UM Alumna Finds Creative Inspiration in Hometown Support

Taylor Wilkinson

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi alumna and Oxford-based jewelry designer Taylor Wilkinson teams up with Cicada Boutique this weekend to showcase her jewelry line, Taylor Wilkinson Designs.

Wilkinson’s designs will be on display 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Oct. 27-28) and will be available for purchase at the store, at 307 South Lamar Blvd.

“It’s always thrilling to show in your hometown,” Wilkinson said. “There is a tremendous amount of support from not only personal friends, but the entire community. Oxford rallies around their hometown people.”

Wilkinson, who was recently featured in an alumni profile by the Ole Miss Alumni Association, turned personal meaning and her family heritage into inspired pieces of bold, geometric jewelry.

The trunk show will feature rings, bracelets, earrings, charms and necklaces from her latest jewelry collection. Wilkinson uses sterling silver, 18-karat gold vermeil and pave diamonds in her pieces.

Wilkinson’s inspiration comes from within the community not only with her pieces, but with everyday life.

“The underlying creative current in this town has always inspired me,” Wilkinson said “The ‘boost’ Oxford gives me is a personal one. My children attend our public schools. My husband’s own business is here.

“I’ve watched this town grow over the years, and even when I’m traveling, there is always the longing to get home.”

For more information regarding Taylor Wilkinson Designs, visit or follow her on Instagram @taylorwilkinsondesigns.

UM Alumnus Helps Produce ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’

Movie opens Oct. 20 in select theaters

University of Mississippi alumnus Stephen Johnston produced and helped raise $15 million for the movie “Same Kind of Different as Me,” which opens in theaters this weekend.

The movie was filmed in Jackson.

Based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name, the film stars Academy Award winners Renee Zellweger and Jon Voight and Oscar nominees Greg Kinnear and Djimon Hounsou. It is based on a true story.

The story focuses on wealthy art dealer Ron Hall (Kinnear) and his wife, Debbie (Zellweger). The two are unhappily married, but their lives change when they befriend a homeless man named Denver (Hounsou).

The film has earned an 83 percent positive audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and Oxford residents can check it out starting today (Oct. 20) at Malco Oxford Studio Cinema on West Jackson Avenue.

Johnston, a Jackson native, graduated from Ole Miss in 1993 with a degree in managerial finance, and banking and finance.

Homecoming Week to Feature Variety of Fun Events

Activities begin Monday on campus

Homecoming week will feature a variety of fun activities for UM students, faculty, staff and alumni. Many events this fall will be staged on the Galtney-Lott Plaza. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – It’s that time of year again when University of Mississippi students, faculty, staff and the LOU community will unite to celebrate the Ole Miss Rebels.

A week of fun-filled events will lead up to the annual Homecoming game at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 14, when the Rebels will go head-to-head with the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Here is a list of events to look forward to during this year’s Homecoming Week:

Monday (Oct. 9)

Mechanical Shark – 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The Galtney-Lott Plaza will have a mechanical shark that daring people can ride. Be honest, how long have you been waiting to ride a Landshark?

Free Popcorn – 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Another event sponsored by the Student Activities Association on the Galtney-Lott Plaza. I don’t know about you, but I can smell the butter already.

Presentation: Frank King – 7 p.m. King, a comedian, writer and suicide prevention expert, is set to speak at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. He will touch on his lifelong battle with depression and thoughts of suicide, as well as the importance of fighting stigmas, in an engaging, clever and thoughtful dialogue with his audience.

Tuesday (Oct. 10)

Sno-Biz – 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Stop by the Galtney-Lott Plaza to get a snow cone.

Silent Disco – 9-11 p.m. This dance party is one the likes of which you’ve probably never experienced. So come by the Grove Tuesday night to dance like no one’s listening. In case of rain, the Silent Disco will be held in the Tad Pad.

Wednesday (Oct. 11)

Games in the Circle – 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Come by the Circle to play a number of games that are sure to make lasting memories, and no, we’re not just talking about a neverending game of Trust Fall.

Wheel of Wow – 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Come one, come all and spin the wheel at the Galtney-Lott Plaza for a chance to win various giveaways for students. This event is sponsored by the Student Activities Association.

Trivia and Pizza Night – 6:30-7:30 p.m. This event will be held in the Grove, and to avoid any cheesy pizza puns, it’s a great chance to meet new people over some trivia. 

Thursday (Oct. 12)

Free Waffles – 8 a.m. They’ll be serving free, yes free, waffles Thursday morning on the Galtney-Lott Plaza. So get up and at ’em because the early bird gets the waffles.

