Make It Your Own at NWU
Most days, rising sophomore Emalie Wightman ’24 climbs the stairs of Old Main or returns to her dorm room in Johnson Hall with her mind on a macroeconomics exam, her partially drafted English essay, or how she will improve her short game in her next golf match. However, on some otherwise unremarkable days, her thoughts stretch back generations: “I’m definitely not the first person in my family to make this walk.”
For four generations, Emalie’s family has found belonging at Nebraska Wesleyan. But Emalie didn’t pick NWU because of her family’s legacy. Emalie was drawn to the personalized academics, nurturing community and opportunity to continue with athletics. She didn’t feel pressure to conform or surrender to the legacy—this wasn’t the place for that. Just as they had for her parents—Anna (Castner) ’89 and Jack ’89—aunts, uncles and grandparents, the campus’s welcoming spaces and seemingly endless resources lay before her. With that knowledge tucked in her back pocket, Emalie set out to make the campus her own.
Students milled around the storied hallways of Old Main, searching for classrooms. Anna Castner ’89 took her seat for first-year English. She reflected on how she’d ended up here, recalling the evening her mother sat down for dinner and smiled, “I have great news: you got into Nebraska Wesleyan.”
Anna replied, “I don’t remember applying.”
“You didn’t. I did.”
Her mother, Emalie “Kay” (Whitney) Castner ’57, had hatched a plan to see her youngest in gold and brown. At the time, Anna hadn’t worried much about the future. She didn’t know she would end up thanking her mother a thousand times over.
“It worked; whatever she had cooked up, it worked for me.”
The professor stood before a dusty green chalkboard and initiated obligatory first-day introductions. It was then she heard the name “Jack Wightman” for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.
Emalie wasted no time chasing her passions and blazing her own trail at NWU. As the first Wightman on the golf team, and one of two first-year students on the team, Emalie was understandably nervous. Despite those first-day jitters, she quickly found connection and acceptance among the other golfers.
“It was great to know that I had friends right away, those built-in friends. We have a connected interest already,” she explained, recalling group texts and weekend tournament travels.
“I think we’re going to be competitive next year in conference. I’m really excited,” she said, optimistic for the future of Women’s Golf. “I feel like basketball and track at NWU, they’re really established programs. Being an All-American in track is super, super cool, and so many NWU athletes achieve that recognition—their program is so good. I feel like if we could get the golf program to somewhere like that, that would be really cool.”
Emalie knows that Head Women’s Golf Coach, Ryan Norman, is the right person to propel the program forward. Norman coached Emalie in high school and joined the program just before Emalie in the Spring of 2020. Emalie found out he had accepted the job just after she committed to play golf for NWU.
“He didn’t tell me or anything, and then he got the job. It was crazy.” She describes him as goal oriented, always plotting their next 10 Step Plan to Win Conference and encouraging the team to “aim as high as we can go.”
The longevity and success of collegiate athletic programs are made possible through the dedication of players, coaches and institution alike. Long-term investments, like gifts to Nebraska Wesleyan's endowment, ensure that future-thinking coaches like Norman are paid for their time. With Coach Norman at the reigns and three talented first years joining the roster this fall, Emalie foresees a successful season, maybe even a run at the conference title.
“I know he definitely has big plans for the program,” said Emalie, who contributed to the lowest two-day score the team has shot since 2017. “I’m excited.”
The air was sticky, like it always is on move-in day. Kay Whitney (Emalie’s grandmother and namesake) had already settled into her first-year dorm room in Johnson Hall. She listened intently to the orientation presentation as the dean of women presented guidelines to the newest coeds: a 9:00 p.m. curfew for first years under 21, “calling” hours strictly between 4:00 and 6:00, and a dress code of “conventional clothing at all times.” Nearly 100 new Johnson Hall residents hummed along tentatively as the dean of women presented a jingle to remember their phone numbers: “Johnson Hall is my home, 62375 is my phone. . . .” Constructed in 1948, Johnson stands elegantly on campus—a symbol of changing times and growth. The building, a compliment to the university’s commitment to academic excellence, only elevated the sense of community among residents. Kay, a member of only the fifth wave of women to inhabit the first dormitory on campus, wondered what the future might bring.
Today, Emalie rests her head in Johnson Hall—the same place her maternal grandmother, Kay, and her paternal grandmother, Janet (Hyde) Wightman ’63, resided decades earlier. The residential education facility has always functioned as a social hub; students can often be found lounging in the common areas or pulling all-nighters in their garden-level rooms. Emalie and her roommate, Libby, took to painting canvases, studying in the basement (shared with Pioneer) and taking pride in their corner room. “We loved our room, we thought ours was one of the cooler ones on our floor.” Johnson Hall was renovated in 2012, elevating the oldest dormitory on campus to modern standards of comfort, safety and accessibility. Emalie has found belonging and built relationships in Johnson Hall, and her desire for a well-rounded college experience extends to the classroom.
