Clarksville, TN – On April 23rd, 1975, a 20-year-old college student named Maggie Warner walked anxiously across the wide lawns of Austin Peay State University (APSU).
The growing campus was on the cusp of major changes – construction was set to begin soon on the Dunn Center basketball arena – and Maggie, a Tullahoma native who’d recently transferred from Motlow State Community College, wanted to help lead the way.
That April afternoon, Austin Peay State University students headed to the polls to elect a new Student Government Association president, and Maggie hoped she’d done enough to convince her classmates that she was the best candidate.
“I would like to see the campus more involved with the community,” she told the All State student newspaper. “I feel that I can best and will do all I can to serve every facet of the university population if elected.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but that election was a defining moment for both her and the campus. Once the votes were counted, Maggie became the first female SGA president in Austin Peay history.
The news of her unlikely victory surprised the campus administration. That evening, she made her way to the Archwood mansion to meet with then-APSU President Joe Morgan.
“He looked at me and said, ‘We’ll get through this,’ and he retired three months later,” she recalled, laughing. “I always wondered if I was the cause of that.”
Forty-six years after that historic night, with her alma mater on the cusp of another important transition in the form of new leadership and major construction projects, she is again helping lead that change by serving on Austin Peay State University’s “What If…” Comprehensive Campaign.
“I love the campaign theme, ‘What If,’” she said. “If people would just stop for a minute and ask themselves, ‘What if I didn’t go to Austin Peay? Where would I be?’ it would make them want to give back.”
In the early 1970s, most college-bound high school students in Tullahoma ended up at Middle Tennessee State University. That’s where five of Maggie’s siblings attended, and she planned to follow them until a small Clarksville school offered her a leadership scholarship.
But what if she hadn’t attended Austin Peay State University? Obviously, she wouldn’t have been the University’s first female SGA president, but her life would have been completely different, beginning with her last name.
In the fall of 1976, Barry Kulback, an APSU student, and Sigma Chi Fraternity member asked Maggie to join him at a Homecoming event and then dinner at Shoney’s on Riverside Drive. The couple married soon after graduating from Austin Peay – a life event that never would have happened if she’d enrolled at MTSU. She also would have missed seeing the Rev. Jesse Jackson give an impassioned speech during a campus visit.
“I was SGA president at the time, and I was very involved in the planning,” she said. “I can still close my eyes and see him on that stage. It was electrifying. I’ll never forget how his words just made so much sense for our time. It was what we all needed to hear and think about.”
And what if she’d never met her mentor, Dr. Charlie Boehms, former vice president of Student Affairs?
“We stayed in contact after he left Austin Peay and I graduated,” she said. “I visited him when he was at Georgetown College, and one of the biggest privileges of my life was speaking at his funeral. He was like a second dad to me.
“The day after my first date with Barry, Dr. Boehms came to my door to tell me that my dad had passed away from a heart attack. I was not going to come back to school because I felt like my mom needed my help at home. He came and talked to my mom, and they sat me down and told me to go back to school. He took such an interest in me, and I will never forget it.”
Attending Austin Peay State University changed Maggie’s life forever. She made campus history, married Barry, spent 30 years working for Jostens, and helped support her alma mater in numerous ways.
“Giving back to Austin Peay was an easy decision for us,” Maggie said. “We both attended on the generosity of other people through scholarships, so we wanted to start giving as soon as we graduated. It was small at first, and it grew from there. We knew that we would not have been able to have good jobs and to be as successful as we were without Austin Peay.”
Today, that question – What if? – lingers in her mind. As a member of the comprehensive campaign committee, she’s now asking it to others – what if you never attended Austin Peay State University, what if you didn’t help students discover their paths here, what if you didn’t support the University when it needed you the most?