Class of 1968
Throughout the over 50 years of Jack Senterfitt ’68 and Trisha (Lyons) Senterfitt ’68’s shared life together, they see the imprint of Florida Presbyterian / Eckerd College.
They see it in Jack’s career as an attorney fighting for justice, and in his retirement role as a Santa Claus. They see it in Trisha’s activism in the ’70s for the integration of her children’s Atlanta public schools, and in her calling mid-life to become a Presbyterian minister.
They credit a strong foundation set by both of their parents, bolstered by the education they received at FPC/EC, for the drive they share to seek out ways to make a difference.
“We’ve shared our lives together successfully in a large part because of the people we became while we were there,” Jack says.
“We have a stamp on us that is a beautiful one,” Trisha adds.
They say the culture at FPC of encouraging critical thought and diversity of ideas made for one of the most stimulating experiences of their lives. Both of them especially remember FPC’s rigorous core program, and a letter they received requiring them to read a list of 40 books the summer before their first year.
“It was shocking, but we did it and we’ll never forget it,” Trisha says.
For their 40th Anniversary Class Reunion in 2008, the Class of 1968 Reunion Committee decided they wanted to ensure that Eckerd students would feel the spirit of the core program and a shared experience of learning long into the future. That resulted in a class gift to create The Class of 1968 Distinguished Visiting Scholar Endowment, which funds the shared summer reading and brings the author to Eckerd’s campus to lecture, discuss pedagogy, and meet informally with faculty and students. The Senterfitts point to their classmates Charlie Stripling ’68 and Sandy Ripberger ’68 as leading the charge.
“Academia changes, the approach changes,” Jack says. “But nevertheless, we want to feel like the essence of what we got out of that experience is still there and is being preserved.”
Ten years later, for their 50th Anniversary Reunion, the Senterfitts chaired the development committee and called each of their classmates personally asking for support for the endowment and encouraging attendance. Their class came through with a record-breaking gift of more than $1.6 million.
The Senterfitts say they think of their entire class as particularly special, but none more so than each other. They met each other their first year on campus and started dating sophomore year. Trisha studied abroad in Germany for her entire junior year; they wrote letters back and forth, and Jack asked his parents for an international phone call as his Christmas present that year. They married shortly after graduation.
The Army came calling before Jack could finish his first year at Vanderbilt Law. After being stationed for two years outside of Washington, D.C., the Vietnam War started to wind down and he was able to go back to Nashville to finish his degree.
After Jack graduated from law school, they built a life in Atlanta. Jack worked for a large corporate law firm; Trisha, who had previously been teaching German, took a break for more than a decade to raise their three children before going to seminary.
During Trisha’s time as a stay-at-home mom, she saw the problem of white flight in Atlanta just after integration. Schools were being shut down because white families were moving away. So she joined together with her peers in the nearby Black neighborhoods to advocate for busing and make sure all their children had a great experience in integrated Atlanta public schools.
When she went to seminary, she took that same attitude of inclusivity with her, pushing for marriage equality and acceptance of the LGBTQ community within the church in her work as a Presbyterian minister. She first worked as a pastor at the First Presbyerian Church of Atlanta, and then as the director of the Craddock Center, a ministry focusing on educational and cultural programs for children in Appalachia. Trisha says her time at FPC/EC gave her the confidence to speak up in any situation.
“I remember a seminary professor saying, ‘If ever you see or hear of a situation that is going to hurt another person, you step in,’” she says. “That is an opportunity to be God’s servant.”
Jack, as Santa for Santa America, visiting with special needs children.
Jack and Trisha during their senior year at FPC.
While Jack spent the majority of his career in corporate law—including a case that made its way to the Supreme Court—he also did pro bono work for Lambda Legal Defense, a civil rights law firm focused on expanding the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. One of the founders of Lambda Legal happened to be Cary Boggan ’65, a gay man and fellow Eckerd graduate who was a customer of Jack’s clothes-ironing business in College. Jack spent the last few years of his career as a Lambda Legal senior attorney, working to establish precedents that protected families with gay or lesbian parents.
“Being able to do that kind of work was just probably the most rewarding in my legal career,” he says. “Knowing that what I did was not just about somebody’s money, but it was affecting somebody’s life and giving people a future that they might not have had.”
Now retired, Jack spends much of the year as a professional Santa, delivering love, hope, and joy to children in North Georgia, from terminally ill children in hospitals to neighborhood kids.
Jack and Trisha say they feel grateful to be able to support Eckerd for a new generation of students, and for those students to in turn have the life-changing experiences that meant so much to them.
“We are so happy that Eckerd is continuing to bring that same opportunity to open the minds of everybody that comes on that campus, and to fill those open hearts and open minds with love,” Trisha says.