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James ’59 and Sharon ‘70 Brown: Full Circle

Jim Brown ’59 first spotted Sharon Devol from across the Shepherd University cafeteria at the beginning of his senior year and, turning to his friend Bunny Leonard ’59, said, “I think I’d like to meet her!” “Her?” said Bunny, who just happened to be dating Sharon’s roommate at the time. “Oh, I can definitely introduce you to her!”

Only six months later, following a whirlwind courtship, Jim and Sharon Devol Brown ’70 were married and preparing to move to Hancock, Maryland, where they would begin lifelong careers in education teaching physical education and coaching sports at Hancock High School. “We started together at Shepherd,” said Sharon, who was poised to serve as a princess in the 1959 Apple Blossom Festival grand feature parade, but used the money her parents – stationed at a military post in the Far East – sent for a gown to instead purchase the couple’s wedding rings. “Shepherd has been good to us. It gave us our careers, our stability, our sons, and our grandchildren. It made things happen in our lives that would never have happened otherwise.”

It was such self-reflection that prompted the couple to establish the James and Sharon Devol Brown Scholarship through the Shepherd University Foundation. Designated for student athletes majoring in education, with a preference for those who play basketball, the gift brings the couple full circle back to their roots. “Our life started here together and we felt it was time to put some energy into this program,” they said. The Browns had already spent decades enriching young lives. When the couple moved to Williamsport, Maryland, after seven years in Hancock, Jim took a job teaching physical education at North Hagerstown High School, where he also coached football and basketball, winning the state basketball championship in 1972.

Jim went on to develop a model program for the President’s Council for Fitness before taking on the roles of head basketball coach, athletic director, and Administrator of the Athletic Recreation Community Center (ARCC) at Hagerstown Community College, after raising private gifts and acquiring public funds for its construction. He spent the last 23 years of his career at HCC, retiring with a total basketball career record of 747 wins. Sharon, meanwhile, returned to Shepherd after delaying her degree in favor of marriage and motherhood, driving more than 100 miles roundtrip each day while raising the couple’s two sons, James and Barry. She went on to enjoy a fulfilling 34-year career with Washington County Public Schools in Maryland, teaching grades three through twelve.

Following retirement, the Browns shifted their focus to further philanthropic endeavors, with Jim leading the effort to raise funds for the stadium at North Hagerstown High School. The two also worked together with the Mason Dixon Council to raise money for the Sinoquipe Scout Reservation in Fort Littleton, Pennsylvania, as the Boy Scouts of America have long held a place in their hearts.

As they turned their attention back to their alma mater, however, the couple waxed nostalgic about what made Shepherd so special to them, with a special emphasis on its faculty. Sara Cree and William “Pappy” Thacher were among the professors they mentioned as role models, as was Professor James Hafer, who hired Sharon as his student secretary following her marriage. They also spoke fondly of Professor Veta Smith, a “wonderful and vivacious English teacher,” according to Sharon. Smith refused to let Jim drop her class when he was struggling in it, instead offering to tutor him one-on-one.

“There were some special faculty members [at Shepherd] who really got me through,” Jim noted ruefully.
It was this same spirit of devotion and tenacity that led the couple to dedicate their lives to helping young people, from teaching and coaching basketball to their involvement with the Boy Scouts to the various activities in which they participate with their five grandchildren. And now, with their endowed gift to Shepherd University, they feel like they’ve come home.
“Our life has been very blessed,” Sharon said. “The circles just keep coming around and around.”

To read more about the Browns’ story, please see the full article in the Development section of the Fall 2013 issue of Shepherd Magazine.