Hundreds of special guests from throughout Alabama – including the governor – converged on Jacksonville State University’s(JSU) campus in April for the inauguration of its 13th President, Dr. Don C. Killingsworth, Jr. But before the pomp and circumstance of a university investiture ceremony, the president gathered at his church, surrounded by friends and family, for a humble prayer service dedicating the day – and his tenure – to God.
Held early on inauguration morning at First United Methodist Church(FUMC) of Jacksonville, the Blessing Service was led by four local clergy: Rev. Steve West, pastor of FUMC Jacksonville; Rev. Robert Fowler, rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal of Jacksonville; Rev. Derek Staples, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville; and Rev. Fred Smith, pastor of The Bridge Christian Center in Anniston. “It’s a great pleasure to stand here with my esteemed colleagues who serve sister churches,” said Rev. West during the event. “I believe it is important as faith leaders to come together and express our comradery and our mutual support when there are important occasions that bind us together as a community. It says a lot about Don Killingsworth that we are here together today. In all the busy activities of this day, he wanted to make sure we pray.”
A two-time JSU graduate, Dr. Killingsworth was named President of the University on June 23, 2020, having served as acting president since October 2019. He has dedicated his entire career to JSU. Upon graduating from the University with a bachelor’s degree in geography in 1999 and a master’s degree in counseling in 2001, the former Student Government Association President worked for more than a year as a consultant for American College Testing, Inc., the provider of the ACT college entrance exam. Dr. Killingsworth returned to his alma mater in 2002 to support student success as coordinator of academic advisement. Soon after, he was named director of government relations by former President and mentor Dr. William Meehan. He was later promoted to chief government relations and community engagement officer. In 2016, he received a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Alabama.
A native of Alexander City, Ala., Dr. Killingsworth is married to JSU alumna Kristi Killingsworth. They have two children: a five-year-old daughter, Collins, and a two-year-old son, Jack. The family enjoys living on campus in the President’s House with their dog, Oliver. Their faith is an important part of their lives. They are active members of FUMC Jacksonville, where the children attend Sunday School and Mrs. Killingsworth serves on the Kids First board and helps with Vacation Bible School. Dr. Killingsworth, until recently, ran sound on Sunday mornings.
For an institution rocked by a catastrophic tornado in 2018, followed just two years later by a global pandemic, a steady leader with a strong foundation rooted in a higher power seems Heaven-sent for the university. Rev. Fowler remarked on the university’s ability to overcome obstacles while reading from Psalms 101 at the Blessing Service. “Leadership is challenging, that is no secret, and setting a positive example while motivating a staff and faculty is not for the faint of heart,” Rev. Fowler said. “I know Don is up to the task – we all do. He’s not only confident and optimistic, but he is supported by good people who care about making JSU a place where our young people, and even those at the school who aren’t so young, receive the training they need to meet life’s challenges.”
Rev. Staples spoke on the importance of servant leadership during the service, drawing similarities between Killingsworth and retired President Dr. Meehan, quoting Matthew 20:25-28, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Meanwhile, Killingsworth’s former college classmate, Rev. Smith, said becoming JSU’s president was a goal he set for himself 20 years ago. “This was a God inspired vision, a God inspired dream,” he said. The highlight of the service was a performance by the JSU Gospel Choir. Under the direction of Dr. Cory O’Neal, the student ensemble brought the congregation to its feet singing “I Owe It All” by Norman Hutchins. Piano and organ musical arrangements, including the hymn sung at Gamecock football games, “I’ll Fly Away,” rounded out the ceremony.
The Saturday before the inauguration, Easter Weekend, the First Family invited the entire community to the lawn of the President’s House for Family Fun Day. Children enjoyed an egg hunt, coloring with Cocky the mascot, storybook readings from the Imagination Library, Kona Ice, and a petting zoo. The event was such a success that the University is considering making it an annual celebration. Local families also enjoy a Fall Festival hosted by the Student Government Association each October, as well as kicking off the holiday season at JSU in Lights in December at the President’s House.
“JSU is a public institution with students and employees from all over the world,” President Killingsworth said. “We recognize and respect that the JSU family is comprised of people who hold diverse religious beliefs. It’s not our job to indoctrinate anyone, but rather teach our students to think critically so they can form their own opinions and sustain their own values. Personally, as it says in Joshua 24:15, ‘for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’’
-Courtesy Jacksonville State University