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

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