Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield’s life has taken her many places in the United States and abroad since she graduated from Montevallo in 1962. But regardless of where she has lived and worked, UM has never been far from her mind.
Rayfield, the recipient of the 2020 Mary Lou Elder Williams Alumna Loyalty Award during Founders’ Day, arrived at the University for her freshman year in 1959. After receiving a scholarship to UM, Rayfield earned her undergraduate degree from the University with a major in history and a minor in biology. She then achieved both her master’s degree and doctorate in history at Vanderbilt University – all while on scholarship.
After college, she conducted research in Bogota, Columbia, for a few years before going on to teach Latin American history at Illinois State University for more than 30 years and serving as the ISU archivist for 10 years.
After retiring from teaching in 2010, she moved to Augusta, Georgia, to become a monastic solitary with the Order of Saint Helena Episcopal religious order.
She credits the caring UM faculty who went above and beyond to help her reach her potential, and said the same passion is still evident among the University’s current faculty.
“I really enjoyed my time at Montevallo. It so exceeded any ambition that I had for college, and it was just wonderful,” Rayfield said. “I learned a lot not only content-wise, but also how to be a good person.”
Her experiences at Montevallo cultivated her deep love of learning and served as her motivation for giving back to UM. This generosity, paired with her decades of helping those around her, was touted by members of the UMNAA as they selected her for the Alumna Loyalty Award at the University’s 2020 Founders’ Day in October.
Rayfield has been a major donor to the University for decades, helping projects such as University of Montevallo on Main, the Center for the Arts and the M.A.D.E. (Minorities Achieving Dreams of Excellence) program become a reality.
When the University’s students were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, Rayfield generously donated to the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund to help students cover urgent, unforeseen financial hardships caused by the pandemic’s effects.
Rayfield is actively involved in supporting the University’s undergraduate research program, and regularly visits campus to meet with students and faculty and discuss their research goals and findings.
Most recently, she has been passionate about supporting the M.A.D.E. program, which was established at UM in 2019 to assist incoming minority students with the transition into college and to offer them support while they are here.
Rayfield said scholarships allowed her to complete her college education and helped her to lead a successful and fulfilling professional career. She is now committed to ensuring future generations of students have the same opportunities.
“The University of Montevallo has been so important to my life, and I am so grateful for everything UM has done for me,” Rayfield said. “The intellectual and personal foundation I received at Montevallo has helped me succeed in life since then.”