,” notes Naylor, who ended up borrowing a classmate’s Tupac jacket and acting out being gunned down in a drive-by shooting so that his “son” could steal his “wife.”
Or the time his Mass Communication class had to share their one-day media diary. The students who presented before Naylor all consumed media on their smartphones.
“I told them, ‘Mine is going to be a little different,’” remembers Naylor, who starts the day by watching “Headline News” and moves on to reading the newspaper. “I did tell them, ‘I’ve got a cell phone, and it’s spiffy. It’s even got a keyboard.’ There was a lot of camaraderie then.”
Naylor, who retired to Knoxville in 1999, started auditing classes at Pellissippi State as soon as he turned 65 years old, despite already having four college degrees – including a doctorate of education – and having been a high school teacher and college recruiter during his varied career.
Students 60 years of age or older, or who are permanently disabled, may audit courses for free.
“I have a perfect grade point average that I’m very proud of,” Naylor jokes, pulling out a copy of his transcript. “My GPA is zero.”
That’s because, as a student who is auditing classes, Naylor is not required to complete assignments or take tests, although he sometimes will write a paper or answer a quiz for fun.
“I thoroughly enjoy going to classes here,” Naylor says. “I’ve learned something in every class.”
Naylor also contributes something special to the classes he takes.
“Norm took my cultural anthropology class, and it was a great dynamic,” says Associate Professor Judy Sichler. “On the one hand, we had many first-time college students who were just finding their voices. And then you have Norm, bringing his life experiences and recognizing the changes through the years in our culture, and the students could see the perspectives involved with change – whether generational or institutional – and make the connections. He was as much of a guide as I was in our class.”
Being on campus and getting to know the students here led Naylor to plug in at Pellissippi State in other ways. He’s been a Tennessee Achieves mentor for seven years, a perfect fit for a lifelong educator who just last year attended the 50-year high school reunion of the first students he taught, out in Southern California.
“I do a lot of mentoring,” notes Naylor, who also serves as a docent and volunteer trainer at Zoo Knoxville and is an active member of West Emory Presbyterian Church, where he co-teaches his Sunday School class and holds several leadership roles. “I’m still in the kid business.”
Naylor took his commitment to Pellissippi State students a step further in 2016, when he and his wife, Ann, made their first financial gift to the College. They later established the Veteran Student Support Endowment, which helps veteran students with unmet needs from dental work to car repair.
“Veteran students need the support, and that endowment is a huge help,” says Pellissippi State Director of Veteran Services Trevor Harvey. “We know there are members of the veteran population who are struggling to pay their rent, who have lost their civilian jobs and may not be able to make their car payment this month.”
Pellissippi State has 428 military-affiliated students enrolled in spring 2019, and while Naylor does not know them all, he feels a connection to them, having served in the enlisted ranks, later commissioned, and retiring as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Air Force after 30 years of service.
“There are things in life that happen to veterans, and I know there is a need,” Naylor says.
An endowment is not a scholarship. Instead, the money is invested, and Pellissippi State never touches the principal, Naylor explains. Student scholarships are provided from the interest. Naylor’s goal is to see the endowment grow to $100,000 so that Pellissippi State is able to provide $4,000 in assistance to veterans each year, he notes.
The Naylors also donate to Pellissippi State’s Homeless Student Scholarship and the Student Opportunity Fund.
“Norm Naylor is a part of the Pellissippi State family,” says Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “He joined us as an audit student more than a decade ago and over time has developed relationships with faculty, staff and students. I am so grateful for the time I’ve spent with Norm and the care and concern he demonstrates, particularly for our veterans and our students with the greatest need for assistance. He gives his time, talent and treasure to make this college and the wider community a better place. He is a great example for us all.”
Just this year, Naylor stepped up to the plate for Pellissippi State yet again when he was asked by the Pellissippi State Foundation to serve as campaign team leader for the Academic and Student Support division.
In that role, Naylor and his team were tasked with raising $1 million for Pellissippi State’s capital campaign, which they have now accomplished.
“The money we raised supports a number of funds at Pellissippi State, from the food pantry to scholarships,” Naylor explains. “It’s not brick and mortar. You need to have brick and mortar, of course, but these funds all directly affect students.”
Educating donors on the importance of these funds made the assignment a little easier for Naylor, who insists he doesn’t consider himself a fundraiser. He simply takes a deep breath, he says, and makes the phone call.
It’s just another way Naylor is living out every day his personal philosophy.
“No. 1: never stop learning,” he says. “And No. 2: find ways to serve your community besides writing a check. Get out there and do something. A community’s greatest assets are its people.”
The Student Opportunity Fund
Stories surface every semester about students who consider dropping out of college because their car broke down or they lose their job or child care provider. Others do not have money to buy textbooks or adequate food.
Pellissippi State believes these scenarios should not prevent motivated students from earning a degree. That’s what led Tom and Diane Ballard, with support from Marty Adler-Jasney and Norm and Ann Naylor, to establish the Student Opportunity Fund, which helps fill the gaps left by financial aid and scholarships when crisis or trauma occurs.
“There are many resources to help people who need it and so many outlets that I can turn to that I never thought existed,” says Chelsey Weaver, a single mom who was taking business classes at Pellissippi State when she totaled her car. “My professors have gone above and beyond to help me stay in school.”
The Student Opportunity Fund is just one way that Pellissippi State helps students who are struggling with the costs of college not covered by financial aid. Pellissippi State also provides some 350 scholarships to students each year. It was Norm Naylor's job, as campaign team leader, to raise $1 million to help fund services that directly affect students.