On Saturday, Oct. 23, during the homecoming football game, Tech announced the new Kelly Davis Endowed Alumni Scholarship.
Davis graduated from Tech in 1981. His father also graduated from Tech.
“You could say it’s in my blood a little bit,” Davis said. “He [his father] started taking me to campus to go to football and basketball games.”
“During the holiday break there was a Tech tournament. It was a high school basketball tournament in the Stroupe gym,” he said. “I was there almost every night for several years while that Tech tournament was going on. It just felt like home.”
In the spring of his senior year, Davis tried out for the Dallas Cowboys. He had been a punter and kicker for the Wonder Boys.
“That was one of my favorite teams at the time, so that’s where I went,” Davis said. “It was short lived obviously.”
After graduating with a business degree, Davis said he started working for J.C Penney, then as a buyer for a company in Harrison. He even refereed high school football for many years.
“This [Russellville] is my hometown. I always thought that it’d be nice to move back home some day,” Davis said. “I was married and had a family, two children, but never really thought about it [moving back] that seriously.”
That changed when Davis got a call from Jayne Jones, now the senior director of advancement operations and special projects.
“She called me one day and she asked me that question. She said, ‘Have you ever thought about moving back?’ and I said ‘well you know every now and then,’” Davis said.
Tech was preparing to build the Chartwells womens sports complex and Baswell residence hall. Jones and the president at the time, Dr. Robert C. Brown, wanted Davis to help with the fundraising for the projects.
Davis made his return to Tech in November 2004 as the director of corporate and athletic relations before moving on to the job of director of alumni relations in 2011.
Davis is also one of the athletic radio hosts for Tech along with Sam Strasner.
“Well Sam, when I got back in 2004, a former coach, Don Dempsey, was helping Sam do the radio broadcast for football game,” Davis said. “And he [Dempsey] was getting to the point where he was not going to be able to travel much.”
In the fall of 2005 Davis began his radio career.
“I said something to Sam about going to the game. At the time we were going to play up at Tahlequah [Oklahoma] play Northeastern State,” Davis said. “I said something about maybe hitching a ride or whatever.”
Strasner told Davis to hang out in the radio booth. Dempsey had retired and Strasner was hosting the game broadcast alone.
“I got up there next thing I know I got a headset on and we’re doing the football game on the radio,” Davis said. “I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
His favorite memory from his time doing the radio was a road trip he, Strasner and a few others went to watch and broadcast the men’s basketball game against Florida Southern. They took a camper trailer down to Florida and had to stop about every two hours for gas.
“No telling what we looked like driving down the highway to an athletic event just to do a radio broadcast,” Davis said. “That’s probably the most memorable as far as the experience itself of driving all the way down there and back, and the transportation that we had.”
Tech has impacted Davis in many ways.
“It’s meant everything to me. Arkansas Tech offered me a football scholarship, which basically allowed me to go to college,” Davis said. “Getting an awesome learning experience and getting a degree that just kind of catapulted everything else. That afforded me to get a job out of college, that lead into me meeting my wife, having children and having a great career.”
“To top it all off I got to go full circle and come back and work at Arkansas Tech,” Davis said.
Not only has Tech had an impact on Davis, but he has impacted Tech.
“Kelly is someone who has meant a lot to Arkansas Tech University,” Jason Geiken, vice president for advancement and executive director of the ATU foundation, said. “If you went to Tech and you know anybody on the campus it was probably Kelly.”
Geiken said when Davis retired some of the alumni decided to raise money to donate in honor of Davis and to name the scholarship after him.
“He’s given 15 years of his life as an employee of Arkansas Tech. He’s been a tremendous ambassador to our alumni and other constituents on behalf of Arkansas Tech,” Geiken said.
“It’s not something we would do for just anybody that’s been here a couple years, but for someone who spent a very large portion of their career and has had a tremendous impact on our alumni and community it was just a way that people wanted to get together and honor him for the work that he’s done.”
Skot Covert, president of the ATU alumni association board of directors, was one of the people who helped to make the scholarship a reality.
“His time at Tech predated that [his employment] much further. He went to Arkansas Tech, his father went to Arkansas Tech,” Covert said. “So, this is a tradition, he is Arkansas Tech, one of the truest examples of a Wonder Boy.”
“When he retired, we thought how do we best honor his time and his service to the campus, not just as alumni director but he still does color commentary. He’s all over campus often. In fact he’s probably not missed many days on campus since he retired,” Covert said.
Covert said they could have just given Davis a plaque or a party but that wasn’t enough for the man who loves Arkansas Tech.
