President Truman's attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony sent a clear signal that the move would indeed happen, despite the challenges. Here, in the motorcade to the ceremony, he shakes hands with President Tribble.
Part 5: The Leadership
ACROSS THE YEARS, Wake Forest has been blessed with presidents well-suited to their times – the right men for the right moments in the institution's history. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, William Louis Poteat (1877) – Dr. Billy – protected the College from outside efforts to regiment instruction. Kitchin kept the College solvent during the Depression and World War II, and his leadership in moving the medical school to Winston-Salem started its rise to the first rank of America's academic medical institutions. James Ralph Scales, who served from 1967 to 1983, quieted, through his openness, conscience, and liberal political instincts, a student body restive in its demands for a loosening of restrictions on student life and an end to the Vietnam War, thereby sparing the campus from the turmoil that ravaged so many of America's universities. Scales' cosmopolitan tastes, charm, and political talents spawned initiatives in the arts and foreign study and helped restore Wake Forest's relations with its alumni and, through a modified covenant, the Baptists, preparing the way for the eventual governance severance and the remarkable financial, qualitative, and building accomplishments of the administration of Thomas K. Hearn Jr., between 1983 and 2005.
But of all these great leaders, perhaps none was better equipped, or faced more adverse conditions at a more critical juncture in the institution's history, than Harold Wayland Tribble, president from 1950 to 1967. It is no overstatement to say that without Tribble, Wake Forest would not have relocated. And without the move, not only would it not have become the world-class university it is, it might have languished as a small denominational institution, living hand to mouth in relative obscurity.
Tribble: the Man for the Move
Tribble's appointment, like so many decisions that ultimately prove wise, had an element of good fortune. The search committee's first choice, University of Richmond President George Modlin, turned the job down because he doubted that the funds needed for a campus – originally estimated at about six million dollars, but escalating rapidly because of delays and inflation – could be raised. Tribble, an ordained minister and respected preacher and scholar who earned graduate degrees and taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before assuming the presidency of Andover Newton Theological Seminary, seemed like a prudent alternative for a college at which regular chapel attendance was mandatory. But there was more involved than met the eye. Fundamentalists wielded formidable influence in the Baptist State Convention, and from their bully pulpit they denounced campus life as riddled with moral turpitude and called for even more rigid standards of behavior. In Casper Warren, they had a surreptitious ally. To the letter offering the job to Tribble, Warren attached a second confidential letter pleading with Tribble to "come to the rescue" of the conservatives in their effort to stack the Board of Trustees with preachers who would endeavor to eradicate the "cynicism, liberalism, independence, etc.," he said had "crept into the school." Warren listed fifty-two Baptist ministers "and 500 others I could mention" who could be counted on to support Tribble "100 percent" in any efforts he would mount to secure control of Wake Forest for the fundamentalists.
If Tribble responded to Warren in accepting the offer, there is no record of it. As Warren and many others would learn over the years, Harold Tribble was his own man and nobody else's – fearless in taking unpopular stands and not mincing his words in communicating or rationalizing them. In his inaugural speech, he declared that the development of the College into a university was "inescapably implicit in the removal and enlargement program," and that he foresaw it as "including all the areas of learning that are essential in culture at its best, and some schools or departments devoted to scholarly specialization, [as well as] a graduate school of the first rank." His remarks about culture and university status must have startled institutional conservatives like Folk and Reid, as well as preachers who were saddled and ready to ride from the pulpit as vigilantes in hot pursuit of secularism.
Breaking New Ground: Architects for the Future
To revitalize the stagnating capital campaign, Tribble literally hit the ground running. In his first year alone, he addressed eleven alumni groups; preached or conducted special services at twenty churches; led a week of evangelism at the First Baptist Church in Durham; spoke at six churches, three conferences, eight civic clubs, and four Baptist association meetings; preached the sermon at Gordon Gray's inauguration as UNC president; delivered two college and five high school addresses; and traveled from Massachusetts to Florida, with several extensive road trips through North Carolina. By November, the new president's enthusiasm and shoe leather had boosted to $7.5 million the sum raised in cash and pledges for the move, prompting the State Convention to authorize the College to begin construction at its discretion. Tribble directed architect Jens F. Larson to set up headquarters in what is now Amos Cottage on the Graylyn estate near the site of the new campus.
