Alumna Celebrates 104th Birthday

Update (Monday, Oct. 10): Lillie and Doris are safe at Cypress Glen. They have moved up to the third floor while the first floor is being evacuated due to anticipated flooding from Hurricane Matthew. Family members, friends, and volunteers are assisting. Doris says Lillie is adjusting to her new room pretty well.

Lillie Hammond ’36 has seen 18 U.S. presidents in her lifetime, and all 14 leaders of her alma mater, East Carolina University.

Lillie recently celebrated her 104th birthday at Cypress Glen Retirement Community, where she is now the oldest resident ever to have lived, according to staff. She is not the oldest living alumnus of East Carolina, but she is one of the top five.

She was born Lillie Dare Brown on September 13, 1912, just outside Bethel. She celebrated with friends and family on September 18 at Cypress Glen.

Lillie’s fellow resident and “care buddy” Doris Reed interviewed her for the occasion and shared her story with the East Carolina Alumni Association.

After graduating from East Carolina Teachers College in 1936, Lillie began teaching school in Bethel. She married Carey Edward Hammond in 1939. He fought in Normandy in WWII but returned home safely. He worked as a hardware store manager. She took a few years off to raise their two children, a boy and a girl. She went on to teach for a total of 31 years in Bethel and Williamston.

“I don’t know why I was singled out to be 104; I am just an ordinary person,” Lillie told Doris. “I have always believed that life is a journey, and I am content to follow this journey as long as the Lord plans.”

Lillie moved to Cypress Glen in 2006 shortly after her eyesight began to fail due to glaucoma. She lost her sight completely in 2011, but remains alert and active.

She said, “I have always tried never to complain and just deal with whatever life sends me, so I searched for retirement communities and found Cypress Glen. I wanted to enter in time to memorize my apartment and thus stay independent.”

“She just has such a positive outlook on life,” said her daughter-in-law Jana Hammond ’84. “Her new goal is to make it into the Guinness Book of World records. Even at this age, it’s like starting over new. It’s so fun to see this new spark in her.”

Lillie has fond memories of her life in Bethel. She recalls a bustling downtown, and gas being 15-25 cents a gallon. Her teaching salary was $100 a month. While she was not active in politics, she was active in her community, including Bethel Methodist Church and Bethel Book Club. As a young teacher, she was friends with a fellow teacher, Edith Warren, who went on to enter the NC Legislature. The two are friends to this day. Lillie has six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We’re an ECU family,” said Jana, who got a teaching degree from ECU like Lillie. “My husband Edward didn’t go to ECU but he is a big Pirate football fan.”

Two of Lillie’s grandchildren are current students at ECU.

“I knew ECU was a great school because not only did my grandma (I call her Memaw) go there, but so did my mom and two of my older siblings,” said Jana’s daughter Jackie Hammond, a senior communication major.

“My grandmother Lillie is a very strong, kindhearted lady, and even in her old age is not afraid to speak her mind,” says Jackie’s younger brother Jordan Hammond, who is a freshman. “Having lived so long, she has been through a lot and therefore has a lot of wisdom. It’s crazy to think how long ago 1936 was and all that has happened since then. From her stories it’s also really interesting to hear how different this university was when she was attending it.”

“It’s an incredible feeling knowing that I have someone so special in my life that has been through so much and seen so much change in her life,” said Jackie. “I love to hear stories from her life, including her time at ECTC. Just to hear about the changes that ECU has undergone from someone who was there back in the 1930s is such a special experience. I feel very blessed to still have my Memaw in my life and I never take for granted the stories she has to tell.”








New Heights: ECU Student, Alumnus Volunteer at Air Force Encampment

Nance_ Bailey Arggghhhh

Maj. Bailey (left) and Cadet Nance (right) throw Pirate hooks at the 2016 Encampment.

A student and an alumnus of East Carolina University worked together at a recent Air Force event to help local youth reach new heights in confidence and leadership.

