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Learning is a lifetime endeavor. And at 81, Lottie Boone is a great example of someone who doesn’t let the years get in the way of her education. 

Boone is a student at Saint Leo University’s South Hampton Roads Education Center. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. 

“Sitting around doing nothing is when you get old,” Boone said. “Take the time and study. Your brain is still working.”

Her grandson Nicholas Franklin graduated from Saint Leo in 2015 with a bachelor’s in criminal justice. “Then he went back and got his master’s [graduating in 2017 with a master’s in criminal justice-legal studies],” Boone said. “I told him, ‘I’m going back to school.’ And he said, ‘Baba, you’ve got to go to Saint Leo.’ ” Baba is what Franklin calls his grandmother.

“I had such a wonderful experience—finishing my bachelor’s and getting my master’s at Saint Leo,” Franklin said. “I knew that if I could do it, she could do it. She’s smarter than me; she has to be because she’s the one I always go to for advice—her and my mom, who I am working on getting her degree next! But everything I have done in life has aimed to make Baba proud.” 

Franklin said he will be waiting when she someday crosses the commencement stage with flowers and a big, proud hug. 

Boone’s higher education was delayed by life—a life that started on July 12, 1937, in Mobile, AL. Born at 2½ pounds and delivered at home by a midwife, Boone said she was so tiny, her mother placed her in a shoe box. “She fed me with a medicine dropper,” Boone said. “I must have been strong enough to say, ‘I’m not going to die. I’m going to stay here.’ ”

Following high school graduation, she enrolled at Alabama State University-Mobile and then transferred to Alabama State University in Montgomery to pursue a degree in home economics with a minor in sociology. She studied there for a year and a half and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. 

“Then I got married,” she said. “My husband promised that we were not going to have children right away.” But along came a daughter, Pamela. As her husband was in the U.S. Navy, they traveled, and his last assignment was at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.

“I have three daughters,” Boone said with pride. “Pamela Franklin, Lottie Smith, and Jada Lee.”

Her love of home economics served her well as she worked as a manager for Sewing Circle Fabrics and a department store for several years. She also would go to schools and teach children how to sew. 

“Then my husband became deathly ill and passed away,” Boone said. “I had three little girls to take care of.  I had to work more than one or two jobs, and I still was taking in sewing [jobs].”

She started her own business, The Finishing Touches, creating crafts to sell. Then in 1978, she started working at the Virginia Beach Police Department, as a precinct desk officer. She retired after 28 years with the department. 

“I did entering into the computer, searching women when the officers brought them in, fingerprinting, and taking photo IDs of the people who were arrested,” she said. “I did quite a bit to keep the people calm when they were brought in. They are not in the best temper. I spent a lot of time just talking to them and explaining ‘this isn’t the end of your world.’ ” 

After she retired, “I became a wedding planner,” she said. “I make clothes, and I do flower arrangements. I’m quitting all of that so I can concentrate on all my classes.”

As for her girls, “Pamela went in the Army. Lottie got a scholarship to Virginia Tech, and Jada graduated from high school and now works in 911 communications,” Boone said. “I did not allow my girls to say ‘I can’t.’ They said, ‘I’ll try.’ ”

She said her daughters were not in favor of her returning to school at first as they thought it was too much for her to tackle. Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It wasn’t what I had planned to do,” Boone said. “I had to go through chemo, radiation, the whole works. I am now cancer free.”

Lottie Boone and her criminal justice instructor Johnny Gandy, a captain with the Virginia Beach Police Department.

She wanted to get that bachelor’s degree. “I wanted to go back; I enjoyed it,” she said. “It was so hard. But being my age at the time, I needed more help.”

Mathematics faculty member Edmond Frost assisted her by arranging for a math tutor. She had to take last semester off, but is back at her studies with some help from faculty and staff. 

“I’m not too old,” Boone said. “I work out. I take care of me. But I can’t stay away from chocolate. I grab a Tootsie Roll in the morning.”

Her dream is to encourage other older people to become students. “I want to talk to seniors and let them know it’s never too late. I trust God. God is my source. I was a chaplain at Unity Church of Tidewater. Even when I go to church, people say, ‘I heard you were going back to school.’ You’ve got that right!”

What she may do with her degree remains unknown, but she does enjoy mentoring young people. One thing is for sure for Boone: “I am going to put my diploma on the wall by my family’s pictures and thank God every day that I finished.”  

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Writing and communication have figured into many aspects of Frank Cumberland’s life. Cumberland ’80 studied at Saint Leo’s Langley Air Force Base Education Office and earned his bachelor’s degree in human resources management and sociology while he was serving in the Air Force. He retired as a colonel after 24 years.

“The Saint Leo people were so helpful,” he said of his first visit to the education office. “I was amazed at how quickly I could get started and the variety of offerings.”

He also appreciated Saint Leo’s emphasis on writing. His family—especially his mother—nurtured his love of literature, and that continued in his education at the university and throughout his career.

Cumberland served in the Air Force Medical Service Corps, and also worked as a health professions recruiter for Air Force Recruiting Service. “My team recruited physicians, dentists, health administrators, and allied health professionals,” he said. “Recruiting was a true challenge, and I learned a lot from the experience.”

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Frank Cumberland and his “pop” at his Saint Leo commencement in 1980.

In 1998, the Department of Defense established the TRICARE Management Activity to manage its health program for 10 million beneficiaries worldwide. A director of communications was needed to tell the TRICARE story, and Cumberland was chosen for the job.

He retired in 2017 as senior vice president for Communications, Marketing, and Business Development for Axiom. In that role, he led the firm’s proposal-writing team for 15 years.

