The University of Mississippi will rename a major campus building in honor of Donald R. Cole, a former student activist who returned to Ole Miss as a caring mentor and administrator for decades.
The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning board voted unanimously Thursday (Oct. 15) to rename the Martindale Student Services Center as the Martindale-Cole Student Services Center. The change was requested by Larry Martindale, former Ole Miss basketball player and longtime university supporter.
Cole retired in January after a storied career as a student, professor and administrator known for being a tenacious advocate for diversity and working tirelessly to encourage students of all backgrounds to find and pursue their passions at the university.
His longstanding contributions to student success at UM make Cole a clear and worthy namesake of a building dedicated to that mission, Chancellor Glenn F. Boyce said.
“Dr. Cole’s legacy can be seen, heard and felt all across this institution each and every day, so it’s very fitting that his name adorn the very building that so many students go to for support on our campus” Boyce said. “He embodies the care and embrace that many of our university family strive for in order to truly help each student reach their full potential during their time at Ole Miss.
“We’re so pleased that students, for generations to come, will continue having Dr. Cole at their side.”
The university’s resolution reads, “Believing that education is the ‘great equalizer’ and the central feature in the prevailing endurance of mankind, Dr. Cole is a stern advocate for education, particularly for minority students. He devotes his time and energy to projects and causes that promote the schooling, teaching, training and guidance opportunities of our children – particularly toward advanced degrees. Dr. Cole dedicated his life to portraying UM as a 21st-century institution and he is a stern advocate for the institution.”
A celebratory campus event to commemorate the renaming will be scheduled later.
Cole described the honor as “a surreal phenomenon” and said he wants to thank the Martindales and everyone who made it possible.
“Why me?” Cole said. “I’m speechless. Now I know what it means to have love returned. You didn’t have to, but you did. Although my thoughts about the matter will evolve over time, much of it will remain constant: I’m humbled, I’m appreciative, I can’t believe it. Hallelujah!
“When my feelings settle, I’m sure that I will have added much more to that list and to the divine providence that connected the university, myself and so many other wonderful people to make this naming possible. I’m grateful.”
The building opened in 1929 and for many years was where the university’s basketball teams, including Martindale, competed. Martindale gave the lead gift for its renovation in 1995. The Martindales have two children: son Bryan Martindale, who married Virginia Naryka – both Ole Miss graduates – and daughter Lauren, married to Mike Suhrbier. The Martindales have three grandchildren.
On one of his recent campus visits, Martindale was sitting inside the building reading the Daily Mississippian. He noticed a group of prospective students and their parents had gathered to go on a campus tour, and he decided to tag along.
“The student giving the tour did a fabulous job of talking about the campus and ended up spending about 10 minutes explaining the James Meredith statue,” Martindale said. “It just hit me that it would be nice if the building named for us could represent the diversity I saw in the students gathered for the tour.
“Susan and I had been talking about how to add even more meaning to the building.”
He met with the administration about his idea, which was enthusiastically received. He asked for suggestions for someone to honor by the naming opportunity. He and his wife were provided a list of possible honorees, and they immediately were drawn to Cole.
They have since gotten to know Cole well and are pleased to share the recognition with the longtime university leader.
“This is about all of us coming together,” Martindale said. “The building should represent who we are today and that this university is moving forward. Susan and I want to help with race relations on campus and also in Mississippi.”
Boyce expressed his gratitude to the Martindales for their continued leadership and support of the university over the years.
“We’re tremendously grateful for the many ways that Larry and Susan Martindale have supported the university and how they continue to engage as members of the Ole Miss family on important issues of campus life that help move our university forward,” he said.
The university’s request to the IHL notes Cole’s 50-year affiliation with Ole Miss and how the beloved educator is a natural fit for such an honor.
The Jackson native entered UM as a freshman in 1968. Not finding the university welcoming for students of color, he wanted to fix the situation. As a member of the Black Student Union, he presented administrators with a list of demands, asking for an end to overt racism, more opportunities for black students and staff, and the hiring of black faculty.
In 1970, he protested at a campus concert, was arrested and spent two nights in jail. He and seven other students were expelled.
It would have been easy not to return to the university, but Cole had unfinished business. That’s his best answer as to why he came back, anyway.
“I had not truly failed at anything, and I had come here to get a degree and I had failed to get a degree,” Cole said in an interview earlier this year. “I had left in disgrace, left with a jail certificate, and I had come here, not by myself, but come here representing so many others, and I suspect that I had feelings about letting so many other folks down, and maybe this gave me another shot at redeeming myself, and that’s the nearest that I can answer.”
Besides his roles as program director, grant writer, mentor and mathematics professor, Cole also served as a university administrator. Under Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat, he was named assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs.
He chaired the Chancellor’s Standing Committee on Sensitivity and Respect until last year; co-chaired the Extended Sensitivity and Respect Committee in 2013, which was initiated after an election night incident in 2012; and co-chaired the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context the last couple of years.
He’s found a home in Oxford. He and his wife, Marcia, have been married for more than 40 years, and have three children: Donald II, Mariah and William. He’s also a deacon and trustee of New Hope M.B. Church in Oxford.
The university and its students have benefitted from his quest to handle unfinished business that led to a 25-year career of teaching, research and service. When Cole retired, James Reid, chair and professor of mathematics, uncovered an eye-popping stat that speaks to Cole’s dedication for helping students.
“It was noted in that June/July 2009 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society that over one-third of the African Americans who received Ph.D.s nationally that year had graduated from this university in 2006,” Reid said.
“Dr. Cole was an essential contributor to this effort and recruited and mentored many of these students. He is a remarkable member of the Ole Miss family.”
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