Rising senior Jacquelyn Nance and Chris Bailey ’08 volunteered at the 2016 Summer Encampment put on by the NC Wing of the Civil Air Patrol from June 18-25 near Charlotte.

The Civil Air Patrol, an official auxiliary of the Air Force run by civilian volunteers, hosts encampments for youth ages 12-18 as part of its mission to create good citizens who understand the importance of flight. Young cadets got to ride in airplanes and launch model rockets as they learned about aerospace. They also experienced some basic military training on the ground, like survival skills and first aid. Nance helped Bailey organize the flights and other activities, and even got to take a ride in a plane herself.

“The encampment was an amazing experience,” said Bailey, a major who serves as director of operations for the NC Wing. “Helping to mentor young cadets and in a weeks’ time see them develop is the most rewarding experience for me.”

“I like how the CAP develops leadership in students,” said Nance, who is a cadet in ECU’s Air Force ROTC program. “I enjoyed seeing their confidence and self-esteem growing.

While ECU alumni have participated in encampments before, this is the first time a student was asked to volunteer. Nance said she was happy to be a “guinea pig” and hopes other ECU cadets will volunteer in the future.

“It was great,” she said. “It was definitely a different experience. I didn’t know much about the Civil Air Patrol. This gave me an opportunity to learn more. It was really cool to experience another aspect of the Air Force. I also got the opportunity to build leadership skills of my own.”

“I’ve always wanted to be in the military,” continued Nance, who is from the Fayetteville area. “But my mom wanted me to get a college degree first. I came across the Air Force ROTC program at ECU. My mom went to ECU for nursing so she was excited.”

Nance is majoring in recreation therapy and plans to graduate in December 2017. After that, she’ll serve her required four years, and hopes to go into aircraft maintenance or airfield operations. “I like working with planes and people,” she said. “I’m not sure if I’ll do a full 20 years [in the Air Force]. I definitely want to use my major, so maybe I’ll get my masters.”

Wherever Nance’s career takes her, Bailey knows she’s off to a good start at ECU.

“ECU helped to make me a better leader and to put others first,” Bailey said. “ECU allowed me to go after my goals and to help mentor others to achieve theirs.”

By Jackie Drake

Alumnus Flies ECU Fraternity Flag at Iwo Jima

At the site of perhaps the most famous flag-raising in modern history, an East Carolina University alumnus got to fly a flag of his own.

When Navy Petty Officer First Class William Beamer ’06 learned he would be visiting Iwo Jima on Memorial Day as part of his duties, he saw it as a chance to reflect on everything that had brought him to that point, from the sacrifices of those who served before him to his own education at ECU.


Bearing a purple and gold flag with the letters of his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Beamer reached the summit of Mount Suribachi, where Marines raised the U.S. flag on February 23, 1945 while taking the island from Japan in one of the bloodiest and most significant battles of World War II.

“Saving the details of the mission that took me there, I will say it was awe-inspiring,” said Beamer, who works as an aviation electronics technician with Strike Fighter Squadron 115, based in Atsugi, Japan, near Tokyo. “Unfortunately, I did not have my favorite ECU flag (the No Quarter Flag), so I made do with my treasured SAE flag. Walking Invasion Beach 70 years after this historic battle leaves you feeling small, but enormous at the same time. There are certainly members of our esteemed alumni network who fought in that battle and I hope the freedoms our university enjoys are seen as a result of these colleagues’ sacrifices.”


Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima

This tiny island, just eight square miles and located around 760 miles south-southeast of Tokyo, was of immense strategic and symbolic importance to the allies. It was a vital refueling and repair stop for planes crossing the vast expanse of the Pacific. It was also the first part of Japan itself  to fall to the allies and represented a major turning point in the war. The iconic flag raising was captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, whose shot went on to win a Pulitzer prize and become the most reproduced photo in history.

