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Outgoing ETSU first lady discusses role, what comes next

Rex Barber • Jan 12, 2012 at 11:37 AM

It’s a learning process, figuring out how to be first lady of East Tennessee State University, said Nancy Stanton, wife of ETSU President Paul Stanton.

“You go into it blindly,” Stanton said in a recent interview. “You don’t really know. You just kind of grow in it. And every first lady has to do it her way. I can’t tell Donna Noland how to do it. It’s a learning process.”

Donna Noland is the wife of incoming ETSU President Brian Noland, who will take office Sunday.

Paul Stanton’s final day as president will be Saturday after 15 years as the school’s leader.

“It’s been very fulfilling,” Nancy Stanton said of being first lady. “It’s something I have really enjoyed for the 15 years. At times it’s been exhausting, getting the house ready every year for Christmas or even planting flowers. We have wonderful staff there, but a good bit of it I’ve done myself.”

The house Stanton referred to is Shelbridge, the historic home of ETSU presidents located at the corner of East 11th Avenue and North Roan Street.

Being hostess to events for the community was a major aspect of Stanton’s tenure as first lady. Many organizations and people visit Shelbridge for dinners and official ETSU events. It was up to Stanton to ensure everything went smoothly.

Events were more frequent at Shelbridge when the Stantons first moved into the home, she said, but budget cuts have reduced the number of functions held there.

Stanton was born in Birmingham, Ala., but moved around quite a bit for her father’s career. Her family settled in Atlanta, where she met her husband.

“We actually went to high school together,” Stanton said. “We did not date until we were in college. And we didn’t even go to the same college.”

She went to the University of Georgia and he went to Emory University.

The Stantons have been married 45 years.

She said she was going to make sure her husband enjoyed retirement.

“I’ve told him two things,” Stanton said with a laugh. “First of all, that he needs to remember I’m not retiring, because I am involved in a good many foundations and boards, and he is too. But I told him also, I’ve heard from so many spouses who have said that when their spouse retired that all of a sudden they wanted to tell them how to do everything around the house, as if it had never been done correctly. I told him uhn, uhn, you’re not going to do that.”

Joking aside, Stanton did say she was looking forward to her husband’s retirement because it would mean they get to spend more time together and visit their large family, which includes grandchildren who do not live in Tennessee.

“So many times in the past few years I’ve had to go by myself, because (Dr. Stanton) wasn’t able to go, so this is something we’re really looking forward to,” she said.

Stanton has been active in Girl Scouts for 30 years, but has been a lifetime member. The Stantons have even hosted a few Girl Scout events at Shelbridge.

“It’s something I really enjoyed,” Stanton said. “I really believe in the Girl Scout movement. So many of the things that I’m involved in are involving either children or young people or college students, because I’m also on the Johnson City Public School Foundation and I’m on the Speedway Children Charities Foundation and the Wesley Foundation here at ETSU. So those are my interests.”

She is also very much interested in women’s education and strongly believes access to education, especially among single mothers, is the key to equality.

When the Stantons moved to Johnson City in 1985 so Dr. Stanton could take a job at the College of Medicine, they left a lot of friends and family in Atlanta, but Stanton said the move has been a blessing.

“Yes, it was hard, but we had moved a good bit during his training and we always looked at each move as an adventure, as exciting,” she said. “It was with mixed feelings just like the retirement is with mixed feelings, but we’re ready to move on, so we’re really excited about that.”

The Stantons will still be visible at ETSU, but Stanton said they want the Nolands to be able to settle in to the campus community.

“People may not see us around ETSU quite as much as first, because we want everybody to relate to them and not hang on to us,” Stanton said.

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