As a graduate of a small high school, Emalie saw Nebraska Wesleyan as a catalyst for academic exploration. “We didn’t have a lot of electives, so I liked being able to choose topics I haven’t been able to study before.” She took advantage of her Economics professor’s Zoom office hours, a demonstration of NWU’s commitment to creative problem-solving.
Her Archway Seminar on James Baldwin—prolific American author, unafraid to approach the intricacies of race and sexuality—broadened her worldview, teaching her to discuss complex and important issues with consideration and care. Professor of History Kevin Bower taught the course and served as Emalie’s first-year academic advisor.
“He was really helpful, giving me suggestions for classes,” Emalie recalled. “Everyone always says, ‘Go to your professors’ office hours, they really want to talk to you,’ but I feel like at Nebraska Wesleyan that’s actually true.” NWU makes personalized academic attention readily available for all students through one-on-one advising and prioritizes academic mentoring.
Bower encouraged Emalie to enroll in History of Policing, a course that coincided with the culmination of the Derek Chauvin trial. Emalie attended a virtual dialogue the day the verdict was delivered. The dialogue, part of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Prairie Wolf Civil Conversations Initiative, is an example of Nebraska Wesleyan’s commitment to increasing resources and support for all members of the campus community. “I appreciated how many faculty members were there,” said Emalie, “It really showed the community at NWU; how many people were there to support each other.”
As she enters her sophomore year, Emalie plans to declare majors in English and Economics. Family members—including aunts Jill Wightman ’93 and Gail (Stoddard) Wightman ’90, uncle Jeff Wightman ’90, great aunt Marla (Carter) Wightman ’65 and great uncle Tom Hyde ’73—who attended NWU before her each pursued their own academic paths, becoming medical professionals, lawyers, artists and policy professionals. Like many family members before her, Emalie receives financial support through academic and need-based scholarships. Staples of her NWU experience, including Golf and a potential short-term study abroad, are possible because alumni like Emalie’s parents, grandparents, and others before them give back.
“Even though we’re a family that’s gone to Nebraska Wesleyan,” Emalie’s mother Anna said, “it’s still allowed each of us to carve our own paths and do our own thing and have successful careers. We’ve all been able to make it our own.”
Ten unmistakable clangs of church bells rang out across campus. Edith Whitney ’30 fell in line with professors and students alike as they filed into C.C. White Memorial Building, just north of Old Main, for Daily Chapel. Students who had skipped out on the service were easy to spot—scattered seats stood empty among rows of sleepy college students sitting in alphabetical order, and hall monitors were actively on the hunt. If I’m going to be here every day, Edith thought, I might as well acquaint myself. She turned and introduced herself to the man on her left.
“I’m Edith Whitney, it’s nice to meet you,” she began, extending a hand.
The boy replied, “Byron Wightman, pleased to meet you.”
Years later, Edith (Whitney) Lush ’30 would recall that moment from her college days to her niece, Anna, who had come to introduce her fiancé—Jack Wightman.
“I knew a Byron Wightman,” she said, “we sat by each other in Chapel.”
Two tracks of Emalie’s unwritten story had unknowingly bumped into one another on the very campus she would find herself almost 100 years later. Edith (Emalie’s great, great aunt) married James Lush ’30, and earned her degree, while Byron (her great, great grandfather) left campus to pursue other ventures—neither of them aware that they would one day become the roots of a shared family tree.
Since that fateful day in 1925, Nebraska Wesleyan’s campus has changed for the better. C.C. White Memorial Building, where daily chapel was once held, was replaced by Smith-Curtis in 1974, four additional residential education facilities have joined Johnson Hall and Acklie Hall of Science opened its doors in 2019.
As Nebraska Wesleyan’s past stretches into the present, gifts to Nebraska Wesleyan’s endowment ensure a bright future. By choosing to give back, thousands of generous alumni have built a strong tradition of philanthropic investment in NWU. Just as Emalie’s family members paved the way for her to write her own unique NWU story within the family legacy, all alumni have the opportunity to support the academic scholarships, athletic advancement, faculty support and the elevation of residence halls and facilities that will allow tomorrow’s NWU students to make their own way for generations to come.
Learn more about making a lasting impact through a gift to Nebraska Wesleyan's endowment: nebrwesleyan.edu/give/endowed-gifts.