Bringing his fraternity flag to this historic site was natural for Beamer, who attributes his  success in the military to lessons learned in SAE at ECU. “I can credit SAE with honing leadership skills I use today,” he said. “SAE teaches 18-year-olds how to manage programs within the fraternity that sailors with 15 years active duty manage in the fleet. I enjoyed being involved with SAE immensely. Ten years later and my first thought when told I was going to Iwo Jima was to pack my flag.”

The island was returned to Japan in 1968 and its original name of Iwo To or Ioto, depending on the translation, was reinstated in 2007. Now a Japanese military base closed to outsiders, the otherwise uninhabited island is only open to veterans and their families on one day a year.

When Beamer came back to his base in Atsugi, he met a new sailor who also graduated from ECU.

“Some would call ECU a regional school, but to have two out of 12 people in a workshop on a small Navy base both be ECU alumni — that shows our broad reach,” he said.

Beamer is able to bond with young sailors from all over the world thanks to his experience at ECU.

“When I was student body treasurer I worked underneath a president who was intent on bringing to light the need for increased diversity efforts,” he said. “I probably did not know it at the time, but this prepared me for the role I currently play.”

Beamer will be returning stateside in a couple weeks and transferring to Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, IL to be a recruit division commander (equivalent to a drill sergeant).

“I look forward to my return stateside in July, after three years abroad in Japan, and hope we have even further successes as a Pirate Nation in the year to come. With a hearty ARRRRRRGH and Hooyah from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, I wanted to say GO PIRATES!!!”

By Jackie Drake


Coming Home: Alumni to Speak to Graduates


Rick Atkinson ’74

Several alumni will return to campus to address graduates during commencement and other graduate recognition ceremonies May 6-7 at East Carolina University. For many, the visit marks a return to the origins of their careers and lives.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and military historian Rick Atkinson ’74 will deliver the main commencement address on Friday, May 6. After earning his English degree at ECU, Atkinson worked for 25 years with The Washington Post as a reporter, foreign correspondent and senior editor.

“It will be both an honor and a pleasure to return to Greenville as the 2016 commencement speaker. I arrived at ECU as a boy in 1970 and left as a scholar in 1974, and I’ll always be grateful for the role the university played in that transition,” said Atkinson.

Click here to read more about Atkinson via ECU News Services.

In addition, several alumni will be speaking at graduate recognition ceremonies hosted by units across campus both Friday and Saturday. These alumni say coming back to ECU is like coming home.

“Every time I return to ECU, a flood of memories come to me of all the great times that I had here both as a student and as an alumnus. It always feels like I’m going home,” says Brandon Ives ’03, who will be speaking at the School of Communication graduate recognition ceremony.

Ives is the co-founder and managing partner of Brasco Marketing and CEO at

“ECU taught me many things, most importantly how to communicate effectively on both an individual and group level,” Ives says.

He’ll be talking to the graduates about the importance of time. “I plan to touch on that point because learning time management and being aware of your time is critical to success,” he said.

Mary Carroll-Hackett ’98, ’99 will be speaking at the Department of English graduate recognition ceremony. She earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and anthropology and a master’s degree in creative writing. She is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Longwood University in Farmville, VA. She is the author of multiple books and hundreds of literary journal articles, and the founding editor of SPACES literary/art online magazine.

“My time at ECU provided me the tools to succeed both creatively and professionally,” she said. “I learned discipline, how to think deeply and critically, how to take and use criticism, how to take on difficult material–reading it or writing it–and make it relevant to not only my life, but to the lives of others.”

Carroll-Hackett says she is very excited to return to ECU.

“I grew up in a little old trailer park out in the trees in eastern North Carolina. When I was a kid, ECU sat like the Emerald City from Oz in the distance, that place where my dreams could come true. And they have. So for me, coming back is literally coming home.”

Understanding the power of language is critical in any field or profession, she will tell the English degree graduates.

“I plan to tell them, as I do my own students here in Virginia, to remember, no matter your major, you will never possess a more powerful tool than the power of language. There is nothing more powerful than the power of words, and that is what those English majors have at their disposal, thanks to their faculty and the access they have to the fine education available at ECU.”

