Redbird legacy: Ties to ISU extend to both sides of family tree
Lawrence Whittet ’78 and his ex-wife, Melissa “Missy” (Gehrt) ’77, met at a Toga party as undergraduates. Dating led to marriage in 1980, which extended an ISU legacy on both sides of their family tree.
Missy’s maternal grandmother, Cora (Belle) Hancock, completed a teaching diploma in 1925. Her daughter and Missy’s mother, Phyllis, married Daniel Gehrt. He earned a master’s degree in 1971. Daniel held management positions in the University’s bookstore and ISU personnel division. Missy completed an elementary education degree at ISU. Her sister, Sarah (Gehrt) Oberst ’97, majored in social work.
Lawrence’s mother, Mary (Harding) Whittet, was a 1940 alumna. She worked as a housekeeper to President Raymond Fairchild. Mary’s brother, Elmer Harding, attended Illinois State in the 1930s. He was a halfback on the football team.
Lawrence majored in business administration after working with his father, Delbert, at Rowe Construction in Bloomington. Two nieces to Missy and Lawrence attended ISU as well—Tamara Henson in the 1980s and Elizabeth (Oberst) Jackson, a 2006 human development and family graduate.
ISU prepared Lawrence for a career in project management and construction. He worked in nuclear power plants for two decades, then joined Bechtel Telecom Division, which placed 49,000 cellular towers during his six years there.
He and Missy moved to Texas in 1987, and call Granbury home. They welcomed four children and 11 grandchildren. Missy taught first and third grades, and now helps students overcome dyslexia. Lawrence transitioned into solar energy, and consults with Sterling and Wilson. The work took him to Dubai for construction of the world’s largest solar plant.
He and Missy remain loyal Redbirds. They have been donors since 1982, and host their annual tailgate party each year at Homecoming. Lawrence attends one men’s basketball game each season, continuing the tradition of his father, who was honored by Athletics as ISU’s oldest fan before his death at age 99.
“I truly believe in the University and have a loyalty to Illinois State,” said Lawrence, who purchases for each family member ISU attire to wear every Christmas. It’s just one more way he and Missy celebrate their ISU family legacy.