Lee hosts meet and greet for 93-year-old alumna
In its centennial year, Lee welcomed back an old friend with almost a century of life experience herself.
Evelyn Walker Holcombe, one of the school’s oldest living alumni, graced the campus with her smiles and laughter for a meet and greet on Tuesday, Sept. 18. At age 93, she still demonstrated a sharp memory and quick wit as she met with family members and old friends to tell stories, reminisce about the past and gape at the size of the university today.
“It’s almost overwhelming,” Holcombe said. “I just can’t [believe] how Lee has stretched. It covers everything almost.”
Holcombe attended the school from 1936 to 1942, when it still operated under the Bible Training School label. She expressed her gratefulness for being allowed to attend a faith-based school and take hold of the opportunities she was presented with.
Many of these opportunities stemmed from her involvement in music — a passion she still pursues today. During her time as a student, Holcombe sang with a traveling trio at the Bible Training School and was part of several music groups on campus. She learned to play piano at age 5 and has spent a good portion of her lifetime playing at local churches and teaching music lessons.
Holcombe said her gift of music came directly from God and was positive it was not hereditary, joking at her family's lack of musicality.
“They couldn’t even do do-re-mi,” Holcombe said.
Though her vision has greatly weakened, Holcombe continues to both play piano at church with her grandson Bryan Mitchell and teach students how to play, relying on muscle memory and her musical expertise to picture the keys in her mind.
In church, Mitchell said, he whispers the name of the next song in his grandmother’s ear, and she remembers how to play it by hearing the name alone. Holcombe repeatedly reacted to others’ amazed remarks about her talent with a shrug and the simple statement: “I’m a musician.”
Holcombe even used her musical abilities for a little rule-breaking. When she was in school, she said, there were tight restrictions around dating, but she found ways to sneak in some private time.
“You couldn’t kiss your boyfriend back then,” Holcombe said. “I don’t know what you can do now.”
She recounted a specific room containing a piano where students would meet with their significant others. To give the all-clear, Holcombe would play a certain melody on the keys, and in the boyfriend would come.
Friends and family took turns throughout the afternoon visiting with Holcombe as she told her stories, and in the crowd of people eager to chat with the guest of honor were several of her former piano students—one of whom was Assistant Professor of Nursing Brenda Jones.
Holcombe taught Jones years ago and then went on to teach her children as well. Jones gushed over her former teacher, relaying how truly amazing she is.
Though Holcombe’s story may not be widely known, her affiliation with Lee will be represented by a quilt that hangs in the William G. Squires Library.
This quilt contains the names of the class of 1941 and numerous other students who attended the school at the time, including President Paul Conn’s mother. Holcombe kept the quilt at her house from 1941 until it was hung in the library 77 years later.
Much has changed in those 77 years. However, Holcombe’s parting statements focused not on changes but on consistencies, as she encouraged those in the room to hold to one who will always remain the same.
“Let me tell you something: God has never changed,” Holcombe said. “He ain’t ever gonna change.”