Alumni speakers at other units are as follows:

  • Department of Criminal Justice: Jeff Foster ’83, judge, Superior Court Judicial District 3A, alumni association board member
  • College of Business: Mark Copeland ’96, ECU trustee and executive at Ernst & Young
  • Department of Psychology: Dr. Garrett Hazleton ’11, clinical psychologist
  • Honors College: Linda Quick ’05, former EC Scholar, current professor of accounting at ECU

Visit for more information on the ceremonies.


By Jackie Drake



Vasti Rodriguez ’11 ’15 Named First Year Teacher of the Year

Vasti7336When ECU alumna Vasti Rodriguez left the Dominican Republic for the United States, she already had an idea of what she wanted to do. Driven by her knowledge of the difference between the countries’ two different education systems, Rodriguez wanted to help students who need more individual attention.

“My experiences as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic helped [me] understand English language learners and ESL students,” said Rodriguez. “I understand the importance of using differentiation during a lesson and providing testing accommodations to students.”

Already 13 years old when she moved, some would think Rodriguez would struggle. But instead of struggling, Rodriguez has flourished. She currently works as a teacher at Wake County Schools and is already getting noticed for her hard work, as she was nominated for the county’s “First Year Teacher of the Year” award.

“I feel honored and surprised to be nominated for the “First Year Teacher of the Year” award. This whole year has been a learning process in instruction, classroom management, and developing my leadership skills in the classroom,” said Rodriguez. “Fuquay-Varina Middle School has a group of teachers that collaborate and enjoy teaching; their care for students’ education is contagious and motivates me to continue to grow as a teacher.”

Rodriguez is not only a great teacher, but also a devoted pirate. She completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at ECU and credits a lot of her success to the time she spent at her alma mater.

“[ECU taught me about] “differentiation” and how we all learn differently. I need to provide different ways to teach a lesson and allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge in their best capabilities,” said Rodriguez. “I continue to use strategies from my experiences as a graduate assistant and from my internship.”

With the early success and recognition it may be easy for many to stay focused on the present, but not for Rodriguez. She’s already focused on other goals, and hopes to achieve her dream job: a university professor position at ECU.

“I plan to continue working as a teacher while pursuing my doctorate degree. So far, I am interested in international comparative education and education psychology,” said Rodriguez. “I still haven’t decided [about leaving Wake County for ECU]. It would be a privilege to return to my alma mater as a university professor.”

With a successful start to her career, everything is looking up for Rodriguez. She had a message that she wanted to share with her fellow Pirates:

“I thank God every day for the support I received from teachers in the College of Education who helped me graduate and persevere through difficult circumstances,” said Rodriguez. “ECU is a great school! Take advantage of the opportunities!”

By Michael Avila

Balancing Her Life: Meet Melissa Harrell ’95

Melissa Harrell.jpgThough many students leave college with an idea of what they want to do, sometimes life has another plan for them. This was exactly the case for ECU alumna Melissa Harrell, who found her true passion while pursuing a degree in other another field.

“I graduated from ECU with a bachelor’s in dance education, but my teacher commented that I was drawn to the emotional needs of my students,” said Harrell, who graduated in 1995. “[She said] I should consider pursuing school counseling, and that planted the seed. So I worked using my dance education degree while I completed my master’s degree in school counseling.”

Along with her genuine interest in others, Harrell also knows first-hand about how to handle emotional needs and overcoming tragedy.

“I grew up watching my mother and grandmother battle severe depression. It ultimately led to their premature deaths, and my mother was only 52 when she died,” said Harrell. “Trying to wrestle with my own grief and helping my friend’s family cope led me to seek special certifications in grief counseling. While difficult, helping people in their darkest hour continues to be one of the greatest privileges of my career.”

Since graduating, Harrell has stayed busy. She currently owns a counseling center in Goldsboro, N.C. and runs two support groups in Wayne County: H.E.A.R.T and Footprints.

