Bennye Alligood: “Santa Fe is My Life”

2012 Woman of Distinction

Bennye Alligood likes to say she grew up at Santa Fe College. She started her Santa Fe career as a work-study student for the audiovisual department, wheeling projectors and setting up film strips when she was 17.

“My dad and I were both students at the same time,” she recalls. “We drove in together and we even took some of the same classes. My family dragged me up here from Ft. Lauderdale so that my dad could change careers and enter the ministry. I thought Gainesville was the sticks.”

But she loved Santa Fe. She was the bright, personable, “can-do” girl who said “yes” every time she was asked to take on a new role. Type the course schedule? Sure. Work as one of two secretaries for the entire SF faculty? Why not? At 19, she was a supervisor.

Today, she serves the college as associate vice president for College and Community Relations. In that role, she takes on a variety of special projects for the President’s Office, and oversees Admissions and Recruitment, the Call Center, East Gainesville Instruction, College Relations, and the Student Ambassadors.

“I’m the cheerleader. I’m the one who finds the money and the people to do things,” Bennye says. “I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of person. Other people make me look good.”

And she still loves, loves, LOVES her work: “My life is Santa Fe. It’s so great to enjoy your job, to get up in the morning and be excited about your work, every day.”

When Bennye hired Beverly Polk for Human Resources 12 years ago, Polk says it wasn’t long before she started thinking of Bennye as “Miss Santa Fe.”

“What impressed me was how everybody came to her for advice,” says Polk, Benefits Manager. “She was just so involved. You could see right off the bat that Santa Fe was her heart. She had such a desire to make things work, and to make everybody feel like they were a part of Santa Fe. I thought of Bennye as Miss Santa Fe and Guy York as Mr. Santa Fe.”

Tim Nesler, associate vice president for Information Technology Services, says Bennye has been Santa Fe’s “go to” person for decades.

“She grew up with the institution and she became part of this institution, and now she’s carrying on part of that culture with her being here. The good parts,” Nesler says. “She gets along with people. She’s a good broker to bring the right people together to do stuff. If you want something done, give it to Bennye. Twenty five years ago that was true, and it’s still true today.”

Bennye has served as Interim vice president of Academic Affairs, Human Resources director (irony: “I never applied for a job in my life,” she says), and worked as support staff in the President’s Office as assistant to the president and as administrative assistant to the vice president for Academic Affairs. As she says, she worked for “the greats”: Bob Myers, Tal Mullis and Alan Robertson.

In more recent times, Bennye worked closely with Sante Fe’s board of trustees in the search for Santa Fe’s current president, Dr. Jackson Sasser. It was her voice, her passion for Santa Fe and beautiful North Florida, which piqued Sasser’s interest.

“He always says mine was the first voice he heard from Santa Fe and he could hear in my voice how much I loved the college,” she says.

Bennye’s been here so long, her stories have the aura of legend, and you can tell they’ve been told many times. She’s worked a total of 35 years for Santa Fe, all but two of those years full-time. She likes to say she “missed the ’80s,” when her family lived in Georgia for her husband Ralph’s job. During that time, she worked for an insulation company as a senior customer service rep.

When the Alligoods returned in 1990, Bennye came right back out to Santa Fe and was immediately rehired. When she went around campus to say hello after her decade-long absence, some people didn’t even realize she’d left. “They said, ‘they really need to let you out more,” she recalls.

Besides being an awesome cheerleader and facilitator of other’s efforts, she fosters the social bonding that make Santa Fe such a great place to work. She carries forward the “Santa Fe Family” culture of the college’s early days, a challenge to maintain as the college has grown.

“Bennye has provided that consistent connection to the early culture,” says Kim Kendall, assistant vice president of Academic Affairs. “She knows how to guide the college and keep it steady. She is unique, and she brings that uniqueness to bear for the college, and the college is better for it.”

In the beginning, Bennye says the college held classes “all over town,” in the old Buchholz High School, the old Lincoln High School, at the Hotel Thomas, the old post office, and the old Florida Farm Bureau Building.

“We were just everywhere. There was such a need,” she recalls. “The college was very innovative. The attitude was, ‘let’s try this.’ We weren’t afraid to take risks. We all worked together.” 

She remembers the anti-war protest days; the earliest leaders and their priorities; faculty who treated her like a daughter: Judy Block, Stuart McCrae, Ward Scott, Bliz Feldherr and Steve Lodle. “I feel like the faculty raised me,” she says. Back then, secretaries typed the course schedule and students came in person to register for classes. It was a huge production. The college was much smaller, things were much less formal, and the college was open to trying different things to see what worked.

