The Jambga family, (back row, from left) Hadyn, Devyn, Gwinyai, (front row, from left) Bailey and Stephanie, reunites during SIUE homecoming.
When it comes to being a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougar, the Jambgas have made it a family business.
This fall, SIUE welcomed Hadyn Jambga to campus, joining his older sister, Bailey, and brother, Devyn, to complete the sibling trifecta.
This should come as no surprise since the children’s parents, Gwinyai and Stephanie (Montgomery) Jambga, are SIUE alums. Gwinyai served as a vital piece of the SIUE men’s soccer team in the early ‘90s, earning a bachelor’s in political science and French in 1993. Stephanie played a pivotal role in SIUE softball’s success of the late ‘80s, and achieved a bachelor’s in elementary education in 1991.
“I loved the education program and found that SIUE offered a variety of beneficial courses,” Stephanie said. “I come from a small town and love being outdoors, so the campus at SIUE was very appealing to me. I enjoyed being a part of something in the SIUE softball team. It made attending university an easier experience, and I loved playing at a higher level and pushing myself. I met people at SIUE that I am still close with today, and they are a big part of our support group for our children.”
“My experience at SIUE was excellent,” Gwinyai said. “Academically, I felt challenged and well-prepared for employment post-graduation. I made many lifelong friends — and most importantly, I met my wife. I was also very challenged and pleasantly surprised by the high level of talent that was assembled during my years under former SIUE men’s soccer head coach Ed Huneke and his staff.
“I greatly valued my relationship with my teammates, and I enjoyed being able to travel across the country while playing soccer. I continue to have a valuable friendship with Coach Huneke, who pushed our teams not only on the soccer field, but also in the classroom.”
Upon college graduation, the Jambgas married and lived in Edwardsville for a few years. They then lived in St. Louis for seven years, where Gwinyai served as director of supported employment at the Judevine Center for Autism and Stephanie worked as an elementary and parent educator.
They returned to Gwinyai’s native country of Zimbabwe in 2000. There, Stephanie continued to teach, while Gwinyai went to work in marketing, sales, finance and energy for several large corporations before also transitioning to teaching.
By 2013, the entire family was involved with the Harare International School. The children were either students or graduates, Gwinyai was athletic director, and Stephanie was an elementary teacher, middle school girls’ basketball coach, and high school girls’ volleyball and soccer coach.
The children had great success at the Harare International School, both academically and athletically, before continuing their education at SIUE, where Devyn and Hadyn are following in the footsteps of their father as members of the SIUE men’s soccer team.
“The soccer team is my family away from family,” Devyn said. “There’s a big sense of brotherhood, and the coaches look after us like fathers. As soon as I got here, seeing how the team members interacted with each other and how much they pushed each other, it reminded me of how I treated Hadyn growing up. I don’t think you can replicate that at another program.”
Geographic distance is not enough to keep the parents from remaining heavily active in their children’s academic and athletic success. Gwinyai and Stephanie now live in Paraguay, and thanks to modern technology, the Jambgas are able to constantly communicate with one another via Facebook, Facetime, Skype and phone.
The parents have not missed an SIUE men’s soccer match since Devyn joined the team a few years ago, often waking up as early as 2 a.m. to view each game’s live stream.
Gwinyai and Stephanie said there was no encouragement for their children to attend SIUE. It was a choice for each child, and each decided to follow their siblings and return to their roots in Edwardsville.
“I think the experiences our children heard we had during our time at SIUE, naturally drew their attraction,” Gwinyai said. “When they were growing up, we would come often and spend summers in the U.S., making a point to visit our friends in Edwardsville every time.”
The choice not only brings ease to the parents’ travels and pride to the all-Cougar family, but also continues to cultivate an already strong sibling relationship.
“Having my family here, I know if I’m going through stuff, I can always go to them if I need something,” Hadyn said. “Going to another university, I wouldn’t have had a brotherly or sisterly figure right here with me. Being at SIUE ensures I have people to lean on if I’m ever struggling.”
“Being enrolled at the same university my parents once attended is surreal, and having my brothers here makes it so much easier to be this far away from home,” Bailey said. “SIUE is special to my family because it has allowed my brothers and me to grow as individuals. I will never forget this place.”
Gwinyai and Stephanie traveled to attend SIUE Homecoming 2016, visiting with old friends as they watched live at Korte Stadium for the first time, their sons proudly wearing the colors of their alma mater.
“We were very excited to be a part of the atmosphere,” Stephanie said. “We are always receiving emails about the tailgating that takes place, and it was so fun to now be a part of all of it. It’s been wonderful to see our kids, watch the game and catch up with our Cougar family.”