Meet ‘n’ Greet the Homecoming Court – Noon-1 p.m. Come to the Circle to meet the ladies and gentlemen on the Homecoming court.

Rebels Got Talent – 7 p.m. The Grove Stage will be graced by students of many talents Thursday night. So come and cheer on your friends! It’ll be like “America’s Got Talent” except better because Domino’s Pizza will be providing free pizza. I wonder what Simon thinks about that?

Friday (Oct. 13)

Coffee with a Cop – 8 a.m. Come enjoy hot, fresh coffee with Oxford police officers on the Galtney-Lott Plaza. Ask them questions about their jobs, lives and/or experiences, because what’s less scary than seeing a cop at 8 a.m.? Sipping coffee with a cop at 8 a.m.

Homecoming Parade and Pep Rally – 5:30 p.m. Get ready to rally folks, the parade will begin at the Circle and continues to the Square Friday evening.

Everybody’s Formal – 8:30-11:30 p.m. The Jefferson will host this year’s Everybody’s Formal where – get this – everybody’s invited. Dress in a semiformal attire and get ready to dance the night away.

Distinguished Alumni Awards Reception – 6 p.m. The Inn at Ole Miss will host a reception honoring the winners of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards.

Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony and Dinner – 7 p.m. Following the reception is the ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom followed by dinner. Please note that this is a ticketed event.

Saturday (Oct. 14)

Annual Meeting of the Alumni Association – 9:30 a.m. Come to mingle at the Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom at The Inn at Ole Miss with the Alumni Association.

Tailgates – Join alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends for a pre-game tailgate.

Black Alumni Reunion Kickoff Tailgate – 11:30 a.m., along the Student Union construction site in the Grove.

English Department Alumni Tailgate – 11:30 a.m., location to be announced.

Meek School of Journalism & New Media Tailgate – 11:30 a.m., Farley Hall lawn

School of Education Tailgate – 11:30 a.m., north lawn of the Triplett Alumni Center

School of Engineering Tailgate – 12:20 p.m., Brevard Hall lawn

Homecoming Game – 2:30 p.m., Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt

Halftime – Introduction of the Alumni Awards Day recipients and Alumni Association President Hal Moore. Crowning of Homecoming Queen Christina Lawler by Alumni Association President Hal Moore. Performance by the Pride of the South Marching Band

Sunday (Oct. 15)

Miss University Pageant – 5:30 p.m. Come to the Ford Center to celebrate the end of Homecoming Week and to practice your best pageant wave as you cheer on participants in this year’s pageant.

Ole Miss’ Gerald McRaney and Jack Pendarvis Take Home Emmy Awards

Jack Pendarvis. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

For those of you who missed the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards show Sunday night on CBS, it was yet another night of witty banter, none of which was directed towards politics.

The Emmys is in the same family – think: Uncle Oscar, Uncle Tony and, of course, sweet Grammy – that recognize some of the most talented members and contributors to entertainment. The award that looks like an angel holding up a Hoberman ball smothered in real gold, you ask? Yes, precisely.

University of Mississippi alumnus Gerald McRaney and former faculty member Jack Pendarvis were amongst the list of winners Sunday night.

You may recognize McRaney as Dr. Nathan Katowski, aka Mandy Moore’s lady doctor on the hit show we love to love, “This Is Us.” This was his first Emmy Award in his nearly 50-year acting career, for Outstanding Guest Performance in a Drama.

McRaney, from Collins, married actress Delta Burke in 1989. Burke was part of the popular show “Designing Women,” in which she played a young woman who graduated from Ole Miss. See folks, love is clearly where the Grove is.

Pendarvis,who came to Ole Miss as a Grisham writer-in-residence, took home his second Emmy Award on Sunday for Outstanding Short Form Animated Program, celebrating his work on “Adventure Time,” an animated series on Cartoon Network that’s been on air since 2010. Pendarvis’ first Emmy win was back in 2015, followed by two nominations in 2016.

The creative vision of Pendarvis’ writing has been sure to touch the hearts of even the baddest-of-the-bad college students who claim they’re too cool for cartoons. Hint: he’s yellow, square, giggly all over, and if he attended Ole Miss, he’d be ready every time. That’s right, Pendarvis is a former “SpongeBob SquarePants” writer, having written 10 episodes for the series during Season 9.

Both McRaney and Pendarvis have made great strides in the world of entertainment. I think a hearty “HYDR” are in order for these two Ole Miss talents that prove if you work hard and have passion for what you do – you can do anything.

