Crossing Paths

From the Fall 2010 edition of Vanderbilt Business

Margaret (second from left) and Jim (far right) with daughter, Elizabeth, and son-in-law, Thomas Bernstein, MBA’10
width=”375px;” Margaret (second from left) and Jim (far right) with daughter, Elizabeth, and son-in-law, Thomas Bernstein, MBA’10

When Margaret and Jim Brunstad, both MBM’75, arrived at Owen in fall 1973, little did they know that their paths would soon merge, sending them in a direction that has been unpredictable at times but enjoyable all the same. “We met on the first day of orientation when I borrowed money for a soft drink,” Margaret recalls. “We were very good classroom buddies for about the first day or so, then we were a couple.”

Graduating from Owen during a recession, they had to look hard for job opportunities. Jim landed a post in banking “by default,” he says, and they moved to Winston-Salem, N.C. Margaret found a position there as the Assistant Budget Director for the city. “It was a time in our lives when we still thought we could do anything,” Margaret says. “My advice to graduates in today’s economy is to be creative and meet the challenge head-on.”

Jim’s career led them to Birmingham, Ala., with AmSouth (now Regions). Using what he learned at Owen, he then helped start First Commercial Bank, now part of Synovus Financial Corp. “Owen talked a lot about entrepreneurism back when it wasn’t fashionable. That stayed with me,” he says.

Meanwhile Margaret took time off to raise the couple’s two daughters and then led Youth Leadership Birmingham, a community leadership program for high school students. Soon after, she became President of Portrait Brokers of America, now Portraits Inc., a national portrait-consulting firm.

The Brunstads, both now retired, find that their path keeps leading back to Vanderbilt. Their sons-in-law recently graduated from the university: one from the School of Medicine in 2007, the other from Owen just this spring. And the Brunstads are now leading CityOwen efforts in Birmingham, putting them at the center of alumni activity in their city. Both express excitement about being involved with the school all these years later.

“While we were on campus this year, it was just so neat to feel all the energy at Owen,” Margaret says. “To see it where it is today is very exciting and gratifying.”

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