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Willey Family Continues Perdue School Legacy

Willey family
Clockwise from top left: Bobby, Melissa, Bailey and Colby Willey.

SALISBURY, MD---As Ishmael “Bailey” and Colby Willey were growing up in southern Delaware, their family’s grocery stores were a great place to hone their video game skills in the back offices or maybe burn off some energy after closing time, when all the customers had left.

Today, those businesses serve as a model for their future, and Salisbury University is helping them prepare — just like it did for their parents more than two decades ago.

When their mother, Melissa Hocker Willey, earned her B.S. in business from SU in 1998, her father, Gerald, had already been running Hocker’s Markets — G&E Supermarket and Hocker’s Super Center — for more than a quarter-century, having purchased the former from his Uncle Jake in 1971. (Jake opened the store in 1954. More recent additions include a hardware store, outdoor store and delicatessen, among others.)

Her then-boyfriend and now-husband (and father of Bailey and Colby), Bobby Willey, also chose SU, earning his B.A. in economics in 1997. Today, they both work for the family business — Melissa as the chief executive and finance officer, and Bobby in internet sales — as did Bailey and Colby as they entered high school.

They aren’t the only members of the family who chose an SU education. Bailey and Colby’s aunts, Carey Hocker B.A.S.W. ’95 and Dawn Baker B.S. ’89 elementary education, M.Ed. ’94; uncle, Todd Vickers B.S. ’93 business; and cousin, Brooke Baker B.S. ’17 mathematics, also attended Salisbury.

“We’re a very tight-knit family,” said Bailey.

So when it came time to apply to college, he followed the family tradition, sending in just one application: to SU.

“There was no place else I wanted to go,” he said.

After earning his B.S. in finance last May, he returned to the University to pursue his M.B.A., inspired by his family’s business background. As an undergraduate, he served as a lead analyst for SU’s Sea Gull Fund, a unique student-managed hedge fund designed to provide hands-on experience in the stock market.

“I told some of my friends about that, and they were blown away,” said Bobby, noting that’s not an experience most campuses offer.

As an SU student, Bailey also was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi and Beta Gamma Sigma honor societies. As a graduate student, he spends time researching regional economic factors as a graduate assistant at SU’s Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network in SU’s Franklin P. Perdue School of Business.

Following in his brother’s footsteps as a finance major, Colby also applied to only one university and is now completing his first semester at SU. As a high school senior, he stayed with friends on campus to get a feel for the University. Like many family members before him, he liked what he saw — passing up offers to play baseball at about a dozen other schools to enroll at SU.

“I had never mentioned Salisbury to him,” said Melissa. “I didn’t want him to feel like he had to go there.”

“He said, ‘Education is more important than baseball,’” added Bobby — though Colby does play for SU’s club team and plans to try out for the varsity team in 2024.

Like their sons, Melissa and Bobby found SU was an ideal choice for their undergraduate degrees — but not after considering other schools first. Melissa studied speech pathology for two years at a university in Pennsylvania before realizing how difficult it may have been to be accepted into a graduate program for that profession. She changed her major and started looking at schools closer to home, choosing SU due to its small class sizes. Though Bobby had received an offer from another institution, he ultimately decided on SU for similar reasons.

Neither regretted that choice.

“I wasn’t just a number to my professors at Salisbury,” said Melissa. “I was a student. They knew my name.”

“I didn’t have a bad professor there,” Bobby agreed.

More than 25 years after their parents enrolled at SU, Bailey and Colby shared similar sentiments.

“I love that all the faculty [in the Perdue School] have worked in the fields they’re teaching,” said Bailey. “They love to give back and help students however they can. They all want to see students do the best they can.”

Bobby caught the entrepreneurial spirit while earning his SU degree, opening a Subway restaurant in Millsboro, DE, as a student. Though it sometimes meant taking fewer classes in a semester, he appreciated all he learned from the experience.

As a store owner, Melissa’s father taught her a great deal about the business world, as well, though her SU classes supplemented that education.

“For the things that Dad wasn’t able to teach us, our degrees came in handy,” she said, noting that one human resources course, in particular, proved especially beneficial for her as a manager.

Her capstone course, which required her to write an executable business plan, also provided an invaluable experience, she said. Both she and Bobby added that receiving that education so close to home was especially rewarding.

 “You can go to a school far away for this type of education if that’s what you want to do, but you don’t have to,” said Bobby. “I brag on Salisbury all the time.”

Many of his acquaintances in business — including some who have invested in SU’s buildings and endowed schools — agree.

“They’re not giving their money if the school’s not great,” he said.

Whether Bailey and Colby will follow their parents into the family business remains to be seen. After his experience with the Sea Gull Fund, Bailey has ambitions of becoming a stock analyst or maybe taking inspiration from his Perdue School mentors as a finance educator — a field he got a taste of by tutoring some of his classmates at SU. As a first-year student, Colby is content to continue working on his degree before making any hard and fast career decisions.

Whatever their futures hold, both credit SU and the Perdue School with giving them the education and experience they need to build their futures — not unlike it provided for their parents.

“The Perdue School of Business has such a great reputation,” said Melissa. “We’re very lucky to have it here.”

Learn more about opportunities to Make Tomorrow Yours at the SU website.