JSU Presidents: From 1883 to Today

JSU Presidents: From 1883 to Today


By Heather Greene

While America celebrates President’s Day, let’s take a look back through 134 years of JSU history and recognize the 12 men who have served as president of Jacksonville State.

James Gazaway Ryals, Jr., 1883-1885

The first president of JSU was originally from Bartow County, Ga. After graduating with honors from Mercer University in 1877, he pursued a master’s degree at the University of Virginia. In 1883, he became the president of the State Normal School in Jacksonville, Ala. Unfortunately, his tenure was brief due to his untimely death on April 18, 1885 at the age of 30. 

J. Jarris Chappell, 1885-1886

Faculty member J. Harris Chappell was chosen to finish Ryals’ administrative term in 1885. Prior to coming to the State Normal School, Chappell was on the faculty of the Columbus (Ga.) Female College. After delivering diplomas to the first graduating class in 1886, he resigned to become president of what is now Georgia College in Milledgeville. 

Carleton Bartlett Gibson, 1886-1892

Originally from Mobile, Ala., Carleton Bartlett Gibson graduated from the University of Alabama in 1884, and the university bestowed upon him an honorary master’s degree. In 1886, he became president of the State Normal School and served until 1892. 

J.B. Jarrett, 1892-1893

Professor J.B. Jarrett served as president of the State Normal School for only a year. While little history surrounding him has endured, newspaper records show that he advertised school sessions and his name was often misspelled.

Jacob Forney, IV, 1893-1899

Graduating from the State Normal School in 1886, Jacob Forney IV had the unique privilege of becoming the first president produced by the school in 1893. He went on to earn a bachelor’s and an honorary master’s from the University of Alabama. He was principal of Noble Institute for Boys in Anniston from 1890 to 1892, when he returned to the Normal School to teach math. In 1899, he resigned from the presidency to become the first Chair of Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Alabama. Forney Hall is named in his honor. 

Clarence William Daugette, 1899-1942

Originally from Monroe County, Clarence Daugette earned a bachelor’s degree in 1893 and a master’s in 1894 from Auburn University. He taught science at the Normal School from 1894 until 1899, when he assumed the presidency. Shortly after arriving in Jacksonville, he met and later married Annie Rowan Forney, President Jacob Forney’s sister. He held the longest presidency in the history of JSU, 43 years. Daugette Hall is named in his honor.

Houston Cole, 1942-1971

A native of DeKalb County, Houston Cole earned his two-year certificate from the State Normal School in Jacksonville. After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1926, he became superintendent of schools in Guntersville. He went on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Alabama and served in educational roles in Tuscaloosa before assuming the presidency at Jacksonville State Teachers College in 1942. It was under his administration that JSU was renamed Jacksonville State College in 1957 and became Jacksonville State University in 1967. He is the second longest serving president in JSU history. Under his administration, 24 buildings and two annexes were built or initiated. Leone Cole Auditorium was named in honor of his wife who passed away in 1949 while he was still in office. The JSU library bears his name.

Ernest Stone, 1971-1981

Growing up during the depression, Ernest Stone worked his way through school until he graduated from the Jacksonville State Teachers College in 1933. Following his time in Jacksonville, he received a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Alabama. After serving in various educational leadership capacities in Alabama, even state superintendent of education, he came home to lead JSU on January 1, 1971. He and his wife, Kitty Gunn, made a lasting impression on education in Jacksonville. Mrs. Stone was an educational administrator at Jacksonville Elementary Laboratory School, now named Kitty Stone Elementary School in her honor. During his presidency, the annual budget reached $16.9 million and the campus area exceeded 300 acres. Ernest Stone Performing Arts Center is named in his memory. 

Theron E. Montgomery, 1981-1986

A native of Spartanburg, S.C., Dr. Theron E. Montgomery served in World War II before completing a bachelor’s degree at Wofford College and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Duke University. Arriving on campus in 1950 as a sociology instructor, he was promoted in administrative roles before assuming the presidency on July 1, 1981, where he remained until his retirement in 1986. During his administration, departments began seeking individual accreditation for their specific programs and the athletic teams excelled. The university also purchased the historic Roebuck home, now called the Alumni House. The university’s student commons building is named in his honor.

Harold J. McGee, 1986-1999

Born in Portsmouth, Va., Harold J. McGee received a bachelor's degree from Old Dominion University and went on to receive his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia. In 1986, he became president of JSU. During his administration, enrollment increased by 30 percent, technology was added to enhance student learning in the burgeoning digital age, $50 million in capital improvements were added, every professional program that could be accredited was accredited, the university developed its first master plan and capital campaign, and the JSU Foundation increased to more than $19 million. McGee Hall is named in his honor. 

William A. Meehan, 1999-2015

Born in Wethersfield, Connecticut, Dr. William A. Meehan came to JSU as a freshman in 1968. After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he was asked by Dr. Theron Montgomery to stay on as a full-time biology instructor in 1976. He later earned a doctorate from the University of Alabama and served in several administrative roles at JSU before becoming the 11th president on July 1, 1999. During his tenure, five buildings were constructed and many more renovated. The university’s first doctoral program was also established. He retired on July 1, 2015 after 47 years at the university – 40 as an employee and 16 as president. William A. Meehan Hall is named in his honor. 

John M. Beehler, 2015-Present

Dr. John M. Beehler assumed the helm as JSU’s 12th president on July 1, 2015. A certified public accountant, he is a graduate of the Harvard Institutes of Higher Education Management Development Program and the American Academic Leadership Institute’s Executive Leadership Academy. He earned a bachelor’s in accounting from Pennsylvania State University and an MBA in finance and Ph.D. in accounting and taxation from Indiana University. While only 1.5 years into his administration, Beehler’s impact can already be seen on campus. JSU has graduated its first doctoral student and added a second doctoral program, the Doctor of Nurse Practice. Enrollment has grown and the university recently announced plans to construct at new student recreation center on campus.

We thank all JSU presidents for their service and look forward to adding new milestones in the future as the university endeavors to continue serving as the educational center of Northeast Alabama.