The eternal Covenant hostess

The eternal Covenant hostess

May 20th, 2009 by Joan Garrett McClane in Georgia

Craig Lyon will never leave Covenant College.

At 85 years old, the aging Southern belle has lived on the scenic campus in Lookout Mountain, Ga., for nearly 40 years.

"I felt this was where the Lord wanted me to be," she said in her slow drawl. "I wanted to stay."

Although she was never a student or a teacher at the Presbyterian college, she is as much a part of the school as its oldest building.

"I think people assume she has always been there," said Marshall Rowe, a former student and alumni director at Covenant. "She always has Tic Tacs to give to children. She makes custard for students whenever they get sick. She eats her Big Macs with a fork and knife ... She was loved by the students."

You won't meet a student or a faculty member that doesn't know Mrs. Lyon, her friendly manners and her impeccable memory. Her sight has deteriorated, but she can still be spotted at nearly every graduation, recital and sporting event.

"Craig Lyon would get on the bus with teams and go to (away) games," said Tami Smialek, athletic director at Covenant. "She would bake cookies and brownies, and we would have to say, 'We can't eat all this stuff before the games.' She is a lovely lady."

Yet, even as a mainstay, the tiny woman is something of a mystery to most of the Covenant community.

Staff Photo by Tim Barber Mrs. Craig M. Lyon has been the hostess at Covenant College for 40 years.

Staff Photo by Tim Barber Mrs. Craig M. Lyon...

Preferring to ask questions than answer them, Mrs. Lyon has spent little time talking about herself or how she came to adopt the college as her own.

"She is such an institution, but most people don't know a lot about her history or background," Mr. Rowe said.

Mrs. Lyon came to Covenant College in 1973, nearly 10 years after the college opened its doors. She was 49 years old and had finishing raising her four children in Mississippi. Twelve years earlier, her husband died after an eight-year battle with cancer.

She first came to the Covenant campus several years earlier when her children attended a summer camp there. She said she fell in love with the mountain and the college staff.

"It was a beautiful Christian place," she said, recalling that summer.

So when her children left home, she accepted a job as college hostess and moved alone to North Georgia.

"I felt the Lord had brought me here after much prayer," she said, "and I loved them and they loved me."

It didn't pay much, and she lived in the campus "ghetto" between the men's dorms. But she brought all her charm to the job.

Since she was in charge of maintaining the school's Great Hall and dining area, the lobby was rarely without flowers. Under her leadership, Sunday meals were transformed into a well-planned weekly event.

Students were served at tables with tablecloths instead of waiting in line for their meal, she said.

"It was family style," she said. "We just felt that it would add something very special. They could come in from church. They were dressed very nicely."

Mrs. Lyon didn't cook or plan the meals. She worried about the details, the ambiance, and it paid off, students say.

"She made the Great Hall a wonderful gathering place for students," said Mr. Rowe. "When alumni come back, they always want to go back to the hall because of their memories there."

Since Mrs. Lyon retired in 2000, the school has discontinued the Sunday meals. Instead of using tickets, students swipe plastic dining cards, she said.

Yet, the Great Hall is still a tribute to her. The dining hall was named after Mrs. Lyon shortly after her retirement, and a portrait was hung in her honor.

Administrators allow her to live in a diminutive, college-owned brick home across from the tennis courts and a stone's throw from the on-campus church she has attended for so long.

Sometimes students help her with the lawn, and she has a modest rose garden, which she tries to prune and tend regardless of her fading vision.

Her family of three living children, 10 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren, is scattered throughout the country, but she said she has never considered living with any of them. Her place is at Covenant.

"They have been so gracious to me," she said. "I have no regrets, living here amongst the college. My cup runneth over, honey."