Mike Pepper didn’t immediately make the transition from high school to Lipscomb University, but the many rewards of his decision made the wait worthwhile. His degree from Lipscomb is in religious education, but he found his career as a pharmacist. He met his wife, Paige, at Lipscomb and they have five children. Pepper spent some time this week talking with Lipscombsports.com about his time at Lipscomb, his career path and his Christian walk.
What years did you play at Lipscomb? Who were your coaches?
“In 1981 and ’82 I ran both cross country and track. Then I took a two-year hiatus. I was paying my way through school. I worked a couple of jobs and came back and ran cross country in the fall of 1984.
“Rodney Smith was my coach in ’81 and ’82. I walked on and I was offered a scholarship, but it wasn’t enough to pay the bills. When I came back Kent Johnson was the coach and he offered me a much better scholarship.”
Why did you choose Lipscomb?
“I am from Athens, Alabama. I lived in rural Alabama. I graduated from high school in 1978, but didn’t start at Lipscomb until 1981.
“We weren’t college-going people in my family. I met this young lady at church who was a student at Lipscomb. Going from Athens to Nashville was like going to Hong Kong. Nashville was like the other side of the world.
“But I thought Nashville sounds pretty neat. I grew up in the Church of Christ. I loaded up my ’78 Grand Prix and moved myself into High Rise.
“I worked at a Winn-Dixie in high school bagging groceries. They offered me a full-time job as a frozen food manager. I did that for a couple of years. From 1980-81 I went to night school at Calhoun Community College and then started Lipscomb in the fall quarter.”
What is your fondest athletic memory at Lipscomb?
“The cross country national championship was in Kenosha, Wisconsin in the NAIA days. Competing in it was such an honor. It was a terrific, terrific race. That is a special athletic memory.
“It was Kent’s first year at Lipscomb. He had looked at the budget and he couldn’t fly us to Chicago. We drove to Kenosha in his small sedan with his wife and two small children. The other runner was David Curd. I was 6-foot-3 and David was around 6-1. The team didn’t qualify, but we did. We were kind of folded in the back of the car and drove 10 hours, give or take, to Kenosha.
“We found out later that the athletic department had special funds for national competitions. We could have flown all along. I still give Kent a hard time about that.”
Who had the biggest influence on you during your athletic career at Lipscomb? How?
“It would have to be Kent Johnson. I had a real appreciation for Rodney Smith, but there was a training technique that Kent used. Kent was real big on alternating hard workouts and easy workouts.
“I had fresher legs in ’84. I was a different athlete as opposed to ’81 and ’82. I really trimmed a lot off of my times from ’81 and ’82 to ’84.
“Kent was also in my wedding. He was not only a great coach and mentor, but he has been a great friend.”
What is your fondest non-athletic memory from your time at Lipscomb?
“The Rudolph Red-Nosed Run in 1984 was held before the Christmas Parade. There were thousands of people waiting to watch the parade, not to see the race. It was a five-mile race down West End. It was wonderful.
“My best memory is before that race, a friend of mine, Jim Hassey, stopped for about 15 seconds and chatted with a gorgeous young lady. I asked him, `who was that’ and he told me he could not remember her name.
“We ran the race on Sunday. It is the week of finals. On Monday I run into this same young lady on campus. I see her again on Tuesday and Thursday in the cafeteria.
“On that Thursday we got together with some friends at my little apartment. We played Trivial Pursuit. I walked her back to Yearwood which is no longer there. Pickup lines were not my strong suit. I was trying to come up with a way to ask for her phone number so I could keep in touch with her.
“I came up with the idea that we were running this marathon is a week in Huntsville, Alabama and would she be interested in coming along with me, Jim and Kent. Remarkably, she said yes.
“Jim was a no-show, but Paige drove Kent and me to Huntsville so we could rest before the race. Kent realized what might be happening and he told us after the race that he was going to ride back with his brother. So Paige and I had a real nice drive back to Nashville. That was sort of step two in our romance.
“I don’t remember ever seeing Paige Perry (the young lady) on campus until that week. We will have been together 30 years this summer.”
How did you become a coach at Lipscomb?
“Kent Johnson left Lipscomb to get his PhD. I was getting my master’s in exercise science at Middle Tennessee State at the time.
“Lynn Griffith, who I also have a high regard for, called me and asked what I thought about coaching. Earl Lavender coached the team in 1985 and I coached from 1986-88. It was a wonderful memory to have the opportunity to coach young runners.”
What is the most valuable thing you gained or learned from your time at Lipscomb?
“The integration of all facets of life. Christianity is not a compartment you fit in on Sunday or in Wednesday night Bible studies. But it is integrated in every aspect of our life in all of our communities whether it is as an athlete or coach, a student, a Dad or a pharmacist.
“Those early seeds were sewn and those truths flowered while I was at Lipscomb.”
Who was your favorite professor? Why?
“I could name a laundry list of people, but I want to honor Dr. Harvey Floyd. I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do in life, but I knew college offered something more than a life filling frozen food cases at a grocery store.
“I was introduced to Dr. Floyd by a friend. I took him for a class and realized he had something that I needed. I followed him around. Whatever he taught I took. I ended up getting a minor in Greek because Dr. Floyd taught Greek.
“I have been to a lot of schools and I have had some wonderful teachers. But there is no one who was more excellent at what he did than Dr. Floyd.
“He had a clarity about what the Christian gospel is. He said it in a way I had never heard it. He integrated high expectations with excellence and what I called a stern kindness. He approached those things in the same way as Coach Don Meyer, who I also had a lot of respect for.
“Dr. Floyd really transformed something in me. In high school it was how do I get out of reading a book? But he enlarged the universe for me. I thought, `oh, my, the world is wonderful’. I became an avid reader.
“Some of my pharmacist friends ask me why does a pharmacist read Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor and Graham Green. I think about Dr. Floyd, Randy Harris and John Harris when answering that question. I didn’t have Randy as a professor, but he became a good friend and had a strong influence on my spiritual development.”
How does a Bible major make the transition to being a pharmacist?
“I kind of went through a crooked pathway for sure. The seed of the answer to this question started at Lipscomb.
“I wasn’t going to seminary. I didn’t have that call in my life. I wasn’t going to be a teacher or a professor. I had a degree in religious education and Greek so what do you with that?
“I took human anatomy and physiology with Dr. Phil Choate. He was terrific. I had been living in the humanities, but he sewed the seed of, `wow, the human body is interesting and what a wonderful thing we are’.
“I had a friend who put me in contact with a department head at MTSU. There was a stipend with the exercise science program that was connected with the Wellness Center at Nissan. I worked there for a year in that master’s program.
“With that introduction to the sciences I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of doctors, physical therapists and pharmacists. I liked the pharmacy platform. My good wife was willing to take a leap and we moved to Birmingham where she taught school for a year and then became a dorm mom for Chi Omega while I attended the pharmacy school at Samford for four years.”
Where do you live now?
Who is your employer? What is your occupation? What does your position entail?
“I work for TwelveStone Health Partners. I am the director of compounding pharmacy. A better term for a general audience is we prepare drugs for infusion use in therapy in the home. I have been here 10 years.
“I was at Saint Thomas West for 14 years before this.”
Tell us about your family.
“Paige and I have five children. The oldest is our son, Ross, 24. We have four daughters – Grace, 22; Mary Paige, 19; Maggie, 16; and Annie is 13.”
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.