Board of Trustees welcomes three to its ranks

Betty Norton named trustee emerita

Brenau Trustee Emerita Betty Verson Norton, WC’52.

The Brenau University Board of Trustees experienced some change through the last season, as three new members joined its ranks and longtime trustee Betty Verson Norton was made a trustee emerita.

The three newest members are Brenau alumna Jill Mansfield, president of Ramsey Properties, Fiftyeight Interiors and Jill Mansfield Interiors; Lydia Sartain, experienced trial lawyer and partner at Stewart, Melvin & Frost; and Tim Knight, president of Knight Commercial Real Estate.

“Brenau has been blessed with a Board of Trustees who, individually and collectively, carry a commitment, pride and passion for the university and all it represents to the communities we serve and, most importantly, our students,” says Pete Miller, board chairman. “Carrying on that tradition of excellence, the board is honored to welcome our newest trustees, Jill, Tim and Lydia, and look forward to their presence making a difference.”

Norton first joined the board in 1985 and was recently joined on the board by her son, Frank Norton Jr. Their relationship with the university dates back further, however. Her mother, Dr. Isabel Verson, was a professor of Spanish at the college for a decade, on the lower floor of the Jewell Building. Read more about the Nortons in “Tending the Roots,” Brenau Window, Winter 2017.

Jill Ramsey Mansfield, BU’15

Brenau Trustee Jill Mansfield, BU’15

Some of Mansfield’s earliest memories include visiting the Brenau campus with her mother, Dixie Chester Ramsey, who attended Brenau. Ramsey’s passion for Brenau led her and her husband, Wilbur, to create The Ramsey-Chester Endowed Scholarship Fund that supports students seeking a nursing degree. An only child, Mansfield’s early memories of her parents include the two volunteering countless hours and resources to the community that her family has called home since the early 1800s.

“One very important example of their desire to help others was when my family, along with Grace Episcopal Church, sponsored a Cambodian refugee family of about 14 people,” she recalls. “My family gave them a place to live and work, and Mama even taught them to speak English along with some Southern slang like ‘Miss Dixie’ and ‘y’all.’ To this day they have been eternally grateful and are all now American citizens.”

Wilbur predeceased Dixie, who passed away in 2010. In the last days of Dixie’s life, she asked Mansfield to support Brenau and the scholarship fund. Mansfield assured her mother that she would.

Today, Mansfield’s enthusiasm for Brenau goes beyond supporting the wishes of her mom. Mansfield’s undergraduate alma mater is the University of Georgia, but shortly after the death of her mother, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an interior designer and knew that Brenau was the best choice.

“After looking at the Brenau program, I was so impressed that I decided to enroll,” she says. “This five-year experience changed my life in many ways. Not only was it extremely challenging, but it was rewarding beyond my wildest dreams. The professors were wonderful and the personal attention that every student received was impressive. I met so many wonderful women, including several international students that I’m very close to now. One of my friends who I met in the program now works in my company. This experience was so rewarding that I, too, developed a passion for the school.”

Mansfield experienced immediate success with Jill Mansfield Interiors, and in 2017 she partnered with an Atlanta designer to form Fiftyeight Interiors, which has clients across the Southern U.S. and Cabo, Mexico. The company soon will launch Showroom 58, which will represent over 10 modern furniture and lighting lines.

Mansfield’s husband, John E. Mansfield, Jr., created the $50,000 Jill Ramsey Mansfield Opportunities Fund for Interior Design to honor his wife and to provide support for the Interior Design program through the earnings of the fund.

Mansfield says one of the biggest reasons she accepted the invitation to join the Brenau University Board of Trustees is because, “I attribute so much of my success to the excellent educational experience that Brenau provided me, and hope I can give back to the university in many ways for years to come.”

Lydia Jackson Sartain

Brenau Trustee Lydia Sartain

Sartain’s family roots run deep in the mountain soil of Northeast Georgia as her family has been a part of the Blairsville, Georgia, community for more than nine generations. Like her father and grandfather before her, she graduated from Young Harris College. She then attended Mercer University where she received her undergraduate degree and then law degree from the university’s Walter F. George School of Law. While attending law school, Sartain distinguished herself by clerking for a tax law professor and by being elected the first female Student Bar President in the history of the law school.

