(COLUMBIA, Tenn. – July 14, 2015) - - - Columbia State Community College will celebrate its 50th Anniversary during the 2015-2016 academic year. This golden anniversary also marks a half century of community colleges in Tennessee.
In 1957, a public higher education study, commonly referred to as the Pierce-Albright Report, identified a significant need to expand higher education in Tennessee. The report identified three areas that were considered underserved by higher education, including the south central Middle Tennessee region. This report would later serve as a cornerstone in the history of Tennessee’s community colleges.
The report generated great interest and led to the development of a Maury County committee that sought to have a college established in Columbia. The committee was comprised of some 600 people and was led by John W. Finney, editor of the Columbia Daily Herald, and Hardin Hill, a local engineer and civic leader. In addition, the Maury County Quarterly Court pledged one million dollars toward development costs if the new college was located within 12 miles of the courthouse.
On Aug. 9, 1963, the State Board of Education adopted a resolution to appoint five board members to make preliminary plans for a state college that would be located in the south central area of Tennessee. Although there was significant need in the other two areas of the state, the south central area had a long-standing desire and support to obtain a college dating back to the early 1900s. This college would serve as the prototype for those that followed.
During this time there was also growing support for the development of junior colleges. Federal legislation authorized a grant program under the 1963 Higher Education Facilities Act to assist with financing construction of two-year colleges. After much discussion and research, the committee adopted a landmark resolution on Dec. 17, 1964 for the establishment of three community-junior colleges, one in each of the state’s grand divisions. The resolution would later be approved by the full State Board of Education in Feb. 1965.
On June 22, 1965 the State Board of Education approved the locations of the first three community colleges – Columbia, Cleveland, and Jackson. The exact sites were to be chosen by the Tennessee Commissioner of Education, J. Howard Warf. The new colleges would be called “community” rather than “junior” to reflect the partnership between state and local entities and would have a strong emphasis on community participation. These multi-purpose institutions would offer university parallel courses that would transfer to four-year universities, have a strong emphasis on career and technical training, and provide adult continuing education courses and community service activities.
On June 30, 1965, Warf chose the 204-acre Hickman farm as the future site of Columbia State. On July 12, 1965 the Maury County Quarterly Court unanimously approved purchase of the Hickman farm and pledged an additional $250,000 toward construction costs. A few months later, Warf and Gov. Frank G. Clement scooped the first shovels of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony held on Oct. 20.
Dr. James Wesley Clark was appointed dean of instruction on March 29, 1966 with directions to open the college for the fall 1966 semester and to provide leadership until a permanent president was hired. Construction on the new college began that spring with plans for completion by fall of 1967. A flurry of activity began as nine administrators and 21 faculty members were hired, temporary buildings were procured and readied for instruction, and classes were scheduled.
An initial student body of 363 registered on Sept. 23, 1966, and classes were held in almost a dozen facilities across town, including First Baptist Church and the lab facilities at Columbia Military Academy. The Memorial Building on West 7th Street served as the student center, while professors and other college personnel transported students between the various locations.
The first college convocation was held Sept. 26, 1966 at the Polk Theatre in downtown Columbia. Members of the State Board of Education were present, and Clement was the featured speaker. “Because of this school, young people who otherwise would have to terminate their academic career at the high school level will here find a way into the world of higher education.”
Mayor James Dowdy and County Judge John Stanton proclaimed March 15, 1967 as “CSCC Dedication Day.” This event would mark the first visit of a sitting president to Maury County in 150 years. More than 8,000 supporters gathered in the cold that day and excitement filled the air as they welcomed President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson.
Lady Bird Johnson unveiled the dedication plaque and declared that Columbia State represented the “new beat and rhythm of our land...” and that “when a Columbia Community College rises from a once empty field, the country expands not outward, but upward… I am honored to dedicate this college – to dedicate it forever to the service of the people and the progress of our nation.”
On Feb. 9, 1968, Warf announced that Dr. Harold Pryor, director of teacher education at Austin Peay State University would become the first president of Columbia State. Later that year, on June 7, 44 students marched into the gymnasium and became graduates of Tennessee’s first community college.
For 50 years, Columbia State has remained committed to providing access to higher education and opening doors to opportunities throughout the region. The college has grown to five campuses and serves nearly 7,000 students annually.
This yearlong celebration will include special events and activities at all five campuses, including a historical display and film, a commemorative 50th Anniversary book that will be available for purchase, and much more.
To learn more about Columbia State’s history and upcoming events visit www.ColumbiaState.edu/50Years. Alumni and community members are encouraged to share their favorite Columbia State memories by emailing 50Years@ColumbiaState.edu.
Photo Caption: Standing on the steps of the Memorial Building are the first faculty members and heads of departments. From left to right are (first row) Carolyn Allred, Eugene Durham, John Fort, Fred Eberhart, Dwight Gatwood, J.V. Guidry, Mary Mott McCampbell and Dean James Clark; (second row) Doris Bennett, Charlene Black, Claudia Spence, Ann Cami, Beatrice Chesrown, Jane Ross, Winifred Clark and Ava Eaton; (third row) Monte Bayless, John Mitchell, James Minatra, Leon van Leeuwen and Lewis Moore; (fourth row) John Thomas, John Dillingham, Fred Behrens, Bennett Jent and George Watson. Mildred Mitchell, Dorothy Powell, Hayward Bond, H.T. Breland, Sue Burklhart, W.O. Johnson Paul Sands, Darrell Simmons and J.E. Milton were not present.
Photo Caption: The first 44 graduates of Columbia State graduated Friday, June 7, 1968. Pictured, from left to right, are (first row) Sara Kerr Fralix, Sharon Pogue Strange, Suzanne West Turner, Linda Garbarina, Sandra Jean Hines, Myra Perry, Sheila Mash, Susan Dillingham and Linda Pigg; (second row) Martha Steele, Patricia Mayberry, Wilma Jean Sweeney, Sheila McNeese Alderson, Joseph William Wesche, Peggy Ruth Mullins, Evelyn Roberts Morton and Janice Kaye Bell; (third row) Judith Ann Murphy, Wilma Kay York, Paula Voss Cox, Janice Shackleford Hollis, Mary Ellen Fly, Eloise Marlin, James Wilson Copley, Donald Ray Massey and William Ray Jernigan; (fourth row) Alice Faye Brooks, Lillie Mae Mitchell, James Martin, Dennis Powers, Larry Wayne Chappell, Virginia Massey Davis, Wayne Domico, Harold “Moe” Grimes and Susan Heller; (fifth row) Martha Woody, Jerry Gamble, Wilburn Hardison, Leonard Ray Potts, William F. Terry, Cyrus Brown, and Lloyd Burton Burton Pruett.
Photo Caption: Lady Bird Johnson dedicated the new Columbia State Community College campus March 15, 1967, with her husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson by her side.
Photo Caption: Columbia State launches 50th anniversary logo.
Columbia State is a two-year college, serving a nine-county area in southern Middle Tennessee with locations in Columbia, Franklin, Lawrenceburg, Lewisburg and Clifton. As Tennessee’s first community college, Columbia State is committed to increasing access and enhancing diversity at all five campuses. Columbia State is a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, one of the largest higher education systems in the nation. For more information, please visit www.columbiastate.edu.
Tennessee’s Community Colleges is a system of 13 colleges offering a high-quality, affordable, convenient and personal education to prepare students to achieve their educational and career goals in two years or less. We offer associate degree and certificate programs, workforce development programs and transfer pathways to four-year degrees. For more information, please visit us online at tncommunitycolleges.org.