She is gracious and kind, respected and admired, and above all, determined to make a difference. Gladys Jennings (’48) warmly acknowledges family, friends, and colleagues who helped celebrate her 90th birthday. Grateful for the experiences she enjoyed at WSU, Gladys asks that celebratory gestures be directed as gifts to the Agriculture and Home Economics Scholarship Fund or the Alberta Hill Academic Excellence Award at WSU.
Gladys resides in Mill Creek, Washington with her husband, Clifford. She retired from WSU in 2008, capping a career in higher education that spanned six decades. Her request to birthday well-wishers is a nod to uncompromised excellence in teaching and research at WSU and to her colleague, Dean Emeritus Alberta D. Hill, who joined Gladys on the faculty of WSU’s College of Home Economics in 1969. Gladys was an associate professor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition, and Institute Management at the time.
Her request underscores a commitment to higher education that she expresses, in part, through her philanthropy. Gladys has directed annual gifts to WSU for more than 30 years in support of multicultural student programs, equity and diversity initiatives, scholarships, and the WSU Alumni Association.
“WSU has benefitted me,” Gladys says while explaining her loyalty. “WSU has been a good place for me—and it has been a good place for many of the students who come to pursue their education.”
Gladys was born on October 11, 1925 in Columbus, Ohio. Her father, Henry Wesley Cooper, was a Presbyterian minister and her mother, Charlotte Melinda Cooper, was a schoolteacher.
While in high school, Gladys developed an interest in hospital dietetics. She earned her undergraduate degree in dietetics from Ohio State University. She continued her studies in Washington state, enrolling in a graduate program in foods and nutrition at then-WSC. Her research focused on the impact the prototype microwave oven had on the nutritional content of frozen peaches. When she completed her graduate work in 1948, Gladys became the first African American woman and person of color to earn a master’s degree from WSU.
Gladys devoted her career and research to improving health through nutrition and safe food. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to Queen Elizabeth College at the University of London. She went on to teach at Syracuse University, North Carolina Central University, and chaired the Home Economics Department at Spelman College in Atlanta from 1955-1961. While in academia, she authored several essays on nutrition. She worked as a registered dietitian at Grant Hospital in her hometown of Columbus in the early 1960s.
She returned to WSU in 1966 as an associate professor of foods and nutrition. In this position, Gladys conducted research on improving the dietary habits of Africans and African Americans. In the late 1960s she served on a campus committee that developed WSU’s first Black Studies courses. She also created and taught Black Community Health and Nutrition, a Black Studies course.
In 1968, Gladys became a single mom when she adopted a daughter, Lavern. In 1973, Gladys married Clifford Jennings, a media services technician at WSU.
She retired from the classroom in 1991, but continued with WSU part-time as a recruiter for students of color for the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Over the years, her philanthropic and fundraising efforts have contributed to programs including the National Organization of Blacks in Dietetic and Nutrition (NOBIDAN) and several multicultural priorities at WSU, including the Talmadge Anderson Heritage House.
Gladys has received numerous professional and service awards and honors. In 1999 she received the NOBIDAN First President’s Award. The WSU Alumni Achievement Award was presented to Gladys in 2005. For her activism and commitment to Black Studies, the library in the Talmadge Anderson Heritage House was named in her honor. In 2009 she was one of five WSU Women of Distinction honorees; her selection that year for the Lifetime Achievement Award formally acknowledged her accomplishments as an educator, nutritionist, mentor, and philanthropist.
In her work and in her life, Gladys emphasizes the trusted advice of her parents: “get an education to get ahead.” Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of undergraduate and graduate students in the U.S. and beyond have been touched by her influence and encouragement in furthering their academic pursuits.