A Team Since Freshman Days, The Bumpers Take Alumni Leadership
by Mary Wimberley
Bennie Bumpers and Sonja Johnson got to know each other while stuffing
tissue onto a Samford Homecoming float their freshman year. The
two 1963 graduates have been a team ever since. Marrying between
their junior and senior years, they raised two sons while Bennie
forged a successful career in risk management at Vulcan Materials
Their teamwork takes on a new dimension as they begin a two-year
term as co-presidents of the Samford National Alumni Association.
They succeed Rod '67 and Paula '69 Hovater, who passed the symbolic
mantle to the new leaders at the spring alumni council meeting in
Other new officers are Vice President Tom Armstrong '73, a financial
consultant with Merrill Lynch, Birmingham, and Secretary Brooke
Dill Stewart '95, an active Birmingham community volunteer and mother
One challenge they've all accepted is to increase the level of
Samford alumni giving, currently at 16 percent. The goal is to meet
or exceed the current national average of 25 percent reported by
private schools such as Samford.
"It's fortunate that Bennie works for a matching gift company,"
pointed out Sonja. "We need to encourage more alumni to check
their company's policy regarding matching gifts. It's hard not to
give when you know that your company will double your gift to the
Some companies may as much as quadruple a graduate's gift to an
alma mater. Vulcan is among numerous companies of all sizes and
categories of business that are sensitive to supporting higher education.
Bennie is from Jackson in Clarke County, where he and Sonja make
frequent weekend getaways to a farm they've maintained.
He recalls that neither he nor Sonja had much time for campus activities
as students because they both worked their way through school. "I
worked in the bookstore, the cafeteria, and as a dorm counselor,"
said Bennie. "I also worked off-campus in a bank and a grocery
With Vulcan since 1967, he maintains a risk management staff of
14. He holds a Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriting [CPCU]
professional designation, and has been state president and national
director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society. He is also
on the risk management advisory boards at Samford and Jefferson
State Community College.
He is chairman of the Shelby County Civil Service Board, and is
active in the Cystic Fibrosis and Head Injury Foundation.
Sonja hails from Havana, near Tallahassee, Fla. Discovering Samford,
she admits, was "one of the smartest things I ever did. My
pastor in Havana was related to professor W. T. Edwards. He told
me about the school, I visited, and loved it from the beginning."
After enrolling at Samford, she joined Shades Mountain Baptist Church,
which was then housed in a small white building. Forty years later,
she and Bennie continue to worship at the church, now in a sprawling
complex at the same location.
Through the years, she taught kindergarten and preschool while
their sons, Shawn and Doug, were young. Now, when she and Bennie
aren't laying plans for the alumni council, she can be found on
the tennis court.