GreenServ Airing Again on ‘World’s Greatest’

Greenserv, a medical waste company, and its employees will be featured on ‘World’s Greatest’. Submitted photo

Oxford business GreenServ Inc. was featured last month on “World’s Greatest,” a television program that highlights the best companies, products and services around the world.

The medical waste and compliance firm, started by University of Mississippi alumnus John Alford and business partner Will Fountain, have seen an overwhelmingly positive response from the community and potential customers since the show aired July 10.

“I have had dozens of people who have commented on the program both locally and nationally,” Fountain said. “The show seems to have given us some legitimacy in market for our young business that is rapidly growing.”

The company services Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, but this program has spread the word about GreenServ’s national mail-back program, allowing them to service the entire United States and Alaska, Fountain said.

The filming was completed in just one day and viewers of the program get to see both the success of a local business and the process of medical waste sanitation and disposal.

“Having someone else acknowledge that what you’re doing is not only working, but working well, boosts company morale and confidence and self-esteem of us and our employees,” Fountain said. “God continues to bless GreenServ with great employees, customers and opportunities.

“We will be able to utilize this program for morale and marketing purposes for many years to come.”

In case you missed the first airing, the “World’s Greatest” episode featuring GreenServ will air again at 5 a.m. Monday (Aug. 28) on DirecTV channel 305 and Dish Network channel 350.

UM Alumnus Featured on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

Episode airs at 7 p.m. Monday on NBC

Josh Butler, pictured with is wife Katie, son Braxtel (right) and photograph of their son Dewey. Butler will compete on American Ninja Warrior on NBC Monday night. Submitted Photo

University of Mississippi alumnus Josh Butler will showcase both his athletic ability and inspirational story Monday (Aug. 7) on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

Butler, a 2010 Ole Miss graduate originally from Jackson, has trained for the challenging obstacle course program over the last three years and auditioned three times before being asked to compete in the show’s ninth season.

“I have obstacles in my backyard that I built, I’m a member of a rock climbing gym and I’m a member at a regular gym, too,” Butler said. “I have always been active, though, and participated in pretty much every sport.”

However, Butler and his family have conquered many other obstacles over the last three years. In 2015, his wife, Katie, gave birth to their first son, Dewey, but he was born with an unbalanced translocation of chromosomes, causing breathing problems.

After 132 days in Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital, their son died.

The Butlers then decided to help care for other children. In 2016, they fostered their now-adopted 3-year-old son, Braxtel, who was born with chronic respiratory failure and breathed through a ventilator until recently.

The Butlers are also foster parents to three other children, who they hope to make permanent members of their family later this year.

“My wife and I are a team, and having a home health nurse at the house most days of the week helps us have a ‘break’ for things like training,” he said. “I wake up before everyone else to exercise and train. I also use my lunch breaks to fit in a workout.

“While Dewey was alive and in the hospital, it was a hard decision to leave his NICU room to train, but I knew that I needed to take care of my own health, too, to be the best dad to him.”

Butler said it has been his dream to compete on “ANW.”

“I love that the show showcases the whole person, not just the athletic side, by including their inspirational back stories,” he said. “I also want to share how faithful God is even in the midst of tragedy. He has a plan, and we trust him.”

Tune in to NBC at 7 p.m. Monday to hear more about Butler’s inspiring story and watch him compete for a $1 million prize.

Miss University to Compete for Miss Mississippi Title

Leah Gibson and 10 other Ole Miss students vie for the crown this week in Vicksburg

Miss University Leah Gibson and 10 other Ole Miss students will compete for the title of Miss Mississippi this week in Vicksburg. Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

By Saturday (June 24), judges will have worked their way through 44 contestants and crowned the 60th Miss Mississippi.

Miss University Leah Gibson and 10 other Ole Miss students are among the contestants. The diamond anniversary of the 2017 Miss Mississippi pageant begins Wednesday (June 21) with preliminary competitions throughout the week in Vicksburg.

The top 10 advance to compete for the crown beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Gibson will represent the University of Mississippi as reigning Miss University. A 2017 graduate, Gibson earned her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism in May.

Ten other Ole Miss students will also vie for the crown: Miss All-America City, Asya Branch; Miss Parade of Beauties, Blair Wortsmith; Miss DeSoto County, Charley Ann Nix; Miss Tupelo, Dana Wesley; Miss Riverland, Joy Addison; Miss Amory, Kasey Pearson; Miss Pine Belt, Lizzie Wicks; Miss Rolling Hills, Macken’z Smith; Miss Heart of the South, Mary Katherine McCaa; and Miss Southern Magnolia, Mary Margaret Hyer

The final round will air live on WLBT in Jackson, WTVA in Tupelo, WABG in Greenville, WGBC in Meridian, WLOX in Biloxi and WMC-TV in Memphis.

