The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

‘He’s never met a stranger’: Sunshine spreads kindness at MSU

Megan Gordon

Willie “Sunshine” Coleman leans on the front desk of Hathorn Hall on a cool Wednesday afternoon. He says “hello” to every passerby, sparking quick conversations with each.

A coworker of his is among those walking through. He asks Coleman about work for the day. Coleman tells him about a few “fix-it tickets,” requests sent to him as a maintenance worker for campus housing. He takes a break from that work to chat with student workers.

Carmen Bryan, a freshman interior design major, is an information assistant at Hathorn and occupies its front desk for a few hours most days. In the short time she has worked with housing, she has become friends with Coleman.

“He’s really friendly. He’s never met a stranger,” Bryan said. “He pretty much knows everyone in the building.”

65-year-old Coleman grins and laughs with Bryan. His age only shows through his salt and pepper hair. The only wrinkles on his face are from the long-stretched smile lines on his cheeks and brow.

According to Coleman, chatting with students is something he has done since his days as a custodian in Hurst Hall. It is something he does to make them feel at ease while trying to navigate the strange world of college life. He starts these relationships the day he sees them walk through the door.

“When [the students] first come in, we would greet them and talk to them and talk to the parents. Well, after the parents leave, then it looked like they felt they had somebody they can talk to that was in the building,” Coleman said.

Coleman mentioned his own children, Corey and Jamie, picturing them in a situation of leaving home and needing a friend.

“If [my child] was out stranded somewhere I would want somebody, a stranger, to be able to help them without harm, you know what I’m saying,” Coleman said. “So that’s what I feel about these kids.”

The students and Starkville locals alike refer to Coleman as “Sunshine,” a name that has stuck with him through his past 30 years of living in Starkville.

His bright personality and wide smile make “Sunshine” make sense, but the nickname did not come from either of these traits. Instead, it came from a business he owned.

He began detailing cars at his home in Starkville to earn a bit of money after being laid off from his job at Big Yank Corporation in West Point as a result of the 9/11 attacks. He had no job for six months, and washing cars was his only way of earning an income. Later on, he opened a business that focused on washing cars and sewing machine repair.

“When it was raining, I’d be inside working on machines, and when the sun was shining, I’d wash cars. I did that, and I named it ‘Sunshine Carwash,’” Coleman said.

According to Coleman, he washed cars for faculty and students on campus. These customers referred to him as “Sunshine,” the man behind Sunshine Carwash. The business was located on Highway 182, where Starkvegas Snowballs is now.

“It stuck with me all over Starkville,” Coleman said. “When I go to restaurants to eat, people was like, ‘Oh, you’re Mr. Sunshine! Mr. Sunshine!’ So, I just let it roll.”

After owning the shop for 14 years, he needed to begin a retirement plan. He then started working at Mississippi State University as a custodian, and later a maintenance worker.

Coleman’s time bringing smiles to studen

ts’ faces as a maintenance worker for MSU’s Housing and Residence Life has spanned for six years, and he has plans to make the next school year his last.

“I just enjoy being around. Well, I’m planning on in the next year leaving. I’ll be retiring,” Coleman said.

In his retirement, Coleman will put more time to his favorite hobby: bowling. On the weekends that he is not contributing to his church as a trustee, he travels with his church buddies and wife to compete. He has traveled to places such as Las Vegas and Memphis, Tennessee to play, and once he finishes his time with MSU housing, he plans to get back on the road and bowl even more.

Though he has traveled across the country, and to other places such as Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Coleman has always called Mississippi his home.

He grew up in Artesia, just southwest of Starkville. He moved to Columbus for about six months when he was a teenager, but he moved back to Artesia until he was on his own after graduating from Motley High School in Columbus.

After finishing high school, he began working in a warehouse and watching his boss work on sewing machines at Red Kap, a clothing company. After beginning with Red Kap, he then worked at Garan Manufacturing in Starkville. Here, he helped with the production of children’s clothes.

During his time at Garan Manufacturing, he met a coworker’s daughter that was around his age. The woman, Lisa, would work with them during the summer when she was not taking classes at Rust College in Holly Springs. She and Coleman became close friends, and eventually, they began dating. The two have now been married for 33 years.

Lisa Coleman worked for MSU at Student Account Services and the Office of Travel Services until her retirement in 2019. In her retirement, she works with kindergarteners and first graders in an after school program with Oktibbeha County Schools.

She travels with Coleman on his bowling adventures, calling herself a cheerleader. As she discussed her time with her husband, she took a long moment to find one memory that was great. She then named off multiple memories of their travels, noting her apprehension with planes and boats and how Coleman would recruit people who were nearby to help get her mind off things.

“So he kept saying, ‘come on down! come on down!’ to everybody we got to know, and you know Willie don’t meet strangers,” Lisa Coleman said.

Coleman will spend one more year working at Mississippi State University before spending more moments like this with his wife. Even after his time of being kind to students and staff, he plans to still greet every stranger he meets like they are a lifelong friend.

About the Contributor
Megan Gordon
Megan Gordon, Former Life & Entertainment Editor
Megan Gordon served as the Life & Entertainment Editor from 2023 to 2024.
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