Campus Heroes

Making a difference throughout our nine decades

By William Bruce, Hannah Epperson ’11, Amy Jessee, and Colin Reeve
Photographs by David Allen ’13 and Leslie Frempong ’17​

Dee and Charles James graduated from UNC Asheville in 1973, and have spent more than three decades as professors here. They plan to retire in 2018--but they'll always be Bulldogs.

In the movies, heroes wear capes or wield swords. At UNC Asheville, heroes are the ones who have worked tirelessly throughout the university's history to make our campus community a thriving place—whether it's striking a blow against inequality, flying airplanes to defend the nation in WWII, or helping the college succeed in its early years. Our heroes keep the Wi-Fi on and the computers running, they mentor students, and they build community. Take a look at the stories of just a few of our very own campus heroes.

Liberal Arts Legacy

Dee James '73, Professor of English and Charles James '73, Associate Professor of Chemistry

When Dee and Charles James stood on the steps of Ramsey Library on a warm Saturday morning in 1973 to receive their diplomas from UNC Asheville, they were ready to launch out into the world together—they were getting married the very next day, and starting new jobs that Monday. But they never imagined their journey would lead them back to UNC Asheville.

The wedding itself was a UNC Asheville community effort. “We didn’t know very much about weddings or that stuff,” Dee said, “and we were also trying to finish up our senior year—so writing our theses and doing our final research and all those things.”

“It looked good on paper,” Charles said. “All of the relatives would be up here for graduation.”

Their classmate Zollie Stevenson became their wedding planner, driving them to town to purchase rings and order flowers. The dean of women, Alice Wutschel, organized the reception. Dee’s classmate’s mother owned the Rolling Pin Bakery in town and gave them a wedding cake as her gift. Peter Gilpin, the director of public relations, lent the couple his car to drive away from the chapel to their honeymoon—an overnight stay in the Evergreen Motel near campus, which was also a wedding gift, so that they could be close to work starting Monday morning.

“There were many dramatic things going on then,” Dee said. And not all of them were dramatic in the positive way of graduations and weddings. “We were trying to find a place to live near campus; we didn’t have a car, so it needed to be within walking distance. And nobody would rent to us around here because we were black.”

A friend of the James’ offered to move from her garage apartment in Montford so they could live in her space, and still be able to get to their jobs. “I’m saying it lightly,” Dee said, “but it was traumatizing.”

The James’ career aspirations soon took them to graduate school at Clemson University in South Carolina, and then to the University of South Carolina in Columbia for their doctorates. In 1984, Dee’s former teacher and mentor, Arnold Wengrow, called to inform them that two faculty positions had opened in literature and chemistry, and encouraged them to apply. Now, more than three decades later, the James are preparing for retirement after long and successful careers at their alma mater.

When they retire in the spring of 2018, the James will leave behind a liberal arts legacy that has shaped the university we know today, including Dee’s creation and leadership of the university’s Writing Center, and Charles’ development of the popular Ghana study abroad program.

Together with Dwight and Dolly Mullen, both faculty members in the Political Science Department, and Carolyn Briggs, then-director of African-American Student Affairs, in 1990 the James helped to develop the African-American Colloquium—a program designed to create community and support for first-year African-American students on campus.

“One of the things that the numbers showed was that the number of African-American students, although not large, stayed pretty constant. That looked good, except when you looked at the details,” Charles explained. “People were not making it to graduation.”

The colloquium included classes, tutoring, mentoring, and advising, along with special annual trips to places around the country, from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans.

Dee James“What I wanted them to understand was that a liberal arts education was not in the job that you will have, it’s in the skills that you acquire,” Dee said. “And your understanding of the world, and how it changes you, and how it changes your understanding of who you are in the world.”

"Who am I? Who am I becoming? And how will I get there? Where is the there? I think these questions of identity, and what it means to be human, seem to be the central questions of the liberal arts."

The colloquium’s legacy continues in the university’s “Donning of the Stoles” tradition at Commencement, and in current campus programs geared toward first-year student success. And the James’ dedication to providing a liberal arts education to their students has endured throughout their careers at UNC Asheville.

“The liberal arts are not so much a subject, as how those subjects are connected and the context they are placed in,” Charles said. As both a chemistry student and professor at UNC Asheville, Charles said learning the context for his science studies has been invaluable. “How is it connected? How is chemistry a reflection of human beings and culture, and how is its direction focused?”

One of the things that retirement is making me think a lot about is those questions: who am I? Who am I becoming? And how will I get there? Where is the there?” Dee said. “I think these questions of identity, and what it means to be human, seem to be the central questions of the liberal arts.

“Obviously there are multiple answers, and you could spend your whole, whole life trying to understand that.”

Founding a Miracle in Asheville

Asheville-Biltmore College President Glenn Bushey

Asheville-Biltmore College was celebrating its 20th anniversary when Glenn L. Bushey became the institution’s president in September 1947. He arrived, as he later described it, to “face the greatest challenge of [his] professional career.”

Opportunities 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” but, “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.

