AUBURN, Ala. (EETV)- It is hard to forget — the whistle blowing, the counselors screaming and a little lady exploding like a firecracker into the auditorium. The Nun has entered the room and is ready to excite the incoming freshmen for what will hopefully be the best four years of their lives. Although only a short segment of the Camp War Eagle experience, “Fun with the Nun” gives new students a chance to meet the long-Qme campus celebrity.
With a spirit that is not afraid, Susan Nunnelly has taken Auburn’s campus by storm since beginning her journey on campus as a freshman. Most know her from afar as the legendary “Nun,” while some have been lucky enough to call her their teacher, coach or even their dear friend.
Nunnelly has had a love for Auburn in her heart for her entire life. Growing up with a father who was a diehard Auburn fan, she never even thought of going to any other school. Not even growing up during Bama’s Bear Bryant era could change her loyalties to the school on the other side of the state.
“Anyone who comes to Auburn falls in love with it,” said Nunnelly.
Knowing Auburn was the right school for her, Nunnelly began her freshman year at Auburn in 1966. She moved into Ingram Hall with a childhood friend, Susan Rhodes, from her hometown of Hueytown, Alabama. When the front desk would call up to their bedroom saying Susan had a phone call, the wrong Susan would always report to the phone. Soon, everyone decided that it would be easier to call the girls by their last names, and Nunnelly quickly evolved to “Nun.”
Nunnelly graduated from Auburn and moved on to Knoxville, Tennessee, to complete graduate work for teaching. Unfortunately, her mother soon became ill causing Nunnelly to move back closer to home. She took a job at Berry High School (now Hoover High School), and stayed there for one year before returning to Auburn to finish her master’s degree in education with a focus in physical education.
She didn’t think she would stay right away, but was offered a teaching job with the physical education department and decided to sick around.
“No one really ever wants to leave Auburn,” said Nunnelly. “The good Lord was so good to me. I was at the right place at the right time.”
Nunnelly quickly became an involved member of the Auburn community, teaching class, coaching women’s basketball, officiating and working as a faculty advisor for the women’s basketball team. With encouragement from the physical education department, Nunnelly continued to work hard and stick to her passion of teaching.
“Teaching is my first love,” said Nunnelly. “Even though I ended up in administration, my passion has always been teaching.”
Another love of Nunnelly’s is sports officiating, a course that she still teaches to this day. Nunnelly has loved sports officiating ever since a young age when she would officiate girl’s intramural volleyball and basketball games during middle school. There were not interscholastic girls’ sports in Alabama at that time, but that did not stop her from becoming quite the athlete.
Nunnelly became the Auburn women’s basketball coach shortly after beginning her teaching job.
“You cannot be a good coach without first learning how to be a good teacher,” said Nunnelly.
After stepping down to continue pursuing her other roles at Auburn, she became the announcer for Auburn women’s basketball and the SEC women’s basketball tournament. This year was her 32nd year announcing for the tournament.
She also has played a big part of the Auburn Cheerleading team. After helping out for several years, the faculty advisor at the time, Dr. Ford Laumer, asked Nunnelly to fill in for him on travel he could not partake in because of his duties at the business school. Finally, she took over his job completely and became a big part of the team’s spirit. She still continues to stay in touch with the cheerleading team and helps out their new director, LaQsha Durroh, when she can.
“There’s something about the Auburn spirit, you know, you can’t really describe it, you can’t really put your finger on it, but it just happens,” said Nunnelly. “Hearing it and growing up with it from afar, you understand it that it’s something really wonderful, but you don’t really understand it, or know it, or feel it 24/7 unQl you live it 24/7. Once you have it, you have it.”
Although she has continued to play a major part in the Auburn experience, Nunnelly officially required in 2008.
“Everybody always told me, ‘Nun, you’ll know when you need to move on,’” said Nunnelly. “I think the lord had a lot to do with that. I think he said, ‘Hey Nun, there’s a lot of other things you can do, now might be the time.’”
