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Fearless in the Face of Adversity

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Aeolian magazine.

What is a legacy? It’s not just something you pass on, but what outlives you when you’re gone. What GSW has in Dr. Oneida Ingram is a legacy for sure. Countless students in Georgia have benefited from her time in education, and hundreds of young Black college students have had a place to find a sense of belonging on campus thanks to her pioneering role in GSW’s National Pan-Hellenic Council history.

Dr. Oneida Wade Ingram was born on April 16, 1949 in Andersonville, Ga. where she lived until adulthood. Her family owns a 600-acre homestead where her father was a farmer, and her mother stayed at home with their ten children. Dr. Ingram graduated from Sumter County High School in 1967, began her college career at Albany State College, and married her high school sweetheart Arthur in February 1969. Soon after, she transferred to Georgia Southwestern College because, as she put it, Arthur told her, “You gotta come home.”

Making the change from Albany State was a big move for Dr. Ingram, mainly because at the time GSW was a predominately white college with very few Black students. Dr. Ingram remembers many times being the only Black student in her classes. But she wasn’t going to let fear stop her. She quipped, “I wasn’t afraid. I hit the ground running.” Being married with a baby already, she did not have time to waste. She was focused on her studies and determined to meet her goal of obtaining a degree. She remembers with fondness instructors like Dr. Richard Reese, Dr. Edgar Peterson, Dr. Carl Knotts, Dr. June Ewing, and Dr. Dickson Carroll. She faced prejudice, but she also says she was never mistreated, and described her college years as “fruitful” and “very pleasant.”

During her time at GSW she was one of  ten founding members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., - the first Black student organization on GSW’s campus. As she recalls, “[we] wanted a sense of belonging. There was a strong feeling of isolation.” Their new organization needed a faculty or staff member to sponsor them. As luck would have it, Mrs. Willie Pearl Fuse had just been hired as a counselor and GSW’s first Black faculty member in 1970, bringing with her a connection to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. With Mrs. Fuse’s sponsorship, Dr. Ingram and nine other women chartered the Theta Sigma Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta on GSW’s campus in May 1971 which paved the way for other Black student organizations that followed in the late 1970s.

Ingram completed her Bachelor of Science in Education at GSW in 1972 and obtained her master’s from GSW in 1979. She was hired as a teacher in the Dooly County school system in 1972 and worked there for 30 years. In 1999, during her tenure as principal of Dooly County Middle School, she was named Outstanding Educator by the Georgia Association of Education Leaders. After her retirement in June 2002, she worked for two years in the Southwest Judicial Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) until she was offered a principalship at D.F. Douglas Alternative School in Macon County. She spent 11 years there before retiring again and working part-time as a substitute teacher in the Sumter County Schools. During her nearly 42 years in education, she furthered her own education with a specialist degree from Valdosta State University and a doctorate from South Carolina State University.

When it was time for her children to start thinking about college, she knew right where to encourage them to attend. Her son Toddy Ingram ’94, ’96 earned both his associate and bachelor’s degrees in nursing from GSW and was, according to existing records, the first Black male to receive a nursing degree from GSW. He pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. As a career Army Nurse Corps Officer with over 34 years of combined enlisted and commissioned military service, Toddy has earned the rank of Colonel. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He has been on staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland and is currently the Nursing Supervisor at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Wash. Col. Ingram met his wife Vicki Green ’94 while at GSW, and they have two daughters, Jasmine and Naomi. Regarding her son, Dr. Ingram stated, “GSW gave him the foundation to be what he is today.”

Like their mother, the Ingrams’ daughters Ayada and Mary paved their own paths with Dr. Ingram’s influence. Ayada did not attend GSW, but after years of serving her local community working for the Georgia Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS), she started her own teaching career this year. She has one daughter Madison, who is a senior at Sumter County High School. Mary attended GSW for a while before transferring to Albany State. Following in her brother’s footsteps, Mary earned her nursing degree and currently works as a travel nurse. She has two daughters, Destiny, who also attended GSW, and Madeline, a student at Sumter County High School.

The family legacy doesn’t end with Dr. Ingram’s children and grandchildren. Two of her sisters attended GSW as well. Dr. Amanda Wade Cooper earned her nursing degree from GSW before obtaining her doctorate. She worked as a doctor for many years before her retirement, and she is currently enrolled at GSW in the music program because she wanted to learn to play the piano. She is set to graduate in December 2023. Brenda Wade earned her Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems in 1985.

Dr. Ingram remains active in her retirement. She served as the President of the Delta Sigma Theta Americus Alumnae Chapter from 2018 to 2022, recruiting the largest group of new members in the history of the chapter. She has worked with the alumnae chapter to give financial aid in the form of scholarships to many local students – including at GSW.

To say Dr. Ingram left a lasting impression on GSW is an understatement. She has a long-standing legacy at Georgia Southwestern. But it’s not just a legacy of students…it’s a legacy of character. She is a model of dedication, work ethic, and courage. On more than one occasion, she has shown herself to be fearless in the face of adversity. Georgia Southwestern will forever be proud to call Dr. Oneida Ingram one of our own.