50 Years of Faithful Service – Jean F. Ackiss Retires from the University of Mount Olive on November 30

50 Years of Faithful Service
Jean F. Ackiss Retires from the University of Mount Olive on November 30

MOUNT OLIVE – Jean Fillingame was only 23 years old when Mount Olive College President Dr. W. Burkette Raper asked her to join the College as secretary to the president.   Jean remembers it well.  The year was 1965 and according to Jean unmarried women typically did not leave home for their careers.  To make her decision about whether or not to take the position, Jean sought the council of her earthly and heavenly fathers.

“My dad encouraged me to take the job and told me I could always come back home if I wanted to,” she said. “I always felt that God had a calling on my life, but I did not know what it was until Dr. Raper offered me this job.  After praying about it, I never questioned it or looked back.  I knew in my heart that this was God’s design.”

In the 1960s Mount Olive College was a young and fledgling institution and Jean soon discovered there was more work than she could get done in a day.

“Dr. Raper was relentless in seeking help for the College,” Jean recalled.  “He applied for every grant, government and otherwise that he could find, and we never applied for one that we failed to get.”

Jean was the one who had to keep all the grant records and paperwork.  It was a real learning experience for her.  She came to work early and worked many long evenings to keep up with the constantly growing work load.

“I had many people ask me how I could work for Dr. Raper because he was so demanding,” Jean recalled.  “Somehow God showed me that in the early days of the College Dr. Raper had no choice.  To simply survive was to do what was necessary.  I was raised on a farm and that taught me that when the tobacco is ripe, you have to harvest the crop.  You can’t wait.  The work of the College couldn’t wait.  Dr. Raper saw no choice, and I understood.”

After years of watching and learning from Dr. Raper, in 1978 Jean was promoted to director of Church Support and was given the responsibility of working with the Original Free Will Baptist (OFWB) Church in seeking financial support for the College and building a strong relationship between the College and the Church.

“This began a whole new world for me.  I traveled all over eastern North Carolina and visited in the homes and the churches of our OFWB people,” Jean said.

By this time, Jean had married the love of her life, Bob Ackiss.  Jean was 33 years old when she married Bob.  He had three children ranging in age from 12 to 20.  Jean loved those children and later her and Bob’s grandchildren, with all of her heart.

“Naturally, getting married changed my lifestyle and affected my work,” Jean said. “But there was no conflict.  I adapted very well with the changes.  I was most blessed to have found a husband who also felt that my work with the College was my calling in life.  Bob supported me completely and participated fully with me.”

Over the years Bob would often travel with Jean during the College dinner season.  The couple relished the time together and the time spent getting to know people of the OFWB denomination.  In fact, building meaningful and lasting relationships with people is perhaps Jean’s most important legacy.

“It has also been the most rewarding part of my work,” she shared. “In the OFWB Church, building relationships with people is more important that raising money.  If people don’t believe in you and the work you are doing, you won’t be able to get their financial support.”

From the beginning Jean believed in the work of the College, and people respected the sincerity and integrity with which she worked.

“The longer I worked, the more I realized that the College and the Church were co-laborers together,” she shared.  “The OFWB Convention brought this institution into being for a specific purpose and we must remain true to our mission to help people develop physically, mentally, and spiritually so that they can fulfill their purpose in life.”

In her 50 years at Mount Olive College, now the University of Mount Olive, Jean has accumulated many memories.  She has witnessed the technological revolution, which greatly changed both work flow and communication.  She has seen the campus grow from one building to a 135+ acre campus with many buildings and athletics fields.  She has worked for numerous supervisors, has worked with several assistants, and has mentored countless students.  Jean has driven at least 10,000 miles every fall during the church dinner season, often using back roads and crossing county lines to reach various OFWB churches.  She has eaten more barbecue than she cares to remember, and not nearly as much chocolate cake as she would like.  Those that know Jean well know that she loves chocolate!  But the memories she treasures most are the ones she has of the people she has met along the journey.

“I love people and love working with people,” Jean said.  “Some of my closest friends have come because of my work at UMO.  You can’t put a price on these relationships.  The love and trust we build with others is something that no one can take away from us and I believe my life has been blessed with a double portion of love and trust with others.”

Jean has received many awards and accolades for her work, but true to her personality, she was too modest to talk about them.  One thing that she did mention, which deeply touched her was when the Board of Trustees surprised her with an all-expenses paid trip to the Holy Land.  The year was 1987, and among her other duties Jean had served as assistant secretary to the Board for 19 years at that time. The cost of the trip was underwritten by personal gifts from the Board and friends.

“I had always dreamed of going to the Holy Land, but had never expressed this desire to anyone.  This was probably the most humbling experience I have ever had,” Jean expressed.

On November 30, 2015 Jean Fillingame Ackiss retired from the University of Mount Olive after a 50-year career at the institution.  It was a bittersweet day, one filled with mixed emotions.

“I never thought about how long I would stay,” Jean said.   “However, the years flew by and it just happened with the passing of time. I have learned and grown so much in this work and it just became a part of me.”

When asked how she would like to be remembered, Jean said, “I would like to be remembered as one who loved deeply and encouraged others, wherever and whenever that encouragement was needed.”

As for the future, Jean hopes to spend more time with her family, attend all the UMO events that she can, do things for people who need a helping hand, and do a little traveling.

“I do not want to fill my calendar with ‘things,’” she said.  “I still want to make a difference!”

As Matthew 25:23 states, “…Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College.  For more information, visit old.umo.edu.