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

A Face In The Crowd

1930 Graduates, Buncombe County Junior College [ABP_3]
1930 Graduates, Buncombe County Junior College [ABP_3]
Standing in the front row of the photo of 1930 graduates of Buncombe County Junior College is a young man named Gordon Greenwood. He is the rightmost of the three boys, and at the time would have been almost twenty-one years old, having been born in Black Mountain, NC, on July 3, 1909.

After junior college, Gordon would continue his education at the University of Illinois (where he got a degree in journalism), and the University of London. He would serve as a psychologist in the US Army during WWII, marry his wife Garnet after the war, and they would then own and operate the Black Mountain News for over twenty years. He would be director of admissions and assistant to the president at Montreat College, an assistant professor of journalism at Boston University, and serve on the board of both Asheville-Buncombe County Technical College and UNC Asheville, as well as giving service to numerous civic, business and veterans organizations. If all that wasn’t enough, he served as a member of the NC House of Representatives from 1959 to 1966, and from 1972 to 1992, introducing the bill that created the State’s community college system. After his death on February 16, 1997, the NC Senate passed a joint resolution honoring the life and memory of Gordon Hicks Greenwood, and in doing so, provided the basis for this brief biography.

But what about the junior college student that would go on to do all these things? What do we know about him? The answer is quite a bit, thanks to materials in the university archives.

By their very nature, the university archives are more institutional than personal, but among the few personal items that we have are two small scrapbooks created by Gordon Greenwood when he was a student, that give not only an insight into Gordon’s time at Buncombe County Junior College, but also background on the college itself.

Gordon Greenwood Clippings Book, (1929-193) [UA11.1]
Gordon Greenwood Clippings Book, (1929-193) [UA11.1]
Many of the clippings in the scrapbook cover athletics games, for both Buncombe County Junior, and Barnardsville High School, which Greenwood attended prior to college. From these clippings we learn that Gordon excelled at football but also played basketball and baseball for the college. Given the size of the student body, the 1930 class had only around 70 graduates, one can image that anyone with a semblance of skills would be drafted to play, but Gordon does seem to have genuine skills, especially at football. He was also a young man who clearly loved to see his name in the paper, to the extent that he underlined the passages that mentioned him, even if they were slightly derogatory, such as the one shown above where he was described as “the rolly-poly guard”. Presumably by the time he became a Representative he had stopped underlining items about himself, but you never know.

1930 Commencement Invitation [UA11.3}
1930 Commencement Invitation [UA11.3]
The clippings also tell us that the college, only in the third year or so of its life, held its own in the sporting arenas, and that local rivalries had already been established. But the clippings also reveal some things about the name of the college. In The University of North Carolina at Asheville: the First Sixty Years, William Highsmith wrote that the name change from Buncombe County Junior College to Biltmore Junior College occurred in 1930, a statement seemingly borne out by the invitation to the 1930 commencement exercises being issued under the Buncombe County Junior College nomenclature.

However, many of the clippings and documents in Gordon Greenwood’s scrapbooks refer to Biltmore Junior College prior to 1930, and as shown below, the 1929 football schedule is for Biltmore Junior College, and not Buncombe County Junior College. Why is something of a mystery.

Gordon Greenwood Clippings Book, (1929-193) [UA11.1]
In August 1984, Bill Highsmith interviewed Gordon Greenwood as part of a series of recordings forming an oral history of the university. They talked about Gordon’s time at the college, including how he traveled from Grace, where he lived, on the streetcar, before walking to final mile and a half to the college. (The special school fare was a nickel a day, substantially more than college fees, which at the time were free.) Highsmith also asked about the college name, and Greenwood thought that the name changed after he graduated (as the invitation shown above would suggest) but that his class ring, which he got at graduation, was from Biltmore Junior College. He also noted that sports stories, as his scrapbooks confirm, used Biltmore Junior College. All very mysterious.

One item that might clarify things, or not, would be a 1930 diploma, but unfortunately we do not have one of those, or even a commencement program from 1930, in the archives so the mystery of the name change continues.

In 1985, Chancellor David Brown established the Chancellor’s Medallion with a replica of the Medallion being given each year to an individual whose life and service have “demonstrated the deepest commitment to the enhancement of UNC Asheville”.

Gordon Greenwood received the Chancellor’s Medallion in May 1986, and in November 1986, the new university playing field complex was dedicated as the Gordon H. Greenwood Recreational Fields. Why that was should not be a mystery.

  • Colin Reeve, Special Collections