“I just met Sidney DeLair, BA’75, who told this wonderful story of his time living in Kissam,” began an email I received from Donna Sir Johnson, MS’79, last spring. Donna, executive director of alumni relations at Vanderbilt, is a longtime colleague and one of those people we depend on as de facto stringers with stories we otherwise would never know about in the far-flung Vanderbilt community.
Donna’s email continued, “I gave him a brick from the old Kissam Hall, and he and his daughter, Amy DeLair, Class of 2008, started crying. I did, too. Apparently, shortly after he was dropped off for his freshman year at Vanderbilt, his father died of a massive heart attack. Sidney had to drop out of school and would work construction for a year to make money for tuition, and then he’d come back to school for a year and drop out another year to work and come back again. He often revisited Kissam Quadrangle, where he stood as his father drove away after dropping him at Vanderbilt. It was the last time he saw his father.”
When I emailed Sidney several months later to ask if he’d be willing to share his story in Vanderbilt Magazine, he immediately responded with enthusiasm and humility. Sid’s essay is my favorite piece in this issue. When you read it you might question, as I did, whether his claim that his father walked 24 miles each week for more than a year, just to repay a small debt, can possibly be accurate.
“He never hitchhiked,” Sid asserts. “He was well known as a prolific walker. And yes, it was almost a marathon distance.”
It must be in the DeLair blood: Both Sidney and Amy are marathon runners. Or maybe it’s something about Vanderbilt. Andrea McDermott Sanders, MEd’06, gives an account about her friendship with young William Spickard and how it inspired her to run in Nashville’s Country Music Marathon for 10 years in order to endow scholarships for the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Reading Clinic.
This issue incorporates several tributes to dads in addition to Sidney DeLair’s. In our cover story, Doug Parker, MBA’86, reveals lessons he learned as a youngster tagging along with his father, who worked his way up from the meat counter to division president with The Kroger Co. In our Athletics section, Travis Geisler, BE’03, traces his love for auto racing to his father, dirt-track racer Lynn Geisler.
For Domonique Bragg, BA’14, a father’s encouragement was integral in fostering the first-generation college student’s resolve to set her sights on Vanderbilt. Like Sidney DeLair, Domonique lost her father while she was a Vanderbilt student. The Aspirnaut program, which you’ll find detailed in this story, is helping young rural students like Domonique realize a vast untapped potential.
I invite you to see a collection of Vanderbilt stories about fathers and their legacies, and to share your own story.
—GAYNELLE DOLL, EDITOR