Baylor Legacy Award: Sadie Jo Black

October 5, 2010
Whether or not they realize it, every Baylor student benefits directly from the work of Sadie Jo Black, BS '50. The former assistant professor of home economics (now family and consumer sciences) decided Baylor's beauty was worth preserving for all generations to come. Her desire for beautifying Baylor stems from her lifetime of love for the university -- and for flowers.

"Baylor was just instilled in me as a child," she says. "I was supposed to come to Baylor and major in home economics and my brother was to come and major in finance and banking, and we never questioned it.

"Growing up [near Teague, Texas], I lived on a ranch, and when wildflowers would bloom, I would go pick them," says Black, who is known for her keen sense of humor. "Or if weeds were blooming, I would pull them up and plant them in the front flowerbeds, which wasn't exactly the plan my mother had for the yard."

Black says Baylor once had its own nursery with many flowers available.

"In the spring, gladiolas were there and we could call over and order a dozen pink glads and they would deliver them," she remembers. "But time has a way of changing things, and the people in charge of the nursery were not able to keep up that amount of work. After the nursery closed, we just had next to no flowers, and so I had seen Baylor both ways."

That's why she decided to ensure Baylor is never without her beloved blooms again.

"I was in a meeting with Baylor administrators, and I told them that I had considered putting Baylor in my will," she says. "But I decided if I did that, Baylor might repair a sewage line. I wanted my money to be above ground and not underground," quips Black.

After making her request to endow a garden, the administrators asked Black what she intended to plant.

"I said, 'Well, I think that we'll plant vegetables. I would like corn. I think that would be pretty, and okra has a way of curling up as it dries.' I said, 'By all means, cantaloupes and we'll have the green and gold. I'd like to build a little vegetable stand on the corner of 7th and Speight to sell our produce so we can have flowers next year.' They looked at each other like, 'What do we have on our hands?'"

She was just kidding, of course. Today, just as she shared those wildflowers with her family at her childhood home, Black provides flowers for the Baylor family where everyone can enjoy them -- this time, without weeds. In 2005, the Sadie Jo Black Endowed Gardens were established on Founders Mall, between Waco Hall and Pat Neff Hall.

Although Black plans up to two years in advance which flowers will adorn Founders Mall and other locations, she has done much more than work in the garden. After planting seeds of knowledge over 35 years as a Baylor professor from 1957 to 1992, she continues to support the academic endeavors of the university through numerous endowed scholarships in honor of her brother, sister-in-law and parents. She has also established personal endowment funds, including the Sadie Jo Black Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Students in Medical Research.

Dr. Kevin Pinney, professor of chemistry, is a direct beneficiary of Black's support for research. As a synthetic organic chemist specializing in cancer research, Pinney is developing vascular disrupting agents aimed at denying tumors the oxygen and nutrients they need for survival and growth. Pinney and Baylor associate professor Dr. Mary Lynn Trawick are part of an informal network of scientists working to win a federal green light for their research into vascular targeting.

Baylor students participate in the research as part of Pinney's compound-synthesizing group in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. A variety of Baylor-discovered compounds are presently licensed for development to Oxigene, Inc., a NASDAQ-listed biopharmaceutical company in South San Francisco, Calif.

"It's really good for the student to see the whole process," Pinney says, "to see [in drug development] how the chemistry comes together, the biology comes together, [as well as] public perception, finances, intellectual property."

Black was especially interested in Pinney's work and created the W. Dial Black Endowed Family Lecture Series, which brings renowned experts in cancer research to campus to interact with students, faculty and staff.

"My mother, brother and sister-in-law were cancer patients, and also, I'm a cancer patient, so I thought just a few pennies might help," says Black. "I've been so impressed with Dr. Pinney. He's so down to earth and intelligent."

Among her many honors and associations, Black is a member of the Old Main Society, the Baylor Retired Professors and First Baptist Church, Waco. For her exemplary service and philanthropy to Baylor, she was awarded the James Huckins and Pat Neff medallions within the Baylor University Medallion Fellowship. She is past president of the American Association of University Women.

The next time you pass through campus, pause for a while in the garden. Take in the beauty of God's creation. Appreciate the thoughtfulness of Sadie Jo Black. A subtle marker in her garden reads, "May all who enter the gardens find inspiration and peace." In the heart of campus, that short prayer pretty well sums up the heart of the Baylor experience. As one of Baylor's most devoted, Sadie Jo Black wouldn't want it any other way.

Read the Profiles:

Alumnus of the Year: J. Cary Gray
Young Alumna of the Year: Katie Wilhoit Kilpatrick
Pro Ecclesia, Medal Of Service: Dr. Bill Pinson
Pro Texana, Medal Of Service: Sen. Kirk Watson
Baylor Legacy Award: Sadie Jo Black
Baylor Legacy Award: Sue Holt Getterman
Baylor Legacy Award: Harold Riley
Baylor Legacy Award: Clifton Robinson
Baylor Founders Medal: Charles and Mary Alice Wise
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