Retiring chemistry professor Villa Mitchell said she will miss many things about Lipscomb. But the commute will not be one of them.
Mitchell has been living on her family farm in McMinnville, Tennessee, making a three-hour commute to Lipscomb for work every day.
“McMinnville’s about 75 miles southeast of here.” Mitchell said. “It’s a small town, mostly rural farming, not much of anything there. If you want to retire it’s a good place for that.”
Retiring there is what Mitchell plans to do. She will leave Lipscomb at the end of the semester after 40 years of teaching. During her time at Lipscomb, Mitchell taught many classes, ranging from general introduction chemistry classes to organic chemistry labs and biochemistry.
From those classes, Mitchell has accumulated several memories. Among those memories, Mitchell said a more memorable one was an explosion in an organic chemistry lab.
“When I was teaching organic labs, a lot of the guys in there would find something to explode.” Mitchell said. “It was always interesting to them. They would sometimes, without me knowing it, try different experiments.
“I did have a couple of guys who blew something up, and I can’t even remember what the reaction was now, but they did it and we had stains on the ceiling from their endeavors.”
While Mitchell might not miss moments like these, she said there are things she will miss. Mitchell said she has enjoyed seeing how her students have changed over the years and will miss interacting with them the most.
“When I started teaching, my students would take notes writing down every word I said furiously, and if they couldn’t get everything down they would get really upset,” she said. “The common complaint was that I talked so fast they couldn’t write down everything.
“Then I got to where students wanted to record the lectures and I thought that was fine. Now, when I’m doing a power point or writing something down on the board, they pull out their smart phones and just take a picture.”
Mitchell decided that she wanted to teach chemistry in high school. She credits her unique class experience with what made her so interested in the subject.
“I loved high school chemistry.” Mitchell said. “I really didn’t get the typical exposure in high school. The teacher we had was on his way between college and dental school. Probably the last class he had was organic, so that’s pretty much what he taught us rather than just general chemistry and I found that just fascinating.”
Mitchell found it fascinating enough to dedicate 40 years of her time to it, but that time is soon coming to an end. Trading in classrooms and chemical equations for clinic rooms with cats and dogs, Mitchell will now be spending her time working at the clinic she started in 2012, PAULS.
The clinic’s name stands for “Prevent All Unwanted Litters” and is a tribute to Mitchell’s friend, Paul Holder, who donated the building.
The clinic offers spay and neuter services for cats and dogs as well as vaccinations and has a couple of designated surgery days each week.
Its target is around 50 surgeries a week, in order to encourage foundations to give the clinic grant money. This grant money is important to the clinic, which uses the grants to help encourage families who would otherwise be unable to afford to bring in their cats and dogs to get fixed, to take them in.
Because of the grant money, the clinic is able to offer surgeries for a $20-$25 copay.
“We have a lot of people who call, that are on minimum wage or have a lot of children that are struggling to get by,” Mitchell said, “They’re not going to go to a local vet to spend $150 to get their pet fixed, but they’ll come to us.”
Helping animals is something Mitchell said she is passionate about. Mitchell has been rescuing dogs since 2003 and at one time had a combination of 25 puppies/adult dogs on her farm.
While the typical rescue procedure involves taking care of the dog temporarily until you can place it into a new home, Mitchell sometimes finds herself taking them in permanently and is currently housing 11 dogs.
“It’s not like I woke up one morning and thought, I need 11 dogs in my life,” Mitchell said. “Most of them were rescues, a lot of them I sent to homes and it didn’t work out, so they sent them back.
“I always stand behind the animals and say, ‘for whatever reason, if this doesn’t work, you don’t turn this dog into a shelter or give it to somebody else, send it back and we’ll re-home it’. Some of them I didn’t re-home, because I didn’t want them to have to make a long trip back to New England, so they ended up being mine.”
This passion for animals has been with Mitchell for a long time. Even though she grew up on a farm, Mitchell was not allowed to have dogs and cats as pets growing up.
“To make up for it, (our parents) let us play with pigs and calves, goats, all those,” Mitchell said. “For some reason, they thought cats and dogs were the nastiest creatures God ever made.”
This, in part, fueled Mitchell’s desire to want to spend time and help out the animals she wasn’t able to have growing up. The tipping point came in 2003, when Mitchell came across an advertisement from the humane society that was trying to recruit people to help reorganize the society to save animals.
Mitchell offered to do grant proposals for the spay and neuter clinic and got “sucked in with that.” From there, the clinic introduced her to fostering and rescue.
“There was a pregnant dog that came into the shelter and they got me to foster her,” Mitchell said. “She had a litter of five pups, so I had those at the house and it kind of snowballed from there.”
Mitchell says between running the clinic and continuing to rescue animals, it will still feel like she has a full-time job, but one she will be taking on to make a difference.
“It’s really hard not to do some rescuing, even though I know I can make more of a difference in the clinic,” she said. “For every dog that you spay and neuter, you’re going to prevent all those litters from being born, therefore they’re not out there to have to rescue.”
To find out more about PAULS clinic and learn how you can help this cause, visit http://paulsclinicinc.com/ .