Thomas Rain Crowe interview and collection

Special Collections recently added the Thomas Rain Crowe Regional Publications Collection to our holdings. Crowe, an internationally known writer, poet, editor, translator, and critic, who lives in Western North Carolina, is best known for his book Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods, a narrative about living intentionally in a cabin in southwestern North Carolina. The collection contains over 250 items, mostly documenting Crowe’s writings in smaller regional newspapers where he published reviews, poems, articles, and other materials over the course of several decades. The collection also contains some books from Crowe’s New Native Press, as well as chapbooks, broadsides, journal articles, and books.

The collection was processed by Special Collections intern Renee Ambroso,  an English Major at UNCA. As part of her internship Ambroso interviewed Crowe on video, and the interview, entitle Thomas Rain Crowe: A Writer’s Life, An Interview and Reading, has just made available on UNCA’s Ramsey Library YouTube channel.

An example of material from the Thomas Rain Crowe Regional Publications Collection. This is from the August 19956 edition of Point: South Carolina’s Independent Newsmonthly.
A chapbook from the Crowe Collection.

 

 

 

Founding a Miracle in Asheville

 

Asheville-Biltmore President Glenn L. Bushey
Dr. Glenn L. Bushey, undated [ABP_14]
In October 1997, UNC Asheville celebrated its 70th anniversary with the first Founders Day, described by Founders Day committee chair Arnold Wengrow as, “a tribute to the pioneering students, staff and faculty of UNCA, and its predecessor institutions”. One pioneer that received special recognition on that first Founders Day was Glenn L. Bushey, president of Asheville-Biltmore College from 1947 to 1962.

Bushey bench and terrace
Bench and Terrace dedicated to Glenn Bushey on Founders Day, 1997 [Photo by Colin Reeve, September 2017]
Dr. Bushey was honored by a bench and terrace area near Founders Hall being dedicated to him and, in January 1998, Bushey wrote to Chancellor Patsy Reed, thanking her for the honor bestowed upon him. His letter also included memories of his time in Asheville, and a description of Asheville-Biltmore College when he arrived in September 1947, to “face the greatest challenge of my professional career”.

The challenge included: “securing a permanent campus for the college; improving the library and other academic facilities, especially laboratories; upgrading a dedicated faculty with emphasis on raising the percentage holding graduate degrees; revising the curriculum to more successfully meet the needs of undergraduates as well as the business and professional needs of the community; instituting more effective admissions and counseling programs; expanding the public relations activities; developing adequate financial resources including increased local support and securing state aid; and attaining regional accreditation”.

Bushey described the task as “formidable”, which seems like an understatement, especially when you realize that the college was perennially in dire financial straits, and in 1947 was “receiving only about $5,000 from outside sources”. The previous blog mentioned how the lack of money created a mythology about the college, and Glenn Bushey echoed that, writing how “marvelous cooperation from…trustees, faculty, students, alumni, county and city officials, business and professional groups, the media, and the general public” ensured that “brighter days appeared” for the college.

One innovation that helped improved the financial situation was the establishment of an evening college, which not only allowed the college to provide programs for many sections of the community, but was also a boon to WWII veterans wanting to take advantage of the GI Bill. In a letter written in March 1998 to Tom Byers, then Special Assistant to the Chancellor, Dr. Bushey said that the evening classes put more emphasis on adult education, and that this was broadened by offering classes to benefit employees of specific firms, such as American Enka, Dave Steel, and the National Weather Records Center, as well as law enforcement officers of Asheville and Buncombe County.

The first item on Bushey’s list of challenges, “Securing a permanent campus”, was achieved in 1949, when Asheville-Biltmore moved to Overlook (aka Seely’s) Castle on Sunset Mountain.  Bushey recalled how, after initially securing larger gifts, the fund raising campaign then contacted the general public in a concentrated three day effort, with no gift being seen as too small.

Seely's Castle letter
Letter regarding the purchase of Overlook Castle. Presumably the $ amount was a target as the letter is dated before the “3 days” [UA11.1, box 2]
Plans for Seely's Castle
Reverse of the July 15, 1949 letter [UA11.1, box 2]
In his letter to Tom Byers, Bushey described the fund raising to purchase the castle as a “milestone”, and something that generated a feeling that Asheville-Biltmore was the community’s college.

A strengthened academic program and a permanent home contributed to the college being able to attain regional accreditation, which further increased its base of support. Support that was was to prove important in subsequent bond campaigns by the college and, more importantly, in the attainment of 4-year college status and acceptance into the UNC system.

