Mary Nelle Chumley's relationship with Lipscomb University began during her childhood and nurtured during her school years. Mary Nelle would tell you there has never been a time when she has not been part of the Lipscomb community. Her introduction to volunteering for the school, then David Lipscomb College, occurred in childhood when her grandfather was named to the Board of Trustees. She graduated from Lipscomb’s high school, now Lipscomb Academy, in 1949. It was there she met her future husband, John C. Hutcheson, Jr., and both attended Lipscomb University as art majors.
Mary Nelle’s legacy of volunteerism at Lipscomb began when she and John returned to the university in 1958 after a period during which John taught in Indiana. In those days at small colleges, faculty had wide-ranging responsibilities beyond the classroom. As art department chair, John was responsible for decorating everything from Board meetings to dorm lobbies to Homecoming, and Mary Nelle was in the middle of—or out in front of— these extracurricular assignments. Mary Nelle was already a gifted floral arranger and quickly became recognized as the campus event decorator. But she contributed far more: for many years, she was the de facto showrunner for Homecoming, coaching participants on their roles and managing this and other events. Following John’s untimely death in 1986, Mary Nelle single-handedly created all of the floral arrangements for every on-campus event through the year 2000. She continues to create arrangements for several departments on campus, particularly the Department of Music and College of Pharmacy—she volunteers her time to prepare all of the arrangements for its White Coat Ceremony—and has served the university in this way for five presidential administrations.
As a young faculty spouse, Mary Nelle was concerned that students who could not afford to live on campus would choose not to attend Lipscomb at all. She and John opened their home, just a block away from campus, for many of these students to have a place to live. Mary Nelle saw the impact on and appreciation of these students, and as a founding member of the Associated Women for Lipscomb in the early 1980s, advocated for scholarships to be the central benefit of the nascent organization. It was Mary Nelle’s idea to use Avalon, university founder David Lipscomb’s historic, on-campus home, as a bed and breakfast or meeting space for campus visitors. Her vision was to use the proceeds to endow the Associated Women for Lipscomb-Centennial Scholarship. The administration granted that request and invested in restoring Avalon to its original configuration and modest, country splendor. Mary Nelle began serving as scheduler, host, and caterer—roles in which she continues to serve more than 45 years later. She and others volunteered their time in every role — including cooking meals for the visitors — so all of the proceeds would go to the scholarship. A campus publication from 2001 says that the Associates raised more than $23,000 that year alone from activities at Avalon. Today, nearly $414,000 has been generated for the Centennial scholarship endowment principal. In the past 20 years, 598 scholarships have been awarded from the A.W.L.-Centennial Scholarship fund. The success of the Associates’ Centennial scholarship led them to endow additional scholarships, and satellite chapters of the Associates also adopted scholarships as their primary focus. In the same 20-year period, a total of 1,627 Associates’ scholarships have been awarded.
In 2015, the Associates established the Associated Women for Lipscomb–Mary Nelle Hutcheson Chumley Endowed Scholarship. In recent years, Mary Nelle has served in the university’s Alumni Relations office, particularly with the Lifelong Learning and Senior Alumni programs. She is also a member of the Lifelong Learning Advisory Board and was recognized as Lipscomb University's Alumnus of the Year in 2006.