H.E.A.R.T., which stands for Helping Engage Area Resources Together, is a support group for mothers with prenatal mood disorders. Footprints is a support group that was created for families dealing with a miscarriage or the loss of an infant. Both groups provide a safe place for members to share their feelings and experiences with people dealing with similar situations.

AfricaZOEbookAlong with that, she has also written a book entitled “Elizabeth and Stella meet ZOE.” The book talks about her mission work with ZOE, which stands for Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavors, and the experience she had with one little girl in Kenya.

“I traveled to Kenya to meet the children in our group [and] I immediately fell in love with these children and this model of empowerment. We went to visit Stella at her home and I was so touched that this young person, who has so little compared to American standards, wanted to share what little she had with us,” said Harrell. “When I returned home, I began to work on the book. After two years of writing, rewriting, and prayer [the book was born].”

Despite all of her success, Harrell decided to come back to ECU and complete her master’s in public health, with a certificate in ethnic and rural health disparities. She is currently a full time grad school student.

“Traveling to Kenya and working in missions for the past five years has opened my eyes to public health issues, both global and in our own back yards,” said Harrell. “I was led back to ECU because of the commitment this university and [the Brody School of Medicine] have for the underserved of eastern North Carolina. What I learned [at ECU] has been invaluable in helping families navigate through the school system, especially my clients with special needs.”

Though Harrell has done a lot for her community, she still believes she can do more. After graduation, she wants to use her public health degree to help bring more awareness to mental health issues and help reduce the poverty and health disparities in eastern North Carolina.

Harrell also stressed the importance of taking care of oneself, a reflection of both her hectic lifestyle and her background in mental health.

“No matter the career field, find a way to balance your life,” said Harrell. “Take time to enjoy things for yourself, as well as nurturing the relationships you’re in.”

By Michael Avila

Meet Ashley Crossan ’11

All in.

For East Carolina University alumna Ashley Crossan, that was the mindset when she wanted to become a part of the entertainment news industry. This mindset, paired with some risk taking and her time at ECU, has helped this outgoing Pirate achieve the career she had always envisioned.

“My journey began on an impulsive decision to jump in a car with a friend and drive cross-country to Los Angeles,” said Crossan, who graduated in 2011. “I had the dream of making my way into the entertainment news industry, so I went for it. After two months of applying, I got a call from Entertainment Tonight to work as a night-shift PA.”

Since then Crossan has only gone up. She is now a producer for Entertainment Tonight as well as a host for ETonline. She has covered events such as the San Diego Comic Con and even interviewed movie stars like John Boyega, who played Finn in the box office hit “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”


“I’ve been a Star Wars fan my entire life, so getting the opportunity to cover that movie in any capacity was such a dream come true,” said Crossan. “My favorite moment [of Comic Con] was during the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel, director J.J. Abrams surprised all the fans with a John Williams-themed concert outside. They handed out light sabers to everyone and played Star Wars scores into the night!”

As producer and host, Crossan’s responsibilities are constantly changing. From writing multiple video scripts to conducting on-camera interviews, no one day is the same. Crossan credits ECU and the School of Communication’s multi-faceted approach to education for helping her prepare for the hectic demands of her job.

“The great thing about the School of Communication at ECU is the push to wearing many different hats and trying out an array of classes,” said Crossan. “You may not want to be an editor, writer, or a public relations specialist, but it’s good to know every facet of the industry so you can understand how these areas work.”

For fellow Pirates interested in her line of work, Crossan shared some advice on how to create a good interview.

“Everyone gets nervous [interviewing people]. When you’re nervous, you tend to focus on what you’re going to say next, rather than listening to your subject and being in the moment,” said Crossan. “When you’re comfortable, focused and just having a conversation with someone there’s a good chance you’ll pick up on something that will lead to an unexpectedly great story.”

She also stressed the importance of reaching out and networking with other professionals.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with people,” said Crossan. “It’s something people are afraid to do, but they shouldn’t be! I will never turn down an opportunity to give some advice or at least look at their resume and give feedback. Most people feel the same way.”

By Michael Avila