Alumnus is bringing communities – and generations – together
Ezra Hall ’19 hit it off with his new grandmother right away.
He was visiting The Woodlands at Furman to take part in the Adopt-a-Grandparent/Adopt-a-Grandchild program, which paired students with Woodlands independent living residents. When the first-year student met retiree Jeanne Christie, he made the mistake of calling her “Miss Christie.”
“She said, ‘No, you can’t call me that,’” Hall remembered. “‘If we’re doing this adopt-a-grandparent program, then you fully adopt me as a grandparent. You’ve got to choose Granny or Mimi.’”
Mimi it was. “We got very close,” said Hall, who double majored in history and politics and international affairs and was the student director of the Heller Service Corps, a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and president of Interfraternity Council. “She has a bounce-back attitude and never gets down. I’d come over and study in her apartment or have lunch with her. She was a really big part of my time at Furman.”
And she still is. Over the years, Christie, who recently turned 90, has gotten to see plenty of her adopted grandson, who stuck around The Woodlands through a senior-year internship and a full-time job after graduation. Beginning in 2019 by helping coordinate activities and programming, Hall has now transitioned into the role of director of philanthropy and engagement.
‘The best neighbor’
Hall’s dual role involves managing the Woodlands Legacy Fund, the nonprofit’s philanthropic arm, as well as developing, facilitating and nurturing the Furman relationship.
With the Woodlands executive team, Hall is working with the university to find “untapped resources that we have that Furman could benefit from or vice-versa,” he said. “We’re right here. How can we be the best neighbor and the best friend for Furman? Let’s figure out a way that we can meld the two that benefits the students, faculty, staff, the community and our residents.”
The two communities already share many strong connections.
“One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to know our new residents. It is always extra special for me to meet individuals with Furman ties, many of whom are alumni and retirees who I knew of from my time at Furman as people devoted and supportive of the university,” said Hall, counting Woodlands residents Don Aiesi, John and Jeanette Cothran, Sarah Herring, and Carl and Lynne Kohrt among the many residents he has been able to get to know with deep ties to the university.
‘A beauty to growing old’
Even residents with no prior Furman connection soon grow attached to the campus, frequenting the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the James B. Duke Library, the Dining Hall and music performances, said Hall.
“They moved here and saw that Furman is special and Furman is different,” he said. “They want to be a part of Furman’s story.”
The connections go both ways, Hall said. Undergraduates often visit to perform music, talk about their research projects and help organize clothing drives and other philanthropic ventures. A partnership between The Woodlands and The Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities led to the creation of The Woodlands at Furman Sustainability Fellowship, awarded in Fall 2022 to Victoria Bostrom ’24. The Woodlands also offers internships including health care and lifestyle activities and is looking to add more.
“There’s a lot of ways that we can grow our friendship with Furman,” said Hall. “I’m excited to see what might happen.”
Students can also benefit from more intangible life lessons, Hall said.
“It’s a great way to show that that when you turn 65, life doesn’t end,” he said. “There’s a beauty to growing old. Getting to see our residents so richly living and enjoying it can teach the younger generation that aging isn’t something to be afraid of.”