In his letter to Chancellor Reed, Bushey wrote that his time at Asheville-Biltmore was “one of the most exciting a rewarding experiences of my life”, and acknowledged students, alumni, faculty and community members who “were almost like family”. Among those he identified for praise was A. C. Reynolds, “the founder of the college…an able administrator with remarkable vision”.

He closed his letter by writing, “It is most gratifying to me to have lived long enough to witness a very small college which struggled for existence for more than twenty years after its founding develop into a great university. This I view of somewhat of an educational miracle”.

In 1998, UNC Asheville further recognized Glenn Bushey’s part in founding the “miracle” by awarding him an honorary doctor of humane letters.

Dr. Bushey died in Chattanooga, TN on November 16, 2006. He was 101 years old.

  • Colin Reeve, Special Collections

The Man Who Graduated Twice

UNC Asheville can trace its roots back to 1927, and that same year, Joseph R. (“Joe”) Bly was born in Washington, DC. The Bly family subsequently moved to Asheville and, in 1945, Joe enrolled as a new student at Asheville-Biltmore College. He arrived as the recipient of the A C Reynolds Founders Award Scholarship which, as he recalled in a 1984 interview with former Chancellor Bill Highsmith, was worth $50, and for that he was expected to sweep the library, help paint the typing room, and haul cinders for the driveway!

Joe Bly, 1947
Joe Bly, “Summit”, 1947

Bly had been class president at Haw Creek High School, and through this role had been identified for the scholarship by Mary Cordell Nesbitt. (Nesbitt was herself an alum of the college having graduated, as Mary Cordell, from Buncombe County Junior College in 1930. She would go on to serve in the NC House of Representatives.) As he would later tell Highsmith, Bly’s family had little money, so the scholarship ensured that he could continue his education and he would not be “consigned to manual labor”.

At the time Joe Bly enrolled, the college was located in a former children’s home on Merrimon Avenue, at the corner of Gracelyn Aveune, on the site of what is now Grace Covenant Presbyterian church, and was already well known in the local community.

Merrimon Ave
Undated image of the Merrimon Avenue campus [ABP_106]
It had established a solid reputation for drama and for English (especially through Bluets, its award winning literary magazine), but as was the case for much of its life, the college was short of money. However, rather than seeing lack of money being a negative, Bly told Highsmith that it actually pulled the students together, and created what he described as a “mythology” about the college. Around the time Bly started at Asheville-Biltmore, the college’s enrollment and, more importantly, its income were starting to be boosted by servicemen (and they were mainly men) returning from WWII. Many of the ex GI’s were part of a Refresher Class, “aimed at the student who had been out of college for quite some time…to prepare the student…for full admission to the Freshman class of college”.

In his final year at Asheville-Biltmore, Joe Bly was president of the Student Council and, as such, was actively involved in events when President Clarence N. Gilbert suddenly  left the college. Although Gilbert ostensibly resigned because the trustees had re-elected some faculty members without Gilbert’s recommendation, many thought he had been ousted because he was running against the chairman of the Board of Trustees in a City primary. Certainly the latter scenario is what the students thought, and they organized protests and published flyers in support of Gilbert.

We want Gilbert
Asheville-Buncombe students show support for former president Clarence Gilbert, 1947 [UA11.2]
Bly was subsequently asked to meet trustee Martin Nesbitt in Pack Square, where Nesbitt requested that Bly “cool things down”.  As Bly somewhat wryly noted to Bill Highsmith, it was probably not a coincidence that the trustee’s representative sent to influence Bly, was the husband of the person who was instrumental in obtaining the scholarship that had got him to Asheville-Biltmore.

After graduating from Asheville-Biltmore in 1947, Joe Bly worked for the Post Office. By 1973 he was manager of manpower development for western North Carolina, responsible for developing a program for pre-supervisory training in postal management. For this he decided to take some classes at UNC Asheville, and he “got the student bug again”. So although he initially only planned to take a few management classes to help his career, and set an example for postal employees, (“If they could go to school at night, I could go to school at night”), with no real intention to graduate, in May 1977 Joseph Raymond Bly did graduate from UNC Asheville with a BS and a Distinction in Management.

Commencement programs
Pages from the 1947 and 1977 commencement programs [UA11.3]
After graduating (for the second time), Bly went on to manage the downtown post office in Asheville.

Although this post is essentially about Joe Bly’s connection to UNC Asheville, it would be remiss not to briefly mention his other “careers”. For many years he was emcee for Asheville’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival and Shindig on the Green, he was also manager of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers, and he was a long time ambassador for the arts, culture and music of North Carolina.

Joe Bly 1977
Joe Bly at Shindig on the Green in 1977, the year he graduated from UNC Asheville. [M2005.1]
Joe Bly died in April 2017. He was 89 years old.

  • Colin Reeve, Special Collections