Be sure to tune in to cheer on all our Ole Miss contestants!

And the Echo Performs Sunday for Summer Sunset Series

Performances continue through June in the Grove

And the Echo is set to perform on the Grove stage Sunday (June 11) evening as part of the Summer Sunset Series. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Museum, in conjunction with Visit Oxford and other local organizations, is hosting live music in the Grove each Sunday in June for the Summer Sunset Series.

The museum presents the popular synth-pop duo And the Echo at 5 p.m. Sunday (June 11). The Oxford-based group draws influence from ’80s bands such as Duran Duran and describes its style as similar to Depeche Mode with a smooth and emotive female vocalist.

Attendees are encouraged to arrive early to the free event and picnic in the Grove before the music.

The series also will feature Americana group Rocket 88 on June 18 and acoustic group Black Water Trio on June 25.

Other sponsors include the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Visit Oxford, the Ole Miss Student Union, Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce, and the divisions of University and Public Events and University Communications.

For more information, visit

SEC Storied Premieres ‘The Rebel’

Former Ole Miss basketball star Johnny Neumann is the subject of film debuting May 30

OXFORD, Miss. – Former University of Mississippi basketball star Johnny Neumann is the subject of ESPN Films’ next chapter of “SEC Storied.” The installment, titled “The Rebel,” premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday (May 30) on the SEC Network.

Neumann led the nation in scoring in 1971 during his sophomore season – his only season – at Ole Miss.

He left college early to begin a professional basketball career and returned in 2013 to finish his studies. Neumann graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in general studies, with minors in journalism, recreation administration and legal studies.

The film includes interviews with Paul Finebaum, Woody Paige and Hubie Brown and is directed by Paul Carruthers.

For Neumann’s story, click here and be sure to tune in Tuesday to SEC Network.

Awards Ceremony Highlights UM Staff Appreciation Week

Annual celebration recognizes employees for years, excellence in service

UM employees enjoy sharing plants and stories during the annual plant swap during Staff Appreciation Week. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Most of us as University of Mississippi employees anticipate the arrival of annual Staff Appreciation Week. It’s somewhat like an extended break period from the regular routines we all engage in daily.

Starting Monday (May 15), staff members can choose from a variety of events to enjoy at their leisure. Of all the activities scheduled, perhaps the awards ceremony on Friday (May 19) is what those honored find most gratifying.

The program begins at 9 a.m. in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts with recognition of all employees hired within the past year. Then, long-standing employees will be presented keepsakes in recognition of five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 30-plus years of service to the institution.

Before the program ends, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter will present a select few employees with Outstanding Staff Awards. Gazel Giles, Staff Council president, will also present service awards. Recipients of these honors are given monetary rewards as well as the traditional plaque.

Other activities scheduled during the week include:

  • Monday (May 15): lecture on “Plants that Work Well in Your Yard” at 10 a.m. in the Yerby Center Auditorium, an 11 a.m. kickoff to a healthy week in the Manning Center, bicycle maintenance at the Ole Miss Bike Shop starting at 4 p.m. and aqua aerobics at the Turner Center pool beginning at 5:15 p.m.
  • Tuesday (May 16): a blood drive at 9 a.m. in the Grove, a first aid and CPR class at 10 in Yerby Center auditorium, a 4 p.m. Zumba class in front of the Grove Stage and aqua aerobics again at 5:15 p.m.
  • Wednesday (May 17): the blood drive continues at 9 a.m., a 10 a.m. music and meditation service in Paris-Yates Chapel and a 2 p.m. introduction to belly dancing in the Yerby Center auditorium.
  • Thursday (May 18): a 10 a.m. plant swap in the Grove, a 12:30 p.m. yoga and yogurt in a location to be announced and aqua aerobics at 5:15 p.m.
  • Friday (May 19): the awards ceremony, an 11 a.m. staff lunch at Rebel Market and fun time beginning at 1 p.m.

As one who received my 10-year certificate in 2016, I urge everyone who can do so to attend Friday’s awards ceremony. Whether you’re being honored or not, showing support for your fellow employees will make both you and them feel great!

Don’t miss all the other great events either. Hopefully, I’ll see you around campus during the week!