Nunnely’s requirement only really ended her participation in the administrative part of Auburn. She has still had the ability since her requirement to remain a part of the things she loves by announcing volleyball and basketball, teaching voluntarily and visiting Camp War Eagle. Her main prerogative after retiring was to continue to stay involved with the students and the university.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how many students she has impacted over the years, from the students she coached, to those she supervised in Campus Rec, to the cheerleaders she advised and so many more,” said Mark Armstrong, director of the First Year Experience Office. “Some of that gets lost in all the WAR EAGLEness of her personality, but that’s really more of who she is than the person people see at Camp War Eagle.”
Nunnelly was a part of the first-ever Camp War Eagle session and has continued to put on her ‘Fun with the Nun’ since that very first session.
“As Camp War Eagle changed, we knew that the Nun’s presence at Camp War Eagle had to conQnue, so we found the places where it made the most sense to incorporate her, and of course, the Nun being the Nun, she has made those times her own,” said Armstrong.
Nunnelly is still working on keeping up with the changes she has seen in the student body since she has been here. For example, she had her students hand write all of their assignments until last year. She admits that it is definitely easier to read assignments now that they aren’t handwritten, but she hopes that students don’t get too caught up in their technology and lose the gift of interpersonal communication.
After passing the same Tiger Transit bus stop every day one semester, Nunnelly noticed that the students waiting for the bus were always on their phones or listening to their headphones.
“I never once saw them talking to each other,” said Nunnelly. “And I thought, ‘Every morning they’re here, waiting for the bus, and I have never seen them talking to each other.’”
One day, Nunnelly decided to stop.
“‘Do you know me?’ I asked them, and of course they knew from Camp War Eagle,” explained Nunnelly. “‘Oh ya you’re the Nun,’ and I said, ‘Well I pass you every single morning and I never see you talking to each other, do you know each others names?’ They did not, and so I introduced myself and had them introduce each other.”
That is just the type of person Nunnelly is: caring, friendly and not afraid to speak up. She has always loved the closeness of Auburn’s community, and hope that is not lost through cellphones and other technologies.
“I just don’t want us to lose what is really important; the human relationship, there is no replacement for it,” said Nunnelly. “There’s nothing like a hug or a ‘thank you.’”
One thing Nunnelly says has not changed about Auburn is the spirit and the love for Auburn. She believes that Auburn stands out because of its caring faculty and focus on the student experience as a whole, not just the education.
“No maGer how many students we have, 25,000 plus, I still care about you as an individual and any other student that walks into my office,” said Nunnelly.
Nunnelly stresses these unique qualifies to every parent and student that she gets the opportunity to talk to at Camp War Eagle. She assures that if a student feels that special comfort when they are visiting Auburn, they will know that Auburn is the right place for them.
“I just remember being someone who was really hesitant about coming to Auburn,” said Carter-William Palek, a recent Auburn graduate. “However, I walked away from Camp War Eagle thinking that Auburn would be a fun place to go, and a lot of that had to do with the heart and the humor of the Nun.”
Nunnelly’s main wish is that students feel as at home at Auburn as she has.
“The one word I would use (to describe Auburn) is home, you know, it’s home,” said Nunnelly. “And it’s easier to do things when you feel at home.”
Nunnelly’s passion for teaching has led her to teach far more than course work; she has taught Auburn students how to love Auburn as it should be loved, how to make the best of the Auburn experience and that loving one another is easy.
“If all you know of the Nun is what you see at Camp War Eagle, you really don’t know the Nun. Yes, she’s hilarious, and yes she’s amazingly energetic, but she’s one of the most genuine people you will ever meet,” said Armstrong. “If you think about the different tenets of the Auburn Creed like honesty, hard work, clean sports, the human touch and so on, she checks every single box. She’s remarkable. In my mind, she’s Auburn royalty.”