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Major Gift Supports Band Practice Field Renovation
The late Cora Mitchell (second from left) is surrounded by friends and family at an Ole Miss football game: (from left) son Lance Mitchell, the donor, sister-in-law Helen Thomasson, family friend Marion Brown and niece Pat Thomasson.

The late Cora Mitchell was part of student-led efforts to bring the Pride of the South Marching Band back to the University of Mississippi during World War II. Now, a planned gift she established pays tribute to her involvement in the band.

Mitchell’s gift of $100,000 established the Cora T. Mitchell Fund that will benefit the Pride of the South’s practice field. The contribution will support efforts to renovate and maintain the band practice field, where upon completion, Mitchell’s name will be featured on the sideline.

“She never left a game at halftime,” said Pat Thomasson, Mitchell’s niece. “She wanted to be there to watch the band.”

A devoted sports fan, Mitchell was known to attend high school games on Friday and Ole Miss games on Saturday and then make it to New Orleans for a Saints game on Sunday.

She loved to watch the band during halftime because of her deep connection to it. Likewise, watching the UM band grow has been her passion since her college days.

“We greatly appreciate Cora’s vision in including the band in her gift,” said David Willson, director of bands. “Her contribution will have a remarkable impact on the development of the marching band practice field.”

Many student organizations were dissolved during the war due to decreasing enrollment. However, student demand brought the marching band back to campus.

Mitchell and her brother, Hugh Thomasson, were part of a key group of students who were instrumental in reuniting the marching band. After a successful meeting with administrators, the students were granted permission to go forward with their plans.

“While not all students could play instruments, some simply marched along with their fellow bandmates,” said Thomasson, reminiscing on family stories of the band. “My father marched but didn’t play an instrument. Aunt Knootsie was a student who marched and played.”

Affectionately referred to as “Knootsie” by family and friends, Mitchell was born in DeKalb, Mississippi, where her mother, a teacher, emphasized the importance of hard work and education. Mitchell graduated from Ole Miss in 1946 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, she then worked two decades as a math teacher in the Kemper County school system before teaching business at East Mississippi Community College for another 20 years.

An active member of her community and highly invested in each of her pupils, Mitchell was known to attend all her students’ class reunions. She regularly received cards from students, expressing her positive influence on their lives.

Mitchell also served as a vital member of the DeKalb historical group, which works to preserve the history of the town and its residents.

Thomasson recalls: “Cora was happiest when celebrating her Ole Miss Rebels with family.”

Mitchell’s estate gift awards her posthumous membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university opened the Lyceum doors to its first students. The society recognizes generous alumni and friends who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.

The Cora T. Mitchell Fund is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. Checks to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the fund noted in the check’s memo line, may be mailed to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. Gifts can also be made online at

For more information on supporting the Pride of the South and the project to improve the band practice field – located behind Band Hall/Department of Music and near the Oxford-University Stadium – contact Ron Wilson, development director, at 662-915-1755 or

For information on including Ole Miss in your estate, contact Byron Liles, senior director of gift planning, at 662-915-7601 or

By Caitlyn Clegg


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.