The Wayne family of Marion, La., recently turned the world’s spotlight on Grambling State University when they earned recognition from the Guinness World Book of Records for most family graduates of a single university.

The historically Black university, best known for the legacy of Eddie Robinson, who coached a storied football team at the school for 56 years, is located in Grambling, La., about 40 miles away from Marion, where the Wayne Family has its roots.

Hattie Wayne, who runs a public relations firm in Dallas, Texas, undertook the task of pursuing the world record after she attended an alumni event in Dallas last August and realized just how many of her relatives had passed through the institution, the Dallas News reported.

The Grambling graduate immediately fired off the application to Guinness World Records then spent months rifling through boxes of paperwork, making dozens of phone calls and shooting off a chain of e-mails as she sought to establish her family’s claim to fame.

Last month, she told the Dallas News, her months of hard work paid off. “We are delighted to confirm that you have successfully achieved a new Guinness World Records title. … You are officially amazing,” the e-mail from Guinness officials read, as quoted by the newspaper.

Wayne, who graduated from Grambling in 1971, said 86 relatives attended Grambling since the 1940s, but only 52 graduated with degrees in everything from education, criminal justice, computer science, electrical engineering, business, music education and English literature.

Due to missing and/or lost documentation—such as birth certificates and diplomas—Guinness only certified 40 of the family’s graduates.

Still, the Wayne family easily surpassed an Alabama family who held the record for most college graduates in a single family—the closest existing category. The now deceased Dan and Helen Fagan of Bessemer, Ala., saw 15 of their 16 children graduate with a tertiary level degree.

“We’re all just ecstatic,” said Hattie Wayne, of the recognition. “I’m personally excited not just for our family but for our little town of Marion, for the state of Louisiana, for Grambling and for all HBCUs.”

Will Sutton, a Grambling State spokesman said it was a “well-deserved” honor for the Waynes. The university’s President Frank G. Pogue offered a special recognition of the Waynes at the school’s commencement ceremony on May 9, declaring it “Wayne Family Day,” and he plans to do more.

“We’re ecstatic,” Sutton told the AFRO. “It’s an incredible example of what commitment and dedication to a cause can do.

“We worked with Hattie and the others over the past few months to provide them with everything and anything they need, but they did the work,” he added. “There is nothing that Grambling State University did to achieve this recognition, but provide the Waynes with a wonderful education.”

The Guinness certificate underscores the quest for education and achievement that has been the bedrock of the Wayne family, relatives said.

As part of the Guinness submission, Hattie Wayne listed a number of Wayne “history-makers,” including: actress Bre’ly Evans, who appeared in Sparkle and on “Being Mary Jane;” Indianapolis Colts All-Pro wide receiver Reggie Wayne; retired Air Force Lt. Col Donald Tatum, who graduated from Louisiana Tech but whose five children are all Grambling graduates; Dr. Micean Johnikin, a pediatric cardiologist; and Dr. Brian Freelon, a research physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One of those “history-makers,” Renee Tatum Walters of Montgomery, Ala., a National Merit Scholar and former university professor, said she could not stop crying after learning about the honor.

“I’m the emotional Wayne,” she said the News. “To have this kind of legacy is incredible.”

The Wayne family plans to establish an endowment or scholarship at Grambling, where one relative is currently enrolled.

“For the Wayne family, Grambling State University has been our ‘village,’” Hattie Wayne said, as quoted by “Education has always been of importance. We believe our efforts of giving back will leave a legacy and will inspire others.”

Sutton, the university spokesman, said an endowment or scholarship would be a thoughtful and welcome act. “I think it would be a wonderful thing for the Waynes to do such a thing to recognize the scores of Wayne family members who got their educational foundation at Grambling State University,” he said.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO