From basketball to engineering to patent law – a philanthropic journey back to Auburn University

By Lauren Winton

Published: Nov 21, 2019 1:18:00 PM

At 18 years old, Jack Waddey knew one thing: “I wanted to go to college to play basketball.” The high school senior soon graduated and went to Tennessee Tech, playing basketball and majoring in engineering. There, he met a classmate named Albert Thweat.

“One day, Al and I were talking about our real career desires,” Jack said. “We both had decided we wanted to be architects. At the time, the state of Tennessee did not have an architecture program. So, we heard about this reciprocal program at Auburn University, and we both applied to architecture school at Auburn.”

They both got accepted to the program. The problem was, Jack said, “I had to draw. Truth of the matter was, after a period of time, I felt like I would be better suited for engineering anyway.”

Jack transferred out of the architecture program into engineering.

“I picked aerospace engineering because I thought it would be the hardest curriculum,” he said. “I knew that if I could do it, and do it well, I would have proven to myself I could do anything.”

And do anything, he did. After graduating from Auburn Engineering in 1965, Jack went on to work for GE. There, he created a design that was brought to the company’s intellectual property lawyer for a patent.

“When I went to see the patent lawyer, I went into this big room. He had his own secretary, nice hardwood floors, and I started talking to him about patent law,” Jack said. “I grew up on a farm and I had never met a lawyer in my life.”

They talked about law, and Jack was encouraged to go to law school. As before, he did not apply to the program alone. A fellow engineer named Don Logerwell also had the desire to become a lawyer.

“If I had to do law school on my own, I probably would not have done it,” he said. “We talked about different programs, but we were told Georgetown was the best. So, we both decided to apply there.”

And once again, Jack was admitted to the program. He and Logerwell finished law school at the top of their class.

Now living in Tennessee and practicing patent law, Jack seemed quite a ways away from Auburn Engineering. Auburn athletics, however, was his ride back to the Plains.

“In the fall of 1970-71, I got Auburn football season tickets,” he said. “It was an exciting time to reconnect with the university, because these were also the years with Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley. Later, in the early 80s, I met Sonny Smith and got reengaged with Auburn’s basketball program.”

As the years passed, Jack’s association with Auburn only grew stronger. His son’s involvement in an Auburn basketball camp solidified the reconnection. And Jack’s wife, Ann Waddey, soon came to know the Plains through their daughter Kendall, who chose Auburn for her undergraduate studies.  

“My experience with Auburn is really through my daughter,” said Ann, a Notre Dame alumna. “After learning about the Auburn Creed, I really learned how special of a place it is.”

Ann’s heart landed on Auburn when Kendall was in school, and the connection catalyzed the couple’s desire to give back to Jack’s alma mater.

But their philanthropic journey began with a student phone call.

“A young woman wanted me to donate $100 to engineering,” Jack said. “She was a student at Auburn who was hired to do alumni fundraising calls. She was talking about Auburn history, doing a lovely job and her call came at a time in our lives that we felt like we were able to give back. I told her that we planned to do something more substantial than the hundred bucks, but I took down her name and gave the gift anyway. This young lady then sent us in the right direction and we met Margaret.”

Margaret Arnold, assistant director of engineering development, helped Jack and Ann Waddey find their philanthropic passions within engineering.

“The timing was perfect,” Jack said again.

From that first phone call, the Waddeys have established a speaker series in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and have generously supported the Brown-Kopel Engineering Student Achievement Center. In recognition of their philanthropy, a space in the Brown-Kopel Center was named in their honor.

“Auburn has a special place in Jack’s heart,” Ann said. “The thing they say about the ‘Auburn Family’ is true. It’s your family. It goes back to the creed — the DNA of the university. The creed is the differentiating element. It’s what keeps Auburn grounded in its values.”

When asked what has been Jack and Ann’s favorite experience through their philanthropy to Auburn, Jack answered: “I’ll flip the table: I think that our involvement with Auburn has been rewarding to us. We’ve been supporting the school, but we’ve gotten multiple returns on our investment, so to speak. It has been a wonderful experience with great people.”

In addition to their philanthropy, the Waddeys are members of the Strategic Leadership Team. Jack has also served on the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council, as well as chair of its research committee.

They are pleased with the trajectory of the college and find inspiration in the current leadership.

“Looking ahead for the future of Auburn Engineering, I know the college will be successful. I am really proud of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. [Dean] Chris [Roberts] makes us very proud.”

To learn more about how to support the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, contact the Office of Development by visiting eng.auburn.edu/admin/development.

Media Contact: Lauren Winton, lmw0090@auburn.edu, 334.844.5519

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