A Woman in Power

“It used to be called where the pavement ended,” Saundra Inge said as she recalled her hometown of Prichard, Ala. “I knew nothing else. That was home.”

Inge described her stomping grounds as a child with a sense of familiarity, and coincidently, it’s almost the same picture her students paint when they describe time shared with her at Florida A&M University.

Since December 1976, Inge has served FAMU with her joyous presence and manages to run, what some may say, is the most important branch of the university, the Office of Student Activities.

A brown wooden cane stables her every step, but she is still a woman in charge.

“She is a very engaged individual, who has a lot of energy, enthusiasm and strong opinions,” said dean of Student Affairs, Henry Kirby with an abundance of laughter. “I’ve come to appreciate her strong work ethic and everything she has done for the university.”

During the 28 years Kirby has known Inge, he said she has been a powerful woman since day one.

“She is not going to change,” he said. “At times, I wish, as for myself, we had made more time for self – but it is a part of the job description. She gets compensated by the students’ love and appreciation. When they see you hanging around the office long after business hours as she does – they know you care.”

As Kirby filed through papers, he took a deep breath and stopped what he was doing to make what seemed to be the most important statement he has ever made: “I tell her all the time to slow down – but she does not listen to me.”

Striving for Perfection

“She likes order – her order,” said Aisha Parker, 23, a FAMU alumna and Florida State University graduate student from Atlanta. “I met her when I was moving into Diamond Hall. I had some issues getting into my room and my mom was frustrated. Inge took us into her office and told us to go get something to eat and that everything would be taken care of when we came back. So she gave us a piece of candy and sent us on our way.”

Parker described her experience as awesome.

The next summer she came to work for Inge in Student Activities, and said Inge didn’t remember her at first. But after being Inge’s assistant for four years, she said she knew Inge better than anyone else.

“If it works for her, she does it,” she said. “The former director of Student Activities had to get used to her; she wasn’t going to get used to them.”

And that is just the type of influence Inge had over people. Not to be against the grain or hard to work with, but her style was like no other – sincere but iron fisted.

“It’s her way or the highway,” Parker continued.

“Everyone in the office told me that Inge is picky, but I didn’t quite understand until one day she showed me how to staple a piece of paper,” she said.

At that point, Parker said she knew that she could handle the position as her student assistant and said she understood Inge.

“Inge, just loosen up a little bit,” Parker told her in the office one day.

Inge replied, “They just don’t teach you all anymore, do they?”

“She likes to be in charge,” said Brandon Wilson, 22, a senior double major in criminal justice and social work. “She never misses a day.”

As a front desk assistant, he observes her every move, receives most of her messages, and runs her errands.

“What did I send you over there to do in the first place,” Inge quietly said to her assistant as if not to be heard.

Like many times before, Inge tends to forget what she has asked a student to do, but soon remembers – and questions follow.

But unlike the controlling demeanor that Inge keeps at work, at home she shares her powers with the love of her life.

“She’s not controlling in my household,” her husband, Leonard Inge, 63, said with a smirk as he turned his head. “The relationship is not dominated by either one of us at home – we share it.”

Together they have four children, three girls and one boy, who all are alumni of FAMU. And through their offspring, they’ve grown a mutual respect for each other and their separate day-to-day lives.

At 63 years old, Inge is full of life, enthusiasm and humor – disincentive humor.

In front of her is a desk piled with papers, stickers, shirts, scraps of paper with notes and facility request forms, but not according to her.

“Oh, that’s just some stuff I have yet to get to,” she said. “I’ll get to it, but I need you to stay off my desk.”

A Very Hard Worker

Wilson remembered a barbecue he was invited to during the summer of 2006. He said Inge cooked for the multitudes.

But it wasn’t how much or what she cooked that showed him how much she loved the people who surround her, but it was the actions that followed.

“I don’t eat pork,” he said. “So Inge took out some chicken, put it on the grill and made sure I ate, and ate well.”

It was that type of nurturing and emotional attachment to her students that lead to Inge’s biggest step ever.

After three decades of loyalty to the university, Inge was due to retire in 2006 but held it off, received a promotion and stayed close to her “children.”

“She loves it too much,” Wilson said. “Sometimes when our net checks don’t come in on time, she makes sure we eat and get what we need – even if it’s from her personal account. All the students come to her with their problems and Student Activities might not be the same if she left. She loves her job and the students – and I feel that we in turn kept her here.”

Inge said she has grown accustomed to her job and said she likes being something of a mentor to students.

“It’s my job and I love it,” she said. “The students love me and they show it. When they are talking, they think I’m not listening – but I am.”

Not many faculty members can say that they’ve encountered more than 30 student government presidents, but Inge can.

“I have the ability to go to 33 years if it’s the Lord’s will,” she said.