The late Jim and Norma Reagan held the University of Mississippi close in their hearts, and an estate gift ensures their legacies will live on through scholarships for chemical engineering students.
The couple established the Jimmy M. and Norma S. Reagan Engineering Scholarship Endowment in 2016, and the recent estate gift brought their total contributions to almost $123,000.
“The school is grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Reagan for establishing this scholarship endowment,” said Dave Puleo, dean of the School of Engineering. “We appreciate how they saw how an Ole Miss Engineering degree benefited Mr. Reagan’s career, and now their generosity will help future generations of chemical engineers reap the same rewards.”
The Reagans lived on the Oxford, Mississippi, campus, while Jim Reagan pursued his master’s degree, and then moved to Port Arthur, Texas, for his work as a chemical engineer with Texaco. In 1977, they moved to Houston, where they remained for the next 42 years.
“My dad was in the first group of chemical engineers to use computers at Texaco,” said daughter Miriam Wattenbarger, who is a senior lecturer in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. “He volunteered for computer training in Houston in the early 1960s. When he moved to Texaco corporate headquarters in Houston, he forecasted the production of refinery products at Texaco plants using computer programs. He always enjoyed working with computers.
“Dad talked about engineering professor Frank Anderson as being very personable and friendly,” she said. “He was a mentor and dad looked up to him. Dr. Anderson was his most influential professor at the university.”
Jim and Norma Reagan had been donors to Ole Miss since 1982, and they had also generously supported the Dr. Frank A. Anderson Engineering Endowment.
Daughter Sarah O’Dell of Asheville, North Carolina — an organization development consultant and leadership coach at O’Dell Consulting LLC — said the university meant a great deal to her parents: “It was always dear in their hearts because it was one of the first places they lived early in their marriage. They had their first child there and made great friends. It was a special time for them.”
Wattenbarger agreed, saying, “They had a very happy time at Ole Miss. They made a lot of friends that they kept in touch with all their lives.”
When asked what they would like future scholarship recipients to know about their parents, Wattenbarger said, “They wanted to give back to Ole Miss because it was so influential in my dad’s career. They greatly supported education and liked to help other people. They always supported charities.”
O’Dell said, “They were wonderful parents — people of strong faith, very loving and kind. Learning was very important to them. My mom graduated top of her class.
“We’re all very happy that they funded the scholarship,” she said of herself and her siblings. “I hope students who receive the scholarships can further their education and go on to make an impact on the world. I hope the scholarships make a difference in their lives.”
Jim Reagan grew up in Carthage, Mississippi, and graduated with an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Mississippi College in 1951. He began work at a laboratory in Jackson, Mississippi, but was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in Korea.
Norma Reagan, a native of Laurel, Mississippi, graduated from Blue Mountain College, where she earned double majors in history and English. After college, she went to work as a church secretary in Carthage. As she reviewed the offerings each week, she saw that one member, Jim Reagan, faithfully submitted his tithe from his station in Korea.
Norma Reagan met her future husband’s parents, Mack and Bonnie Jean, at church and spent an evening at their home. The mom started writing to her son about the new young church secretary. After serving for 17 months in the Army and having been appointed sergeant, Jim Reagan was discharged and returned to Carthage in 1953. The two met at a pecan shelling party, began courting and were married April 17, 1954. Jim Reagan earned his master’s degree at Ole Miss in 1958.
The couple was active in their church and volunteered for mission work in Mexico and Nigeria. After Jim Reagan retired, the couple traveled extensively together, touring China, Australia and countries across Europe. They were married for 65 years, with Norma Reagan passing away in May 2019 and Jim Reagan in March 2021.
In addition to Wattenbarger and O’Dell, the Reagans are survived by two other children: David Mack Reagan of Nederland, Texas; and Martha Ellen Reagan of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and four grandchildren.
The Jimmy M. and Norma S. Reagan Engineering Scholarship Endowment is open for gifts from individuals and organizations. Checks can be sent to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the scholarship name written in the memo line, at 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online at https://give.olemiss.edu.
To learn more about providing support to the UM School of Engineering, contact Greg Carter, associate director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-1849.
By Tina H. Hahn, UM Development