“They were holding sit-ins at UF, and I remember we said, ‘have your sit-in at Santa Fe,’ and we served donuts and coffee,” she says.

Bob Myers gave her a lot of authority as a support staff person. Alan Robinson encouraged her to put together a policy manual in the late 1970s, which today is known as Santa Fe’s rules manual.

Now, she goes to the monthly lunches with Santa Fe’s retirees, and she was responsible for the college’s memorial patio honoring SF employees who’ve given 10 or more years to the college.

Bennye hired Martha Morton, who later became her sister in law. Morton retired last fall as another pillar of the college. She and Bennye worked together for 35 years.

“Bennye feels personal ownership for the college,” explains Morton, “so when things do happen, like graffiti on the wall or trash in the parking lot, that just burns her. The students are her kids; the faculty are her faculty. She is really good with procedures and policies, and making sure they get written. But at the same time, there’s a personal touch in what she does. She challenges people to be better by championing them. I think that’s really the biggest thing she does. And if you’ve done something, she’s good at giving you credit. She is a good supervisor.”

Morton says she doubts people realize how much Bennye does for her family.

“She takes care of her parents. Her grandchildren are very important to her. I don’t think the woman sleeps,” Morton says.

Bennye’s daughter Jennifer is a cardiovascular technologist at Shands Hospital. Her daughter Kelly teaches 10th grade at Union County High School and is the mother of 5-year-old Lily and 1-year-old Corbin. (Jennifer and Kelly are both SF alums.) Bennye’s parents, Joe and Jan Fulford, live next door to her home in Alachua. Morton lives across a field, and Debi McElroy lives behind Bennye. Bennye and her husband (also an SF alum) have been married for 38 years.

Bennye and Ralph enjoy hosting huge family gatherings featuring music and volleyball. She has 43 family members living in the immediate area. Her hobbies include reading, kayaking Florida’s rivers with Ralph (the Santa Fe River remains her favorite), bicycling, and traveling. She’s visited Alaska, Canada and Europe. She loves Florida’s beaches and our warm weather.  

In her current role, Bennye represents Santa Fe in Altrusa’s literacy efforts, including their pen pal program, Read-In for Literacy and Stuff the Bus, and serves on their board and on several Altrusa committees. She is also the only female member of the YMCA’s board of directors, and she does a lot of community work through Santa Fe’s East Gainesville Instruction (EGI).

“Every program we have offered, from tutoring, camps, literacy initiatives to curriculum changes in high schools, has thrived because of her support,” says Dr. Karen Cole-Smith, director of EGI. “Not only is she involved in developing and supporting these programs, but she takes a personal and active role as a mentor, counselor, advisor and literacy supporter.”

Four years ago, Bennye started mentoring Chevon Williams through the college’s Mentoring Mondays program. Now 18, Williams is on track to graduate from Eastside High School, having overcome many personal challenges to stay in school.

Bennye says Williams is like her third daughter. And from William’s perspective, that’s true as well.

“When they first introduced me to Bennye and said, ‘she’s your mentor,’ I didn’t even know what that meant,” recalls Williams, who says Bennye is now like a second mother/best friend. “She’s such a great person, and her personality is so alive, I felt great around her. I always call her or text her when something’s wrong, and she’s right there. Her main focus has always been me getting my diploma, graduating, and going to college.

“She is such a loving person. I don’t know how my life would be without her. She pushed me, and she made sure I didn’t give up on life. And now I’m about to graduate because of her. Every time I mention her, everyone just smiles.”

Event and ticket Information

For more information about Santa Fe College’s Women of Distinction Program, please click here or visit www.sfcollege.edu/wod.

This year, the WOD celebration will be held at Santa Fe’s Northwest campus, 3000 NW 83rd St., in the beautiful new Fine Arts Hall. The event features a program and a finely catered reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres and wine, and is scheduled for 4:30-7 p.m. Thursday, March 15.

Tickets are $35 for adults, $20 for students, and $10 for children 12 and under, and may be purchased online or by calling 352-395-4181.

For more information, please contact Event Coordinator Cheryl Farrell at 352-395-5181.

CONTACT:

  • Julie Garrett, media relations, for general information about the Women of Distinction recognition program and for the honorees’ contact information, high res images, etc. – 352-395-5430 (office) or 352-870-2924 (cell) or email julie.garrett@sfcollege.edu
  • Cheryl Farrell, for information about the WOD event, 352-395-5181 or cheryl.farrell@sfcollege.edu