The rich tapestry of Clemson’s history is woven from the fiercely dedicated spirits of the men and women who have called our great university home. These legendary figures, such as President R.C. Edwards and the beloved Dean Walter T. Cox, live within the hearts of Clemson alumni and friends leading us toward continued excellence. These leaders are immortalized in our collective memory because they embody what it means to be a devoted Clemson Tiger. Each left the University stronger than they found it and brought to life Joe Sherman’s infamous statement “there’s something special in these hills.” This is equally true of Joe and Cathy Turner, who wear their tiger stripes proudly as modern legends within the Clemson family.
Joe and Cathy are passionate advocates of Clemson University with a heart for student athletes and first-generation student success. As longtime Clemson ambassadors, Joe and Cathy are enthusiastic supporters of the most iconic symbol of our distinguished institution, The Clemson Tiger. Cathy, an Auburn University alumna and proud tiger in her own right, shares her husband’s passion for The Clemson Tiger Mascot. She fondly remembers being present as Dean Cox and Clemson’s first Dean of Women, Dr. Susan Delony, approved the design for what would become the face of our modern-day Tiger mascot. However, Cathy and Joe’s involvement in the University’s most historic milestones reach far beyond this one momentous occasion.
Their story began in 1971 when Joe, a college senior at the time, accepted a position within Clemson’s Alumni Association. Cathy who had graduated from Auburn the prior year, was a member of Dean Delony’s team in Student Affairs, and the two quickly fell in love. Marrying in 1973, Joe and Cathy ventured together toward what would become a life interwoven with Clemson University and the surrounding community.
Cathy had the good fortune of partnering with Dean Delony to pave the way for women’s leadership and engagement opportunities on campus. This transformational initiative continues to enhance the Clemson Experience for female students, which now comprise more than half of Clemson’s student population, an astounding increase in contrast to the female student population when Cathy first began her work with Clemson in 1971, which comprised less than a quarter of students.
The young couple shared another significant Clemson milestone in 1981 as Clemson claimed its first National Championship by defeating Nebraska (22-15). Joe was serving as the Executive Secretary of IPTAY and emphatically states that this championship win was the catalyst that literally “put Clemson on the map nationally.”
Clemson’s most legendary figures were more than alumni, employees and observers – they were extreme advocates and people of action. Joe and Cathy continue this tradition, giving generously of their time, talent and treasure for the betterment of our great University. During Joe’s tenure with IPTAY, he led the charge to expand membership and fundraising efforts by a magnitude of five. These victories, and many other collective contributions, have laid the cornerstones that comprise the foundation of Clemson’s world-class academic and athletic programs.
Joe and Cathy’s commitment runs much deeper than their impressive accomplishments as professionals. They have continued to invest in Athletics and recently established the Joe and Cathy Turner Mascot Program Operating Account, which ensures The Tiger Mascot will remain the everlasting symbol of the Clemson Family’s fierce dedication and devotion. The Tiger represents Clemson’s determined spirit and enthusiasm to be competitive – both in and out of the classroom as well as in our collective communities. People of all ages race to greet The Tiger, arms outstretched with camera in hand, to memorialize the experience. We cheer each other on during various athletic events and harmonize our roar in Clemson’s cadence count to acknowledge various achievements. Mementos are also purchased to demonstrate our loyalty and unified identity as a true Clemson Tiger.
Our Tiger Mascots are hard-working students who serve sacrificially to lift our spirits and represent our collective resolve. Competition to secure the coveted honor to serve as a mascot is extremely fierce. Only at the conclusion of their service upon graduation, are these dedicated mascots allowed to reveal their identity by wearing the Tiger Paws or Cub Shoes as they walk across the stage to receive their diploma. We are indebted to all current and former Tiger Mascots who have provided countless smiles, collective pride, and commemorated memories. Their commitment to be the face of Clemson is treasured beyond words.
The Turners’ commitment to ensure every student is afforded the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Clemson Experience does not end with their support of the Tiger Mascot. They are also longtime benefactors to the FIRST Generation Success program, which helps ensure success for students who are the first in their family to attend college. The magnitude of being the first member within a family to receive a college education is immense. Higher education is the key that unlocks opportunities which lead to a lifetime of success and prosperity for generations to follow. However, these pioneering students often arrive on campus without the foundational knowledge to navigate the academic and non-academic components of a college experience. The FIRST Generation Success program embraces these students and empowers them with the skills to be successful academically and socially as they build lifelong friendships and change the trajectory of their lives.
Cathy and Joe are true “Champions” for the unsung heroes of Clemson, whether it be the students serving honorably to represent our collective spirit as The Clemson Tiger, or the 14 percent of Clemson’s student population breaking down the barriers to higher education for their families as first-generation students. Throughout the many stages of their lives, first as Clemson employees and later as successful restaurateurs and philanthropists, Joe and Cathy, like the legends before them, embody what it is to be a quintessential Clemson Tiger. As “the Tiger’s roar may echo o’er the mountain height,” we salute the Turners for their unwavering leadership, service, devotion and generosity to help all members of the Clemson Family reach their full potential.
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