By Tyra Haag
Alma Mount Abernathy graduated from UT in 1942 with a degree in home economics. Now 96, Alma was surprised this summer by her daughters (Courtney McGee and Andi Counts) and grandson (Jackson Counts) with a trip to Rocky Top, where Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek welcomed her back.
Abernathy told the chancellor about her time as a student, how different campus looks, and how UT prepared her for the real world. “Tennessee had the best home economics department at the time and that’s why I chose to come to school here,” Abernathy said.
She also brought a box of college mementos to share, including a tuition receipt for $173 (including housing and a meal plan), her class schedule, a $5 football ticket, and newspaper clippings from the Orange and White (now known as the Daily Beacon).
Her daughters joked that she was quite the diva in college and won a “Miss Legs” contest. During her senior year she enjoyed a phone call with the famous big-band leader Glenn Miller and she was picked from the crowd during an assembly for a coast-to-coast CBS radio broadcast from Alumni Memorial Building.
She briefly dated musician Tennessee Ernie Ford, but it was a UT swimmer, Andrew Abernathy, who won her heart. The two married in 1943.
Abernathy also talked about the time she was studying for a chemistry exam when someone knocked on her door to tell her Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Abernathy, along with many UT students, jumped right in to volunteer to help the war effort.
After Abernathy’s meeting with Chancellor Cheek, a student ambassador gave her and her family a tour of campus. She was most excited to see Ayres Hall again. “It was a pleasure to sit down with an alumna like Alma and hear about her time as a UT student,” said Cheek. “It’s a conversation I’ll always treasure.”