Alumni Profile: Nita Unruh, Class of 1990

Nita Unruh

When did you graduate from Henderson, and what was your major?

I graduated in Summer 1990 with a Bachelor of Science in recreation management. I furthered my education by receiving my Master of Science from Florida State University in leisure studies with a certificate in college teaching, and received my Doctorate of Education from The University of Arkansas in health kinesiology recreation and dance.

Why did you choose Henderson?

Funny story. I really did not choose Henderson. I know that sounds terrible, but I was a non-traditional student and a single parent. The summer before I started, my mom kept bringing me things to sign at work. I did not realize I was signing financial aid forms, admittance forms, a lease for an apartment and signing up for classes. After it was all done, she came in and told my boss my last day was “x” as I was enrolled to go back to school full-time at Henderson in Arkadelphia. There is no telling Mom “no” when she has made up her mind on something. Best decision she ever coerced me into.

Who were your favorite professors?

Several. Dr. Delores White pushed me to not settle and try to achieve perfection; Dr. Alvin Futrell for believing in me and pushing me out of the nest… I miss our talks; Dr. Jimmy Jones - I use his “Jonesisms” to this day in my classes. My favorite being “if you are late you can ride the wing as the plane has left the gate.”

What is your current occupation?

I am full professor and department chair of the Kinesiology and Sport Sciences Department at the University of Nebraska Kearney.

How did Henderson prepare you for your career?

All my professors pushed me to achieve excellence in the things I did. Also, getting the opportunity to teach a little for Dr. White might have been what really opened my eyes to what I wanted to do.

What is your favorite memory of Henderson?

Really, I have two, one as a student: Sitting in the Wells building upstairs and visiting with Dr. Jimmy Jones and Dr. Futrell. The other memory was when I came back as an assistant professor. I wore two different blue shoes to work, and the only one who noticed was Mrs. Buck, our office associate. She and I laughed about it all day as we asked my male colleagues what was wrong with my outfit and none of them caught it.

When was the last time you were on the Henderson campus?
Summer of 1999

What other job do you think you’d be really good at?

This is a tough one, as I still think I am working on being good at the one I have now. Maybe organizing social gatherings.

How do you relax after a hard day?

Kick my high heels off, change into my tennis shoes and walk the dog. It might then progress into a glass of wine or a beer with friends on the patio.

Who do you admire the most, and why?

My parents. My mother achieved her bachelor’s degree the winter before I did, and her masters while I was working on my doctorate. Her drive made it easy for me to believe I could accomplish what I set out to do. My father was retired military who never completed high school, but was brilliant and always said I could do whatever I set my mind to do. But more than that, they were always there for me, especially in the tough times. They are the solid foundation that helped me become who I am today, and I could not have done it without them.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?

Find something to do that is way out of their comfort zone and do it. For me it is performing on stage. Check that is done! (Nita performed for a Rotary fundraiser of “Dancing with the Stars” and undertook several months of professional dance training before the big event!)

What’s the hardest lesson you learned?

Just because someone says they “love you” doesn’t mean they know what the word “love” means…..

What are three interesting facts about you?
1. I am a former middle-distance runner.
2. I completed my bachelors, masters and nearly my entire doctorate degree as a single mom (got married again the last year of that degree). If I can do it, anyone can!
3. I learned to drive three on the tree (three-speed manual transmission whose gearshift lever is mounted on the steering column)

If your life was a book, what would its title be?


If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what would it be?

Be honest with me and yourself.

What have you been doing since the Corona Virus outbreak?

Learning how to be an effective teacher online…..and I discovered binge watching TV shows!

As we celebrate Hispanc Heritage Month, what does it mean to be Hispanic?

I’ve never really thought of “what does it mean to be Hispanic.” Growing up in a house with a parent from the U.S. and in the military, and one from Panama, it just seemed normal. It’s like breathing, it is who I am. My parents tried to instill in me that all ethnicities are the same; some of us have different names, speak different languages, and maybe look different, but after that we are all the same. Again, part of that is growing up in the military, I think. If you look at me you would not know I was Latina. In fact, some of my students are surprised when I tell them. However, my name gives me away. I am proud to carry that name, and I am proud to be an American-Latina and I hope I represent well.