From 1947-1962, Glenn Bushey was president of Asheville-Biltmore College, which became UNC AshevilleAs Bushey noted, there was a pressing need for adequate financial resources to be developed. In 1947, the college was “receiving only about $5,000 from outside sources,” but one innovation that helped improve the financial situation was the establishment of an evening college. This 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.

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 fundraising campaign then concentrated on a three-day effort, with no gift being seen as too small.

In a letter written in March 1998 to Tom Byers, then special assistant to the chancellor, 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 to prove important in subsequent bond campaigns by the college. Furthermore, although the attainment of four-year college status and acceptance into the UNC system occurred after Bushey had left Asheville, the support created during his tenure was important to both achievements.

In a letter to Chancellor Patsy Reed, Bushey wrote that his time at Asheville-Biltmore was “one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life,” and acknowledged students, alumni, faculty, and community members who “were almost like family.”

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 20 years after its founding develop into a great university. This I view of somewhat of an educational miracle.”

Bushey’s years as president of Asheville-Biltmore College were times of great change, and provided many of the foundational pieces for the present-day university. In 1998, UNC Asheville formally recognized Bushey’s part in founding the “educational miracle” by awarding him an honorary doctor of humane letters.

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

Decades of Change

Father and son: Richard White '76, Director of Networks, Infrastructure and Systems; and Asheville-Biltmore College Football Star Dick White

Richard White displays old punch cards, which were used when he first joined the Computer Center--now called ITS--in 1980.

Richard White’s UNC Asheville story includes more than three decades as a staff member, several semesters as a faculty member, and four years as a college student. But the story actually begins even before White enrolled at UNC Asheville in 1972.

White’s father, Dick White, was a football star at Asheville-Biltmore College—UNC Asheville’s predecessor institution—in the 1940s.

"The year my dad played they had a 9-1 record, and he says it was probably the greatest team they had here," White said, referencing an Asheville Times article by Ted Carter published in 1974.

"They went from having 200 students in '47 to 600 students," White said, "and he felt like this had a huge influence, because it drew interest to the school, and drew attention to the school because they were very successful for those few years that they had the team."

After two years at Asheville-Biltmore College, Dick White received a full football scholarship to Western Carolina University. After graduation, he worked for a few years at the family auto-mechanic shop, Spot White and Sons, before eventually starting a career as an instructor in the business administration department at A-B Tech.

Although White already had family history at UNC Asheville when he first attended in 1972, he didn't imagine he would eventually spend his entire career there. In fact, he didn't intend to spend the full four years of college there. He planned to pursue at dental school UNC-Chapel Hill after two years at UNC Asheville. But Dexter Squibb, one of White’s chemistry professors, convinced him to stay and complete his chemistry degree. (White says his girlfriend at the time may have had some influence on that decision, as well.)

White was one of only four or five chemistry majors at the time—”We had as many chemistry majors as we had professors”—and there was only one computer on campus, and no such thing as a computer science major. 

“I’ve had an interesting career. It’s pretty unusual to be in one place as long as I’ve been in one place. But the reason I have been is because I’ve had a lot of different opportunities here, from being a student to being a part time teacher to being a full-time staff member for all these years."

But the Computer Center—which later became Information Technology Services (ITS)—is where White found himself a few years after graduating UNC Asheville, after a stint with Chemistry Professor John Stevens’ project, the Mossbauer Effect Data Center. 

“I kind of learned things from the ground up,” White said. “I got involved in operations, which was keeping the system up and doing back-ups, mounting tapes, mounting disk drives.”

White also taught a course in database management, giving him a chance to connect with students on campus and share cutting edge technology. 

“Up until the late ‘80s early ‘90s our ‘network’ on campus was telephone circuits,” White said. “Just analog, dumb telephone circuits, copper wire from this building to the next building. This proved especially problematic when lightning would hit the Quad,” White recalled. That proved problematic for course registration, but White developed as a problem solver. 

He will complete 38 years of employment at UNC Asheville in March, and he admits he’s thought about retiring once or twice. But for now, he’s happy where he is. 

“I’ve had an interesting career,” White said. “It’s pretty unusual to be in one place as long as I’ve been in one place. But the reason I have been is because I’ve had a lot of different opportunities here, from being a student to being a part time teacher to being a full-time staff member for all these years, and doing it in different areas."

From Student to Student Support

Silvia Meyer '08, Student Affairs Executive Assistant

After graduating from UNC Asheville in 2008, Silvia Meyer hit the road. She traveled the country for several years working with a souvenir photography company, but when a job opened up back at UNC Asheville in the SAIL (Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership Office), she knew she was ready to come back to campus.

Silvia Meyer traveled the country after graduating, but has now returned to her roots as the Student Affairs Executive Assistant.“I learned a ton about student development, and what services go into supporting the life of students, and I really enjoyed my work,” said Meyer, who first came to UNC Asheville as a non-traditional transfer student and received her degree in management with a concentration in business administration.

