Taking a Chance: An Alma Mater Shared
It’s a subject nearly as old as time itself: The teenagers think they know everything and the adults just know they don’t. “Kids these days,” adults say from generation to generation, and lament about everything from the music that young people listen to the clothes they wear. Sometimes, though, as in the case of Dr. Joel ’69 and Roberta “Kay” Cocklin ’70, it turns out that the “kids” knew exactly what was right.
Joel and Kay Cocklin met all the way back in the sixth grade in Westminster, Maryland and quickly became friends. They were born to what Kay said were “mothers of great faith,” the kind who worked hard both physically and in guiding their children down the right path. Joel lost his father, a pastor who graduated from Findlay College in 1940, when he was only eight years-old, and his mother was then faced with raising their four children—ages eight through 20—on her own, working three jobs to support the family. Kay’s father left her family when she was in eighth grade. Their mothers’ strength, along with their strong faith, Kay said, sustained both families through the difficult times.
It wasn’t until their senior year in high school that Joel and Kay started dating, and toward the end of that year, they each met with a guidance counselor individually to discuss their plans going forward. It was at these meetings where they were given advice that turned out to be very wrong. “We were advised to skip college,” Kay said. “We were told by the guidance counselor that we would both be unsuccessful if we attended college.”
And like the bullheaded teens they were, teens who surely knew more than their counselor, they defied his advice. Kay decided to stay near home and applied to a beauty academy to start her education in the summer of that year. Joel applied right away to Findlay College, was accepted and arrived on campus in the fall of 1965. Despite what his counselor had told him, Joel became a very successful student nearly right away, making the dean’s list in just his second semester. He enjoyed his success at Findlay College so much, in fact, that he started working on convincing Kay to join him on campus. Kay applied and traveled to Findlay for Homecoming of 1966. While there, she was told by the Dean of Students that she had been accepted. She joined Joel at the College in January of 1967, leaving their guidance counselor’s ill-fated advice thoroughly behind.
Among the more interesting things about the Cocklins’ UF story is the way campus life was from the mid-60s to the early 70s. It was a time of social unrest, and, for the first time in the nation’s history, young people were regularly and openly voicing their displeasure at what was happening. “There was a lot of turmoil across the country on many campuses. I remember a time of draft card burning that happened behind Old Main close to the large tree that still stands there,” Kay said. “I participated in a student march on the home of President Frick in disagreement with a decision he had made about not allowing classes to be canceled to recognize the passing of President Eisenhower. I also participated in a sit-in in the lobby of Shafer Library when a fraternity student was arrested during the march on the President’s home.”
But there was also good college fun to be had, including cafeteria food fights, flooding the hallways with fire hoses and the event that everyone looked forward to the most, according to the couple: Homecoming. “Every organization worked for months on preparing their floats for the parade on the day of the game,” Kay reminisced. “There were ‘Sweethearts’ chosen by each organization who rode in a parade down Main Street, and all of the female students wore these gorgeous huge yellow mums as corsages. On the evening after the game there was a Homecoming dance held in the AMU. It was after the dance in 1968 that Joel proposed to me.”
And now, some 50 years later, the two have three grown children and seven grandchildren. Dr. Joel Cocklin is the Vice President of Academic Advancement and Academic Dean at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, where he also serves as the Director of the Master of Arts in Practical Theology degree program, and, after 30-plus years of teaching every grade from kindergarten up, Kay retired from teaching and is now finishing up a degree at Winebrenner. The couple looks back on their time at Findlay College fondly, and are still supporters of the University. “We love our alma mater and participate as much as possible since moving back to Findlay in 2009,” Kay said. “In our own small way, we have tried to support various programs with financial assistance, and have encouraged our grandchildren to take advantage of the Campus Ministries’ summer camp, The Well.”
So, the subjects of this story, the hardscrabble kids who came to Findlay to follow in a father’s footsteps and prove their guidance counselor wrong, turned out to be a shining example of the wonderful results that dogged determination and steadfast love can bring about.