Jay Wolz: The unofficial historian of Southeast
A third-generation Southeast alumnus with deep connections with the university continues to live his Redhawk reality on a daily basis in his unique university position.
Director of Alumni Relations Jay Wolz lives and bleeds Southeast. His family ties to the university go back nearly seven generations, with family property that is now part of the campus.
“Part of the River Campus property was in our family before my grandfather passed and was later gifted to the university,” he said. “My mom likes to joke that her bedroom was right about center stage in Bedell 60, 70 years ago. My great-grandmother had a house on Morgan Oaks Street right where Dobbins Hall is sitting right now.”
With two daughters and a wife who are also graduates, he has nothing but good things to say about the university. In some ways, the start of his own family can be accredited to Southeast.
“I met my wife here. I was in a fraternity down the hill, she was in a sorority up the hill,” he said. “I tell people I married above me, she says, ‘In more ways than one.’”
Wolz, a native of Chester, Illinois, passed up the opportunity to study at the University of Missouri in favor of attending Southeast. He wrote his own major in interdisciplinary studies focusing on mass communications with an emphasis on broadcast journalism and public relations
During his time on campus, Wolz was the editor of the Southeast Arrow and a member of the Sagamore staff (Southeast’s former yearbook), while also being a part of Southeast’s marching band, the now-defunct Phi Sigma Epsilon fraternity, the University Players and the Public Relations Society of America.
Wolz said he learned a lot about the university during his time as a student, including the exploration of a route around campus not seen by the light of day.
“My fraternity, we actually mapped out the tunnels and figured out where they all led,” he said. “I can remember, we found places like the University Center construction site (because it was still under construction then).We would come out [and say], ‘Oh, we’re at the University Center,” we felt ourselves going down the hill - ‘Oh, we’re at the language arts building,’ and so on.”
Any time one walks around campus with Wolz, it would becomes evident that he knows several facts about Southeast that may or may not go unmentioned in the history books. One such example is the building he works in. According to Wolz, the alumni building was once the housing site for Cape Girardeau’s First Baptist Church, but it was stipulated in the contract that if the building could not make it as a church, it could be converted into a dance hall or movie theater.
That is just one of the interesting pieces of trivia Wolz has to share. He prides himself on being an unofficial historian of sorts, and he can tell hundreds of stories related to Southeast culture.
Additionally, he is full of university spirit. His office is home to many interesting relics, including mugs, clocks, photos and more, and his wardrobe is full of red hats, school shirts and special ties. He owns virtually all available Redhawk ties, and the university bookstore staff knows Wolz well enough to alert him if a new one becomes available for purchase. His watch face even features a picture of Rowdy the Redhawk.
Even outside of his job and past school experience, Wolz spends his free time doing Southeast-centered activities like keeping constant contact with alumni or going to antique shops and locating old editions of the “Sagamore.” Wolz currently has dozens of them, and he is constantly on the lookout for more.
Once, he even stumbled across an early Southeast diploma and was able to locate the degree-bearer’s next of kin.
Southeast publications “The Arrow” and “Sagamore” are special to Wolz, as he and his wife, Kathleen, held positions as editors (he as the editor of “The Arrow,” she as the editor of “The Sagamore”) while they were in school. To date, they are the only couple to be editors of both publications who later got married.
Wolz met his wife while they were students at Southeast in the 1970s, and their alma mater runs in the family; his two daughters, Katie and Allison, also graduated in 2008 and 2015, respectively. He used to live in Towers South before moving to Greek housing, which turned out to be the future location for his youngest daughter’s sorority.
“I remember going to an open house at the sorority house and walking through and saying, ‘And I lived in this room, and I lived in that room, and in this room...,” he said.
As for his job, it came about after many years in print and broadcast journalism and healthcare marketing. Upon graduating, he wrote for a small newspaper in Malden, Missouri, before eventually taking on positions for The Southeast Missourian, KFVS12 and area hospitals.
When he was offered a position with the university, he did not have to think twice before choosing to take the job.
“My favorite part of my job is when I talk to alumni and realize that the things they experienced when they were on campus are the same things that students now are experiencing, or that I experienced,” he said.
He began working at the university in 2012, and since then he has had contact with thousands of former graduates. During the course of his life, he has had contact with 11 different generations of Southeast students. Since January alone, he has interacted with nearly 1,000 Southeast alumni, and the numbers just keep rising. He has traveled to Ireland with alumni and is currently in the process of planning a trip with the alumni association to Italy, with subsequent trips to Budapest, Prague and Vienna.
As a person, Wolz is a man of many interests; he regularly scuba dives. For him, it is a way to unwind while differentiating himself from the more typical hobbies. Wolz is also a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Blues hockey team.
In all aspects of his life, one thing is for sure: Southeast is an important part of Wolz, and he clearly loves what he does.
“You may forget the details [of the job], but you remember the feelings,” he said. “It’s the job I want to retire from.”