Meyer is now executive assistant in Student Affairs. “It’s support,” she explained. “I support Dr. [Bill] Haggard and respond to any request that comes through out office, whether it’s from a student, parent, or community member. I determine what is the best resource and direct them where to go.”

Meyer said she loves the culture of UNC Asheville and the community she works in, but the most rewarding part of her job is knowing she’s making a difference for students.

“I know that there’s a big-picture and that in doing my job, I help provide important services that contribute everyday to the success of our students."

“I worked for many, many years in hospitality, and the bigger picture and the fulfillment is kind of not there... I think that the most fulfilling part is even in a small exchange with a student. Maybe one of them comes in and they sit down and they talk, they know that I am a holder of information, so if they ever needed anything they can reach out to me, and I can point them in the right direction.

“It’s just knowing that every little bit of what we do has a big impact on a young adult’s life.”

The Forgotten Flyers of Biltmore College

Dorothy Post Hoover '34

In 1940, with America on the brink of World War II, Biltmore College, as UNC Asheville was known then, faced great uncertainty about its own future. The school was highly dependent on tuition payments from students, accounting for roughly three-fourths of the budget. Dean of Biltmore College Charles Lloyd could foresee that in a national mobilization, many young men would stream out of the college into the armed forces. Perhaps he knew his students well enough to sense that some of the women would enter military service, while others might defer college attendance in favor of work.

As a first priority that spring, Lloyd arranged a lease for classrooms, lockers, library, and facility space at another institution, the Asheville Normal School. Then, with an operating location secured for two years, Lloyd courted approval from the Civil Aeronautics Authority for Biltmore College to become a training site for the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP).

Dorothy Post Hoover, one of the first women in U.S. history to fly military aircraft, graduated from Biltmore College. Photo credit: Dorothy Hoover Papers (WV​0170), Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project,  Martha Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC​.The United States Congress had passed the Civilian Pilot Training Act to provide an economic stimulus to the light aircraft industry, and to create a large number of college-educated pilots who could be called for military service in the event of war. Several hundred colleges across the country would provide the ground school courses, while nearby airfields in partnership would provide hands-on flying instruction.

By October of 1940, 10 Biltmore College students were in the air. At the college, they studied meteorology, navigation, and the rules of civil aviation. At the Asheville-Hendersonville Airfield, they learned to fly in a small yellow airplane fitted with dual controls.

Biltmore College student Dorothy Post Hoover graduated from the college, completed the CPTP in South Carolina, and became the first woman in Greenville, South Carolina to earn a pilot’s license. She then learned to fly the larger, more powerful and complex military aircraft at Avenger Field, Texas and became a member of the WASP—the Women Airforce Service Pilots. She trained young male glider pilots for the Normandy invasion—pulling the gliders on low-level flights at night—and towed aerial targets for ground crews to fire at with live ammunition. It was dangerous work—one WASP pilot was killed towing these targets.

As a member of the WASP, Hoover was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal for her WWII service (pictured above), as one of “the first women in history to fly American military aircraft.”

Fourteen months after pilot training began at Biltmore College, the brutal and devastating attack on American military forces in Hawaii brought the country into the Second World War. The pilot training program increased in pace and numbers. Military service was required of all trainees—it was no longer a “civilian” training program—and women were no longer accepted.

Biltmore College continued coordinating the program and teaching ground school courses. At the end of the first full year of war, a college official reported that 115 young men had entered the program, 100 had completed it, and all 100 were serving in the armed forces.

Curiosity and Service

OLLI Student, Instructor and Volunteer Jacob Cohen

The first time Jacob Cohen came to UNC Asheville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for a film class, he wasn’t quite sure he really belonged there.

“I remember standing at the door and looking and going, ‘Whoa, there are a lot of old people here!’” Cohen laughed.

Jacob Cohen is learning new skills and giving back through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.Though he hadn’t quite retired yet from his 40-year career in education, Cohen—who says he’s always been a curious person—was interested by the course offerings at OLLI, especially the film class on aging. And despite his initial reservations, Cohen discovered he had a community at OLLI.

“I realized that the issues we were discussing were the same issues I feel—in other words, it made me realize we’re all in this together,” he said.

“Some people think, ‘Well, what do I have to offer?’ Just be yourself. Be sincere. Be open. Have fun. Listen. Try to be helpful if they’re asking for help.”

In the 10 years since that first class, Cohen has become not only an avid student at OLLI, but a dedicated volunteer and instructor.

“I’m getting my liberal arts education at this point in my life, because we have people involved here in history, philosophy, science, math, and arts—and I’ve taken all that. I’m a heavy user here,” Cohen said. “To balance all those deep subjects, I teach things like Scrabble and cryptic crosswords.”

Cohen also spends every Friday afternoon volunteering in the OLLI office, lending a hand wherever he might be needed. Cohen also volunteers his time with the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and as an AVID mentor to a first-generation college student.

“Some people think, ‘Well, what do I have to offer?’” Cohen said. “Just be yourself. Be sincere. Be open. Have fun. Listen. Try to be helpful if they’re asking for help.”