A few years later, in 1986, she smashed another glass ceiling as she was elected the first female solicitor in Georgia as well as garnering the recognition for being the youngest person ever to fill that role. She was later re-elected for the post without opposition where she served until being appointed by then-Gov. Zell Miller to serve as the director of the Office of Children and Youth. In this office she administered a multimillion dollar grant program targeting juvenile delinquency and neglect. She also was responsible for overseeing juvenile detention centers for the Department of Justice.

In 1993 Sartain was appointed District Attorney for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit (Hall and Dawson Counties). She was re-elected twice and during this time she earned accolades including “40 under 40” by Georgia Trend magazine, Leadership Georgia, Rotary Club of Gainesville Vocational Excellence Award, the Silver Shovel Award from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the Gainesville Kiwanis Youth Service Award. She served as president of the Gainesville-Northeastern Bar Association and was named by Chief Justice Norman Fletcher to the State Bar Disciplinary Committee where she served two terms.

In 2002 she joined prominent Gainesville law firm Stewart, Melvin & Frost, where she directs the family law practice. She has been a mediator for several years and in March 2017 she was recognized by Atlanta magazine as being selected a “Top Attorney in Georgia” by her peers.

Active in a variety of community organizations, Sartain lives in Gainesville with her husband Phillip, also an attorney, and their three daughters. She and Phillip recently established The Phillip and Lydia Sartain Endowment Fund for Community Engagement that they plan to fund over the next few years. With a goal of $50,000, the fund’s earnings will be used to assist Brenau in developing programs and curricula to address social issues and to support students who plan to apply their education in the field of social, family and children services.

“Phillip and I believe wholeheartedly in preparing young women to lead and make a difference in this world, especially in the area of social justice,” she says. “Brenau’s mission and its location in North Georgia align perfectly with our vision, life work and legacy. I am proud to join the Board of Trustees as we oversee this important work.”

Tim Knight

Brenau Trustee Tim Knight

Brenau University President Ed Schrader’s enthusiasm and vision for growing Brenau impresses Knight, who manages his own commercial real estate company that specializes in commercial brokerage and development of retail investment properties, mixed-use developments and multi-family projects.

He and Schrader met through their Sunday school class at First Baptist Church, Gainesville. The two became better acquainted as they worked together to secure a 16.8-acre tract of land from South Carolina-based Pacolet Milliken Enterprises Inc. for the development of a multipurpose athletics park at the site of the historic New Holland textile mill village about two miles northeast of the university’s main campus.

With more than 30 years of experience working in the commercial real estate industry, Knight began his career working for a large apartment developer of 14,000 units in the mid-1980s. From there, he worked for 13 years at Ben Carter Properties, where he served in roles including CFO, COO and senior vice president of Land Investments. During his tenure there, he was involved in the planning and development of over 8 million square feet of Class A retail shopping centers and office buildings for six sites in three states including the Mall of Georgia. Since 2006, Knight has owned his own firm and continues to specialize in retail development, mixed-use development, commercial brokerage and commercial real estate consulting. His latest project was the creation and successful development of the 225,000-square-foot North Lake Square Shopping Center in Gainesville, anchored by Academy Sports, Hobby Lobby, Home Goods, Burlington, Chipotle and several other national retailers.

Knight, a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in finance, and his wife, Bev, also teach a young adult Sunday school class, and he is involved in international mission work. The couple has two sons and two grandsons, all living in the Atlanta area.

Knight is honored to be a member of the Brenau University Board of Trustees. “I feel like Brenau is somewhat of a hidden gem and Dr. Schrader is revealing that gem to the world,” he says. “My wife and I chose to move to this community 13 years ago. We love the community, and we love living here. If I can use some of my knowledge, experience, and network of contacts in the business community to help Brenau grow and thrive, then I am helping the community I love. I want to see Brenau become the only choice in private education for the region’s best and brightest students.”

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