RAYMOND – They say home is where the heart is, and for Dr. Wayne Lee home has been many places since his days on hardwood for Hinds and in small-town schools in Mississippi.
Lee, of Ponchatoula, La., returned home, in a way, to Hinds Community College’s Raymond Campus this summer to catch up with his alma mater and the man who has shaped it for a generation.
Lee will be honored as Alumnus of the Year along with Alumni Service Award recipient Sen. Dean Kirby of Pearl and Sports Hall of Fame inductees John Earl Hagan, a Jackson native who lives in Homewood, Ala.; Jaret Holmes, a Clinton native who lives in Edwards; Christi Smith, a Pearl native who lives in Flowood; Oliver P. “Pete” Stone of Vicksburg and the late Freddie Townsend of Pelahatchie at a dinner at 5 p.m. Sept. 22 at Mayo Gym on the Raymond Campus.
“I knew Dr. Clyde Muse when he was coaching at Canton High School in the early 1950s,” said Lee, referring to Hinds’ longtime president. Lee attended Clinton High School at the time. “We used to play Canton when I was there. I played basketball and ran track.
“He’s a great guy, a principled guy. You can believe what he says and he has run a great program. Easy to know, easy to talk to.”
Lee was a guard and forward on the Hinds basketball team for Coach Troy Arlis Ricks, the legendary Hinds basketball coach from 1951 to 1970. “I was the skinny kid with a scholarship to play basketball – and poor as a son of a gun.”
For his part, Muse remembers Lee as quite the formidable foe for his first squad in Canton.
“When I first came to Canton in 1952, I was coaching basketball, junior high football and track,” he said. “Wayne was a player for Clinton High School. When I say player, I mean player – he was good. He was one of the best high school centers I ever carried a team up against.”
His hoops career continued at Delta State, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. Drafted into the Army, he served two years, mostly in Germany. “I set up a division basketball team over there, where we traveled around to villages and towns and played teams there. It kept me sane. I was so glad to get home I kissed the ground when I got back to Mississippi.”
He coached hoops and taught for five years, in Anguilla and Belzoni, before earning his first master’s, in biology, from Mississippi College. He credits the man for whom today’s Hinds science building is named for creating his first molecule of interest in science.
“It was T.T. Beemon who turned me on to biology,” Lee said. “He was a great instructor and took time with his students back then. He loved botany and zoology and he made his students buy into his love of it.”
After a short stint in sales, he returned to school, this time to the University of Southern Mississippi, where in 1972 he earned another master’s degree, in Health, Physical Education and Recreation. He took his skills to Louisiana, where he worked for the state for the next 28 years, 24 of them at Southeastern Louisiana University as a professor of physical education and health studies courses. In the middle, he worked four years with the state’s Department of Education, in educational support and research development.
In 1995, he was inducted into the Hinds Sports Hall of Fame. Then and now, he said, it’s easy to note what’s changed and what hasn’t about the place that gave him his start.
“This building right here wasn’t here, for one thing,” he said of Fountain Hall, built in 2010. “There was a cattle dairy across the street from here.
“My ex-students who are teaching and working here now say the staff and instructors are still concerned about helping the student accomplish things in life and moving on ahead.”
In 2000, he returned to his college alma mater in Cleveland, Miss., for his final years in the health education classroom, which ended earlier this year. His and Muse’s ties to Delta State have benefited Hinds several times over.
“I got to really know him again when he came back to Delta State,” Muse said. “He has continued to be very interested in Hinds, served on the Sports Hall of Fame committee for many years. And one of the ways he’s helped us a lot is recommending people to Hinds for employment. We’ve gotten many very good employees that he either taught or knew at Delta State.”
One former student remembers a unique teacher whose love of teaching was symbolized by his two most fun-loving, furry fans.
“I’ll never forget his love for his two dachshund hound puppies that ‘lived’ at his office,” said Mark Stanton, district director of Student Recreation at Hinds and pupil of Dr. Lee’s while the former worked on his MSE at Delta State.
While working in Intramurals at DSU, Stanton’s office shared a hallway with Lee’s, making for memorable mornings.
“I could hear when they would arrive each day, running down the hall to his office and they, much like him, were eager to start the day, ready to help his students the same ways he did – loyal, caring, happy to see them, but also expecting of their respect.”
Loyalty might endure, but tablets have replaced slate as a raw material of classroom settings these days. Still, changing his teaching style in the age of technology wasn’t even a thought for Lee.
“I haven’t changed since 1959 in how I teach the basic subject matter,” he said. “Of course, eight-year-olds can do more stuff on their iPhones than I can. And grading is easier since you can set it up by computer now.”
Brian Oakes, assistant football coach and physical education instructor at Hinds, was also a graduate student of Lee’s at DSU. Lee’s tech-savvy is better than that – and he’d have it no other way, as a friend and former student, Oakes said.
“At the age of 82 years young, he still calls, texts and sends emails to check on me,” Oakes said. “I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Lee and the passion he has displayed as a lifetime educator.”
One message he’s made sure to get across to his students through the years is persistence in finding ways to pay for college.
“Nowadays, there’s so many ways you can pay for school,” Lee said. “Back in my day, either your parents had money or you got a scholarship. Thank goodness I got a scholarship, or I don’t know what I’d be right now. Without Hinds Community College and Delta State, I don’t know what I’d be.”
Homecoming events for 2016 are:
Wednesday, September 21
50+ Reunion & Luncheon
10 a.m., Fountain Hall
Honoring the college class of 1966 and high school and college classes prior
Thursday, September 22
5 p.m., Mayo Gym
The Alumni Recognition Dinner honoring Alumnus of the Year Dr. Wayne Lee, Alumni Service Award Recipient Sen. Dean Kirby and the 2016 Sports Hall of Fame Inductees including John Earl Hagan, Jaret Holmes, Christi Smith, Oliver P. “Pete” Stone and Freddie Townsend (posthumously)
Homecoming football game
Hinds vs. Pearl River Community College
7 p.m. Joe Renfroe Stadium
Halftime presentation of Homecoming Court, Alumni Awards recipients and Sports Hall of Fame inductees; performances by the Eagle Marching Band and Hi-Steppers with a special appearance by Hi-Stepper Alumni
For tickets or more information, call 601.857.3363.