Leslie Steele has been part of Cumberland University's prestigious staff for the last 10 years.
As Executive Coordinator to the University President, she has witnessed students take off on their journey and fulfill dreams of obtaining college degrees. "I am privileged to work with a group of people who passionately believe in the power of education," she said, noting that she works closely with the University Board of Trust who "are some of the most inspiring and influential leaders in their respective fields, who have a heart for Cumberland and education."
"Working alongside them and our new President (Dr.) Paul Stumb is an honor and something I am proud to do every day," Steele said.
Steele was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and relocated to Minnesota as a young child. At the age of 10, she moved with her family to Lebanon.
Following high school graduation, Steele attended college at the University of Tennessee and spent a decade in Knoxville before coming home to her roots.
"Admittedly, when I graduated high school I had big ambitions about moving away and living in a big city. However, raising my son in Lebanon, where I grew up, with the children of many people I went to school with, and with my mother being here, has been the greatest blessing," Steele said. "As a single mother, I have truly felt like we are surrounded by a small-town circle of love and protection."
Steele is mighty proud of her son, Ethan, 18, who will begin classes at her alma mater this fall.
For a woman who never planned to be a mother and raised her son singlehandedly - Steele described motherhood as her life's greatest joy.
"There is no way for me to single out one part of motherhood as the best. However, if I had to choose one thing it would be this: The absolutely indescribable love, true love, unconditional love that you share with your child," Steele said. "My son and I get each other, we like each other. There are no pretenses. I love that I have this human I've raised that has seen me in the depths of despair, the heights of happiness, has grown with me, learned with me and he loves me no matter what and vice versa. That is love - it's what artists paint, singers sing and authors write about. It takes my breath away."
Steele's advice for other single parents is to accept that it's not ideal, mourn a little and move on.
"There is no handbook on how to be a parent, let alone a single parent. Everyone has their own style, their own methods and their own beliefs, and as long as yours are based on a foundation of love and doing what is best for your child, then you've got half the battle won," she explained.
"My only regrets are the times I didn't spend with my child, the times I didn't put him first, that I chose my happiness or self-gratification first, and there have been plenty of those. It is natural to want to date or to have a life of your own, and I believe for many moms that can happen and work beautifully - but there must be a balance and ultimately we must be willing to sacrifice for our children... At the end of your days you will not wish you had made more money, or had a better job, or were more socially connected. I feel sure that you will wish you had more time with your children and loved ones."
In her spare time - when she isn't helping Ethan prepare for college - Steele enjoys staying active, traveling, hanging out with friends and attending live music or sporting events.
"After losing 100 pounds many years ago, I developed a love for the gym. It really is my happy place and a great mental health drug," she said.
An avid runner, Steele has completed four half-marathons and one marathon.
She has been involved in organizations including Meals on Wheels and sits on the board of Leadership Wilson.
"I graduated from that program in 2013," she recounted. "I love their mission of building strong leaders within our community who have a heart for giving back."
Steele is also a member of Crosspoint Church.
Steele most admires her mother, Sandra Hoskins; and her late grandmother, Jessie Caruthers.
She said that Hoskins, a Stage 4 cancer survivor and strong Christian example, has had a very successful career as a hairstylist and is still doing hair at the age of 77.
Caruthers was another hard-working woman who inspired Steele.
"She was a strong, opinionated, sassy woman, a working-mother her whole life - when that wasn't the norm - and in my mind, an example of what a Christian is," Steele continued. "She loved everyone. She did not see color or class or age or any category that pigeonholes people or puts them in boxes."
Caruthers volunteered at the hospital every week after she retired, in addition to caring for her grandchildren, traveling and reading the Bible.
"She lived 92 years of an amazing life," said Steele. "I have been molded by two strong working women who taught me to embrace life, treasure friends and family and show other women they are beautiful and worthy of all their hearts desires. In the end, I pray that I have raised a son who will value his unconventional upbringing by fierce, funny, God-loving women - and be inspired by their love to respect woman and all human beings, and be the best man he can be."