To generations of graduates and faculty,
Part 2: The Way Things Were
TO KNOW HOW FAR YOU'VE COME, you need to know where you've been. Or, put another way, to know who you are, you must know who you were. The town and college of Wake Forest were, in the glow of autumnal memory, idyllic in the thirties and forties. On the south edge of town was a mill; to the west and north was the "Harrakin," a hurricane-devastated district where poor tenant farmers tilled the soil. The rest of the town's residents were bound up – body, heart, and spirit – with the small Baptist institute for men founded a century before.
U.S. Highway 1, the East Coast's main north-south route in those days, became Main Street as it eased on into town, making one hard turn, then another, to skirt campus before ambling on to Key West and the Canadian border. One block east of Main was the town's commercial artery, White Street, a minute's walk from campus through the Old Stone Arch and the railroad trestle, over which a lonely freight train, dubbed the "hoot owl" for its haunting whistle, passed by in nocturnal melancholy. On White Street, a student could find practically anything he might want or need except alcohol, which couldn't be sold within a mile-and-a-quarter of the town limits. There was a men's clothing store, Ben's of Wake Forest, whose owner, Ben Aycock, was the father of Director of Alumni Activities Minta Aycock McNally ('74); two movie theaters, the Forest and the Collegiate, which changed films two or three times a week; Holding's Drug and Soda Shop; Hardwick's Pharmacy; Jones Hardware Store; Barney Powell's barbershop; Mr. Satterwhite's savings and loan; Snyder's College Book Store, which sold textbooks, school supplies, and ice cream sodas; the post office, a daily destination where postmistress Lib Greason, the wife of the basketball coach, greeted every student by name; and Shorty's, a smoky hamburger joint and pool hall that was a den of iniquity to the righteous but a perennial heaven on earth to students. Every Friday and Saturday, students would line up in late afternoon at the "bumming" corner to catch rides to Raleigh eighteen miles away for a dinner or movie or to date coeds at Meredith or Peace colleges.
College and Community are One
The compact campus, with its lush stands of magnolias and flora, its rustic brick buildings and walkways, and its landmark Old Well, was ringed by the stone wall affectionately named after Dr. Tom, the College's beloved African American groundskeeper. Otherwise, there was little separation between the College and community, physically or socially. Most of the townspeople were College alumni or the children of faculty members. At one point during the Depression when the College could not meet its payroll, merchants extended credit to the faculty and staff. Until the coming of female students, there were no dormitories on campus; students resided in the homes of townsfolk, often faculty members themselves. G. McLeod "Mac" Bryan ('41, MA '44), who would go on to a distinguished and often controversial career as a professor of religion and provocative change agent on the Reynolda Campus, epitomized the student of his day. Like many others, he was the first in his family to attend college; his father, a truck farmer in nearby Garner, could afford Mac's annual tuition of just under two hundred dollars but had to pay for his room and board with vegetables. Over the course of his four years, Bryan bunked in the basements and attics of religion professor W.R. Cullom, C.C. "Skinny" Pearson of history and social sciences, and biology professor Elton C. Cocke.
"Exposed as we were to their libraries and lives of scholarship, we were introduced to a completely new way of learning," Bryan says, vividly recalling Cullom's prolific writing habits that were said to have generated more words in The Biblical Recorder than by any other writer. "It lifted your sights." Bryan would go on to earn a doctor of divinity degree from Yale University and return to his alma mater as an impassioned champion of racial justice.
Cullom, Pearson, and Cocke were among a coterie of near-legendary teachers at the College. There was A.C. Reid of philosophy, who locked the door to his lecture room once class started, who whistled his S's, who ended his typically impenetrable propositions with a quizzical "Hm-mh?" and whose following was borderline mystical; Hubert Poteat, who probably could have had his pick of any Latin chair in the country; William E. "Old Bill" Speas of physics, who mumbled uncomplimentary things under his breath as he graded papers; C.S. Black of chemistry; E.E. Folk and H. Broadus Jones of English; Olin T. Binkley and J. Allen Easley of religion; Cocke's colleague in biology, Ora C. Bradbury; and many others. Talented, principled, caring yet uncompromising, working on twelve-month contracts and teaching two out of every three summers for salaries that were south of $5,000 a year for associate professors as late as 1950; they were revered by the generations of students who arrived from the farms and towns of eastern North Carolina as diamonds in the rough and departed as gems, thanks to their mentors' hewing and polishing. If a student's parents could not afford the tuition, they would be ushered into the office of President Kitchin, who would tell them there was no financial aid available but that he could reduce their bill by, say, a third. Those in their eighties or nineties recall education professor Jasper Memory's annual Commencement contest for his faculty colleagues; the winner knew the most names of the graduates as they paraded to the podium. And the students returned the affection. When hard times threatened to forestall publication of the first volume of G.W. Paschal's (BA '27, BS '28, MD '29) epic history of Wake Forest College, each member of the Class of 1935 donated five dollars toward it.
"It was like heaven. It was as close to heaven as one could get on this earth," says Beulah Lassiter Raynor (MA '47) of Wake Forest in those years. Raynor came to the College in 1945 as one of its first women faculty members, teaching half-time while assisting Dean of Women Lois Johnson. Having retired from the English department in 1979 and now ninety-six, she will be buried next to her late husband, longtime mathematics professor K.T. Raynor (1914), in Old Wake Forest. "There was no distinction between cap and gown and community," Raynor goes on. "All the faculty members and students knew each other and went to church together, and you had a personal connection with your grocer."
Raynor didn't know it at the time, but the seeds of the campus relocation that would sprout a year after her arrival had been sown a full decade beforehand.
A 10-part series adapted from the September, 2006 edition of Wake Forest Magazine.
By David Fyten
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