A familiar presence on the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Prescott campus is Chancellor Frank Ayers’ delightful wife, Debbie Ayers. If Embry-Riddle had an official ambassador to promote goodwill and campus spirit Mrs. Ayers would certainly wear that hat. The long road leading the Ayers to Prescott has been joyful and rewarding.
As a child of a military family Mrs. Ayers was born in Puerto Rico. She traveled around the USA, spent her later school years in northern Virginia and attended Virginia Tech where she received a BS degree in Management, Housing and Family Development. While originally intending to major in Interior Design, Mrs. Ayers became interested in courses focusing on housing design, housing policy and Gerontology and says, “I always thought I would enjoy pursuing the designing of homes for the elderly and handicapped that would specifically address the needs of these groups.”
While at Virginia Tech, Mrs. Ayers was a member of Angel Flight, a service organization affiliated with the Air Force ROTC program. In the early 1970’s when the AFROTC opened its enrollment to women, Mrs. Ayers was asked by one of the AFROTC officers to consult on how the university’s, then all-male, full time Corps of Cadet program might best facilitate the inclusion of female students, being that students in the ROTC programs at the university had to be members of the Corps of Cadets.
Through the process of examining the AFROTC opportunities, she decided to enroll in the program. She was selected to serve as the first commander of the initial all-female unit in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and became the first female in the entire nation to be commissioned through a full-time college level military Corps of Cadets program.
Mrs. Ayers says of this distinction, “Looking back I can see it was a huge stride for the ROTC programs to open enrollment to women, but at the time I felt I was just stepping through a door of opportunity.” Mrs. Ayers graduated as a Distinguished Graduate of AFROTC and also received the Outstanding Senior Award in the College of Home Economics. These major awards given to her are only a few of many personal and professional accolades that the incredibly modest Mrs. Ayers mentions. She is much more interested in promoting others than herself.
Mrs. Ayers met Dr. Ayers at Virginia Tech while they were both involved in AFROTC and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. Following marriage, graduation and commissioning, they both entered active duty in the Air Force within a month of each other. While Dr. Ayers attended pilot training and initial B-52 flight training, Mrs. Ayers served as an Administration Management Officer in a maintenance squadron. They were then assigned to a Strategic Air Command base in upstate NY where she served as an Executive Support Officer and later as the Commander of a joint wing/base Headquarters Squadron Section. Leaving active duty as a Captain, Mrs. Ayers’ time with the Air Force continued in the role of a military spouse. Having raised a family and moving many times they enjoyed the fruits of military life. Mrs. Ayers says, “I love the time we had in the Air Force. The people are amazing and the quality of training and leadership opportunities is phenomenal.”
Colonel Ayers retired after 26 years in the Air Force and became a professor of Aeronautical Science and later, the Chair of the Flight Training Department at the Embry-Riddle campus in Daytona Beach prior to coming to the Prescott campus. The Ayers have two adult sons; one is an artist and custom car painter and pin-striper living in Palm Coast, Fla. and their other son is an Army Infantry Officer recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan and now stationed with his wife at Ft. Campbell, Kent.
Having been associated with the Embry-Riddle World Wide Campus, Daytona Beach and now having lived in Prescott for four years Mrs. Ayers says, “I appreciate the dedication, expertise, knowledge and skills that the faculty, staff and students have. It is a privilege and a blessing to be involved with all the people here at Embry-Riddle.”
She goes on to say of their new season of life, “The distinction of a college the size of Prescott is wonderful. The faculty and staff here are tremendous and so supportive. Frank and I love going to new student orientation events and connecting with the families and encouraging the students to reach their goals. It is so exciting to be a part of the entire spectrum of college life here at ERAU.”
Indeed the Ayers attend and support as many campus events as possible. From Saturday afternoon soccer games in Prescott to welcoming home our returning Eagles Flight Team when they arrive at the airport here in town or accompanying them or other groups out of state, the Chancellor and Mrs. Ayers are Embry-Riddle’s most passionate cheerleaders.
They also thoroughly enjoy hosting many varied student groups to their home throughout the year and are fully engaged and fully committed to the success of this campus.
This spring graduating class is a special one for the Ayers since they arrived at ERAU the same time when the graduates were just beginning freshmen and have had the opportunity to get to know many of them personally.
Mrs. Ayers says of all the ERAU students, “Being able to offer that added layer of support and mentoring to the students has been an awesome time for us. To see their unwavering focus and their intense work is so remarkable. These Embry-Riddle students are fearless and dedicated and it is so neat to be even a small part of that.”
Faith is a major facet of the Ayers life and they are keenly involved in their local church, fellowship and activities. They make “joyful noise” a regular part of their lives at church with Dr. Ayers playing his guitar and Mrs. Ayers singing in a gospel band, as well as another choir. Their local church “family” is a cornerstone of their busy lives. In earlier years Mrs. Ayers ran a home-based business as a Christian book distributor, worked as a church secretary and served as the Teaching Leader for the women’s class of Bible Study Fellowship International in Daytona Beach.
There has always been time for a wide variety of volunteer work as well. Even while being involved in university activities Mrs. Ayers still finds time to support events in town. She enjoys being an active member of the local Chapter Y of P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization), a group of “women helping women achieve their goals and reach for the stars.” Mrs. Ayers loves to celebrate the advancement of all students and likes to help and encourage each and every one who needs assistance.
Mrs. Ayers says of their life at Embry-Riddle in Prescott, “Our lives are full and it just could not be any better for us. We have been blessed by and so enjoyed all the wonderful relationships we have with people not only on campus but in town here as well.”