Students Enjoy Grillin' — and Chillin' — with the President

Jim and Sue Reynolds Host Dinners for Freshman Class and Greeks

January 22, 2013

Jim Reynolds chats with junior Alex Bryant in the kitchen of the president's house.

Jim Reynolds chats with junior Alex Bryant in the kitchen of the president's house.

Junior Alex Bryant wore a serious expression when speaking with President Jim Reynolds about the occasionally, less-than-ideal perception some members of the College community possess with regard to fraternities.

The venue for the potentially contentious discussion? Perhaps the president’s office, a Greek Life forum or a chance meeting between the two on the campus mall following a student judicial hearing? It was none of the above.

Rather it was in the kitchen of the president’s home at a dinner hosted by Reynolds and his wife, Sue, in mid-January for Sigma Zeta fraternity and Alpha Phi Kappa sorority.

The presidential couple has shared a meal with several hundred students since August, including, first, numerous small groups of freshmen and, now, the College’s Greek organizations.

It’s called “Grillin’ with Jim” because of the menu of chicken or cheeseburgers, but, considering the candid dialogues in a relaxed, informal setting, “Chillin’ with Jim” might be more appropriate.

“We have no agenda,” he said while welcoming the Sigs and Kappas. “We’re trying to get as many students over as we can this year. It’s been real fun for us.”

Jim led them on a tour of Firbank Fell, the president’s home on the perimeter of campus. They were impressed to learn that the home has five bathrooms situated in its traditional 1960s era, ranch-style layout.

The Reynolds’ guests then filed through the kitchen, serving themselves from the picnic fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans and desserts.

Sue shared some of their family background with the students: married 32 years with two daughters, and they’ve lived in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and, since 2007, Ohio.

“We met as students at Drake University when Jim (a year her elder) coached my intramural football team,” she said.

Jim mentioned he was the first member of his family to attend college, which resonated with one of the students that remarked she, too, is a first generation college student.

“I’m interested in hearing what brought you to Wilmington College,” Sue said in prompting conversation with the students. Many of them noted their interest in studying a particular subject or playing intercollegiate soccer, football or basketball as providing an impetus.

(LEFT) Sue Reynolds speaks with Kappa and Sig members at their Jan. 14 dinner.

“I fell in love with the College from the time I first visited here,” said one. “I learned WC’s athletic training program is ranked number one in Ohio and fourth in the nation, so I can do this and then go to PT (physical therapy) school,” another added.

“I felt I would have the ability to do everything I wanted to do at Wilmington,” was another’s reply. One admitted the College offered an appealing financial aid package she couldn’t turn down.

“My friends told me to come, that I’d have a great time here,” another added. “There’s so many trees — I like trees,” a student said only half jokingly.

“I met Mary Rose (psychology professor Mary Rose Zink) on my visit and knew I had to go here,” said another.

As the discussion took on a more serious tone with regard to perceptions of Greeks, the Reynolds’s encouraged them to trumpet the many particularly appealing attributes of fraternities and sororities throughout the campus.

“Let people know there’s more to Greeks than what they see in the movies,” he said. “Let other students know about all the good things you do, your community service and how you’ve developed such close bonds.”

Sue spoke of being in a sorority while in college.

“You’re making relationships for a lifetime,” she said. “My sorority sisters and I still get together each year.”

The Sigs and Kappas eventually departed — some going to night classes while others engaged in the other activities typical of college students on Monday evenings in January.

Jim and Sue chalked up another successful “Grillin’” experience.

“It was invigorating. I like it when they’re engaged like they were tonight,” he said. “They’re not afraid to share things that are on their minds. Since we started doing this, students have told us what they’re concerned about and, in some cases, we’ve been able to address some of those concerns.”

Reynolds hopes this will represent another small way in which “students gain a connection” to the College.

“I don’t know how many undergrads around the country have a chance to dine at the president’s house,” he added.

While Jim expected fraternity and sorority members would display close bonds as they did, he was a bit surprised with the “real cohesiveness” he witnessed from the first semester freshmen with whom he met last fall.

“There was a real tight feel to that group,” he said, noting they came as part of peer advising groups that met regularly throughout the semester. “There was a natural affinity.”

From a personal standpoint, Sue noted an enduring benefit from the gatherings, as she now has new friends and recognizes many of their dinner guests while she interacts throughout the College.

“It’s so much nicer for me to be on campus,” she said. “Some of these students we’ve had over come up to me, give me a hug and say ‘hello.’ It’s one of the benefits of a school like Wilmington.”