Besides writing, another passion of Cumberland’s is baseball. The self-proclaimed “Mayor of Nats Town,” Cumberland was a strong supporter of the effort to bring baseball back to Washington, DC. He penned many columns, letters to the editor, and other materials advocating for baseball’s return to his hometown. The effort bore fruit when the Washington Nationals played their first home game in Washington in April 2005.

Hope-Comes-Home-2-(1)Cumberland was a contributor to the Nationals’ yearbook in 2015. In “Hope Comes Home: A Decade of Baseball in Washington” he writes, “It is a special thing to see your dreams come true, and to see your fondest hopes turn into reality. To me, the first decade of the Nationals has been like an unfolding miracle—for the morale of our hometown, the winning ways of our team and the everyday spirit of Nats Nation.”

He is a member of the President’s Council at Saint Leo, and a member of the Board of Governors of the National Military Family Association. He is married to Lori, father to Emily, Luke, and Tom, father-in-law to Dustin, and grandfather to Logan. He continues to write freelance stories and articles and is working on a book on the lessons of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Cumberland notes that he really should be a writer, as he is named after St. Francis de Sales, the “patron saint of teachers and authors.”

Header photo: Colonel Frank Cumberland at his desk at TRICARE Management Activity. 

When Dr. Maribeth Durst arrived at Saint Leo College in 1979 as a new assistant professor of sociology, she could have had no idea that her career path would evolve to include so many roles and duties in teaching, administration, and even the pursuit of another advanced degree. At the end of this academic term, Dr. Durst will retire after 36 years at Saint Leo, the final 10 serving as the vice president of Academic Affairs—in other words, Saint Leo’s steward of excellence in teaching and degree offerings.

Saint Leo was not Dr. Durst’s first teaching post—that was at Saint John’s University at its Staten Island, NY, campus in the late 1970s. But in academia and other sectors, opportunities to advance were scarce. Dr. Durst and her first husband came south when the Saint Leo sociology position opened, and he found a position in Tampa in his field. Dr. Durst began teaching the sociology courses in the catalog at the time. However, in what was to become a continuing theme, she saw a spot where she could make a contribution and developed the course “Women in America” as an option to the early 1980s curriculum.

In those days, women were not yet well represented in teaching or administration, and the concept of work-and-family balance had not emerged. But as a young working mother in rural St. Leo in the early 1980s, Dr. Durst found infant child care for her son, David, practically next door with the Sisters of Holy Name Monastery, the Benedictine nuns who have always been involved with Saint Leo.

Then a “real life-changing event” occurred in the spring of 1983, she recalled. A female student came to see her, at the suggestion of an administrator. The young woman was being battered by a boyfriend and she didn’t know how to get out of the situation. Dr. Durst had degrees in both sociology and anthropology (her doctorate), but not the specific skills to guide that student or others in such peril.

Her response was to take a course in social work, and she became hooked. Over three years, she earned the Master of Social Work degree. This helped inform her leadership and also qualified her to teach social work courses, along with anthropology and sociology.

She loved infusing community service requirements into her teaching and class requirements, as well. She remembers a young man who disliked the service requirement initially, but then grew to enjoy the time he spent helping coach students at the nearby Saint Anthony of Padua Interparochial School. Some of the young boys just wanted an older guy to talk to, he found. He so enjoyed it that he began explaining his community service to his mother during a long-distance phone call. At first, she didn’t understand. She feared his service was a judicial sentence and exclaimed: “What crime did you commit?” That anecdote is one of Dr. Durst’s favorite stories.

Dr. Durst also found it fulfilling to work in a college with Saint Leo’s generous spirit. “We accept any student who exhibits a chance to be academically successful. Even though we have high standards, we will give students a chance who haven’t necessarily been successful before.”

Her dedication to teaching was recognized twice with a campus award for Outstanding Faculty Member from the Student Government Association, first for 1987-1988, and again in 1996. By then, she had been promoted to a full professor of sociology and social work. During her career, she also took on a variety of administrative tasks on the academic side, as needs emerged.

Eventually, she began working for the university on years-long work related to the college’s accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools*. President Kirk assigned Dr. Durst the painstaking role in 1998, concurrent with her work as dean of the School of Education and Social Services (she had also held accrediting responsibilities at an earlier point, from 1988 to 1991). It was an arduous time as Saint Leo worked to reverse enrollment declines and prove itself. But Saint Leo did recover, did attract more students, and innovated with online learning. Saint Leo became a university in 1999, in recognition of the addition of master’s degrees in business and education.

In 2005, the vice president of Academic Affairs position became open, and at first Dr. Durst did not apply. However, she noticed that even the best of the applicants did not seem to take the institution or its potential seriously enough. In her mind, they regarded Saint Leo only as a “stepping stone to further their own careers.” She realized she was more invested in the university’s continued success, and therefore applied and earned the vice president’s job.

It has been a busy decade since, marked by more improvements. New faculty take part in an extensive mentoring process, for instance, to ensure they truly understand and support the student-centered, teaching orientation of the university. Undergraduates have an innovative liberal arts program that nurtures the development of critical thinking across multiple disciplines. A Master of Social Work degree program has been added, along with the Doctor of Business Administration. Something Dr. Durst didn’t foresee happening in her tenure—a second new academic building—is undergoing rapid construction, and it will be ready for Fall 2015.

Equally as important, Saint Leo is now recognized as a strong teaching-oriented institution, dedicated to the development of the whole individual, who may well have multiple careers over a lifetime. “Many American universities have lost their way,” Dr. Durst says. “They’re more interested in research than in teaching, and teaching is a by-product. Our responsibility is to teach our students to fulfill a productive role in society, and to give back to others.”


*Saint Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, and doctoral degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Saint Leo University.