“What fueled Kelly and what motivated him were alumni scholarships,” Covert said. “The reason why is because that meant more people had the opportunity to enjoy the same Arkansas Tech that he loves and cherishes.”
Caroline Kitchens, director of annual giving programs and interim director of alumni relations said that Davis was able to see the impact that alumni scholarships had on students at Tech while he served as director of alumni relations.
“He saw first-hand what the alumni scholarship did, what doors it opened for current and future students,” Kitchens said. “That’s why we chose the alumni scholarship as a way to honor him.”
Kitchens said that as interim director of alumni relations she has big shoes to fill. Davis retired from the position in May 2021.
“Kelly is Mr. Congeniality; he doesn’t meet a stranger,” Kitchens said. “I think that’s something that I strive to do is to just be friendly and personable, and talk to everyone like you know them and make them feel important.”
“Kelly is really good at making everyone feel like he’s your oldest friend in the world and I think that’s a really cool trait that he exudes,” Kitchens said.
For Geiken, Davis impacted him by helping Geiken connect with the community when he was first hired to the position of vice president of advancement in March of 2020.
“I started March 9 [of 2020] and then a week later the whole world shut down,” Geiken said.
Geiken said the office of advancement involves a lot of engagement with the community outside of Tech’s campus.
“[It was] a very strange time to be coming into this role where you’re supposed to be meeting lots of people, going to chamber of commerce and rotary and all these different ways that meet people. And that was all just shut down,” Geiken said.
Davis has not only served the Tech community but also the Russellville community. He was president of the noon Rotary club and served as a member of the Chamber of Commerce Red Coats Committee.
“I leaned very, very heavily on Kelly and his connections, for him to kind of introduce me to people in sort of less traditional ways, almost in a one-on-one sort of thing because there were just no group outings and things like that were we could go and meet lots of people,” Geiken said.
“I still call him from time to time to ask his advice,” Geiken said. “So even though we are new acquaintances he’s someone that has been very, very helpful to me and my initial year and a half at Tech.”
“It speaks volumes that our alumni wanted to do this to honor him,” Kitchens said. “It was an external driven recognition for him, because he has had an impact on that many people. He bleeds green and gold.”
Much like Jones led Davis back to Tech, he also led Covert back to Tech.
“He had connected with me a few years after I graduated. I guess it was back in 2019 maybe 2018 and [he] said ‘hey I know you graduated Tech, I see that you were active on campus while you were here, why aren’t you a part of the alumni board?’ I said ‘that’s a great question Kelly and I don’t have a good answer so where do I sign up,’” Covert said.
No one told Davis that he was going to have a scholarship named after him. It was a surprise he would get on the football field between the first and second quarter of the homecoming game.
Davis said Geiken approached him to ask if anyone had talked to Davis about presenting an award to Covert.
“He [Covert] was my last alumni board president that I got to work with,” Davis said. “I said no, nobody has mentioned that to me, but if you need me to, I’ll be glad to come down out of the radio booth; I’ll come down and do whatever just let me know.”
Davis said that Heather Strasner came up to the booth and said they did want him down on the field and that she would take him down there.
“We get on the elevator, we come down to the field and they’re there, Skot, Caroline and Jason. And still it’s like ‘alright I think this is really cool that we’re gonna give Skot something for being alumni board president,’” Davis said. “And still no clue, no idea, not until Tom Kamerling (public address announcer) started talking,” Davis said. “Even when he started talking, I wasn’t paying much attention, and then I heard say my name. And I said ‘well, what’s he saying my name for? Well, it’s being down here on the field I guess.’”
“And then he kept reading that script and I’m sitting here going you’ve got to be kidding me,” Davis said. “I have been snookered.”
“I was floored. I can’t believe first off that there would be folks that willing to donate money to start a scholarship,” Davis said. “But at the end of the day that’s most thing I’m proud of is that all those people donated. It may have my name on it but it was a team effort, and the most important thing is it’s going to help future students with the opportunity to go to school just like It gave me. That’s the cool part to me.”
Kitchens said that scholarship will be for incoming freshmen whose parent or grandparent is a Tech alumnus.
“I hope they gain their degree. Like many scholarships it helps get them jumpstarted cause a lot of Arkansas Tech students are from Arkansas, they’re probably from middle class income families. So private or academic scholarships to me are very important for Arkansas Tech students,” Davis said. “It gives them that chance to say I think I can do this.”
“Once they get here it’s obviously up to them to not get discouraged and give up, but to keep fighting. It’s kind of like one of our sayings you know fight on,” Davis said. “It gives them a chance.”