Sally Roden

By DANIEL MARSH Published April 8, 2012 at 2:10 a.m.
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— Sitting on a leather sofa in the Fireplace Room of McCastlain Hall at the University of Central Arkansas, Sally Roden recounted the stories behind the certificates, plaques and photographs on the mantel.

Each item — a painting of her girlhood home in Winsboro, La.; framed photos of her Arabian horse, Z; her Distinguished Alumni Award from Texas Women’s University — represents a significant part of her life and legacy at UCA. She could hardly speak of them without holding back tears.

Roden retired from the university last week after 42 years.

“I have mixed emotions,” Roden said of retirement, “but it’s time. When I turn in my keys, that’s when it will hit me. I have had UCA keys in my pocket for 42 years.”

Roden began her career in 1969 as an instructor of speech and theater arts. She retired as special assistant to the president. The transition from teacher to administrator took her out of the classroom — one of her greatest loves — but gave her the opportunity to help a larger number of students.

“I believe that after we recruit a student, we should give that student every possible opportunity to succeed,” Roden said. “That is what we are about — to academically and socially prepare these students for life ever after.”

Roden spoke warmly of her childhood in Winsboro.

“We were in the middle of cotton country,” she said. “There were eight or nine cotton gins in the town. My parents were from farming families, but my father, Vernon, was an iron worker, and he traveled a lot.”

Her mother, Flossie, received her teaching certificate after two years of college, and her father had one year of college, “but then he had to work.”

Neither of her parents ever questioned whether Roden would attend college.

“They never said, ‘Are you going?’ They always said, ‘When you go to college ….’ I am a typical first-generation college graduate,” Roden said.

She played the tenor saxophone in band.

“I loved band,” she said. “I loved going to the football games, especially.”

Roden remembered her dog, Butch, following her across the street to school and even to a parade in which she was marching with the band.

“Everybody knew Butch the dog,” she said, laughing.

She also has fond memories of her grandmother, whom she called Memama.

“I wished everyone could have a grandmother like mine,” Roden said.

She recalled watching her grandmother dig up worms with which to go fishing.

“We would take our cane poles up the path, turn over a bucket and sit and fish,” Roden said.

She had an uncle who was a marine biologist, and Roden said that for a while she contemplated becoming one of those herself.

“I’d see him during the summer, and we would go down to the shrimp beds in the Gulf region,” she said. “But someone said, ‘Women can’t do that.’”

After graduating from Winsboro High School in 1956, Roden left home to attend Texas Women’s University in Denton. The all female residential campus allowed Roden to find qualities in herself that had gone undiscovered back home.

“I became a leader on campus,” she said. “I developed a style of leadership, and that has carried over to some of the things I’ve tried to accomplish in my career [at UCA].”

Roden taught in Texas schools for five years.

“ Teaching was a good choice for me because I enjoyed being in front of a class and engaging students in learning,” she said. “I want students to get excited about learning.”

She received a master’s degree from the University of North Texas, and a colleague recommended that she apply for a teaching position at UCA. She joined the university in 1969.

“I never intended to stay here this many years,” Roden said. “I thought I would probably follow the typical professional pattern — stay awhile and then move on. But each time I had a chance to go somewhere else, I would think about my colleagues and the students here, and the support I had here at UCA, and I would decide to stay.”

She was the technical director of theater from 1969-1979.

“I liked being behind the scenes,” Roden said, “and I wanted the students to enjoy that part. If the curtain doesn’t open, no one can act.”

Roden was also director of forensics from 1980-1993 and became a professor of speech communication and theater in 1984. In 1993 she was named dean of undergraduate studies, and in 1998 became associate provost and dean of undergraduate studies. In 2010-2011, she was the interim vice president of enrollment management, and last year became special assistant to the president.

Roden’s experience at Texas Women’s University led her to imagine a residential setting in which students would learn socialization skills that, in turn, would better prepare them for life. In the mid-1990s, Roden initiated the Residential College Program at UCA.

“I feel that if the students are roommates and go to class together, they learn how to live together and develop a support group,” Roden said. “They challenge each other — you want to make as good a grade as your friend.”

The Residential College Program now consists of four communities on the campus. Students take some of their classes in their residence hall, do their homework together and are involved in campus activities and civic organizations. Roden said prospective students must apply to the residential colleges.

“You have to want to be there,” she said. “We then provide additional academic opportunities — to enhance what they are learning.”

Roden also created the Academic Advising Center, which helps first-year students define and achieve their academic goals. Minton Commuter College, which provides commuter students a place to hang out between classes and store their books, was also Roden’s brainchild.

“You have to have an administration that sees a vision and accepts your ideas,” she said. “Then you have to have a staff that says, ‘OK.’ Nothing happens without research, without a plan, and then you have to take a calculated risk. I’ve been very fortunate.”

When not creating new academic resources and possibilities at UCA, Roden has expanded her personal life to include two passions — offshore fishing, and her Arabian horse Sir Zara Aswan, or Z for short.

“My favorite place to fish is off Orange Beach, Ala.,” she said. “I like the white sand. In May, I’m going down there for a month to fish and play golf with ‘the guys.’”

She said that 11 years ago, one of her secretaries offered her a colt.

“I said, ‘What do I want with a horse?’”

Roden ended up accepting the horse but members of her “Z Team” did not know what they were doing.

“I read a horse book, but it was no good,” she said, laughing. “I went to a feed store and asked what to feed him. It’s a wonder he lived.”

Roden said one of the most important things she has tried to teach her students is to enjoy life. That is what she said she intends to do in her retirement.

“People ask me what I’m going to do when I retire,” she said, “but that’s like asking a college freshman what their major will be. It changes all the time. I’ll fish and golf, and I am going to Ireland in June. I’ve been surrounded every day by great colleagues and friends, and I have mixed feelings about not seeing them every day.”

Staff writer Daniel A. Marsh can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or dmarsh@arkansasonline. com.

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Sally Roden

Birth date: April 10, 1938

Birthplace: Winnsboro, La.

Education: Winnsboro High School, 1956; Texas Woman’s University, Bachelor of Science degree, 1960; North Texas State University, master’s degree, 1969; North Texas State University, Ed.D., 1978

Parents: Flossie and Vernon Roden

Hobbies: Golf, Arabian horse shows, fishing

Something on my bucket list: Travel the U.S.

Something most people don’t know about me: I am really an introvert.

Something that is always in my refrigerator: Diet Coke

When I grew up, I wanted to be: An oceanographer and marine biologist

Biggest influence: My parents

None DANIEL MARSH can be reached at .

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