Visitors to campus today who admire the lovely architecture, with its classic Georgian elegance, consistent red brick motif, and orderly site plan, can credit the gifted but difficult man whose vision it was. Roughly six months after the Reynolds offer was accepted, Kitchin named a committee to oversee campus planning and construction. Charles Babcock, an ad hoc advisor to the group, pushed hard for the hiring of Larson, a New Yorker who had served twenty-seven years in the Dartmouth College building program and fifteen years as Colby College's landscape architect. Larson had a reputation for conservatism at a time when modernism, with its canonical use of glass, steel, and concrete and its application of trendy design elements such as expanses of south-facing glass and veiling walls of staggered concrete blocks, was all the rage. Although critics, including the North Carolina Society of Architects, pilloried Larson as hopelessly behind the times, Babcock convinced the committee that his style would engender the kind of visual continuity with Old Wake Forest that could help mitigate the social and cultural dislocation that was bound to accompany the move.
In hindsight, the appointment of Larson was a stroke of genius, as so much of postwar-period modernism seems dated or downright ugly today. But that genius came at a price. "He [Larson] was autocratic and egotistical as hell," says Harold S. "Pete" Moore, who came to Wake Forest in 1953 during the initial construction phase as superintendent of buildings and grounds and would go on to serve for more than thirty years as Reynolda Campus facilities management director. "He never went to architecture school, but he had very strong opinions, and he was assertive in putting contractors in their place. He knew who wrote the checks and was solicitous of anyone who influenced the ownership, but he was not always respectful of those over whom he had the upper hand."
Larson's early vision for the new campus was quite elaborate, proposing, for example, a women's complex remote from the main campus and conceiving the quadrangle as a commercial district with stores and shops reminiscent of White Street and bisected by a thoroughfare from Reynolda Road to the west entrance to campus. But in the end, a more conservative plan was chosen. It called for facilities accommodating two thousand students on an orderly grid, with its axis an imaginary line from Pilot Mountain (representing nature) to the R.J. Reynolds headquarters tower downtown (signifying commerce) that ran through the chapel steeple (symbolizing God).
Struggles and Triumphs
By early 1951, the relocation's original cost estimate had more than doubled and opposition to the move was gaining momentum. It was at that moment, when he needed every iota of political influence he could muster, that Tribble became embroiled in controversy. Douglas "Peahead" Walker, the winningest football coach in College history and hugely popular despite his reputation for off-the-field improprieties, abruptly resigned after Tribble refused to give him a fifteen-hundred-dollar pay raise. Tribble explained that granting Walker the raise he wanted would have hiked his salary above that of any member of the faculty, but critics were not mollified. The incident would come back to bedevil the president.
Fortunately, there were compensating positive developments. To keep pace with the cost and rejuvenate fundraising, Tribble that spring announced the largest concentrated fund drive in College history. Anonymous donors (later revealed to be William Neal Reynolds and his niece, Nancy Susan Reynolds) offered to donate two million dollars to campus construction if an additional three million dollars were raised by July 1, 1952. Tribble knew that to fuel the challenge-grant drive and quell the raging controversies, the groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled for October 15, 1951, had to be extraordinary. He rejected as too unacademic and pedestrian the suggestion of Eugene Olive – director of alumni affairs and former chaplain and pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church who had been instrumental in convincing the trustees to accept the Reynolds offer and then fundraised indefatigably for the move – to highlight the event with a football game against Carolina. Instead, Tribble parlayed Gordon Gray's contacts from his time as a White House assistant, along with the influence of alumnus Gerald Johnson (1911), an esteemed columnist for the Baltimore Sun, into securing the President of the United States, Harry S Truman, as speaker.
Conservative Baptists weren't thrilled about the choice of Truman, with his rough language and pro-civil rights inclinations. But it would be difficult to overstate the importance of his appearance. Not only did it ensure national exposure for the occasion, it sent a clear signal that the move would indeed happen. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary bought the Old Campus in 1950 and moved in almost immediately, so buildings were crammed, with older seminarians shoulder to shoulder with traditional-age college students.
Dislocation, perhaps even disquiet, could have afflicted the community. Off campus, the struggle to raise money and the incessant carping and sniping of opponents of relocation and Tribble were an insidious and vicious circle. The groundbreaking, followed by periodic bus trips of faculty, staff, and students to the new campus site over the next four years, helped fill in pockets of flagging morale and sustain a sense of optimism, self-identity, and resolve.
The groundbreaking ceremony, at which Truman delivered an important foreign policy address covered by the nation's media, was celebratory, despite the lingering pall from the death of William Neal Reynolds a month earlier. Within days, general contractors George W. Kane, Fowler-Jones, and Frank L. Blum went to work in earnest. The cost estimate for the twenty-two buildings envisioned had risen by late 1951 to more than twenty-seven million dollars (even that figure would prove unrealistic), so initial-phase plans were pared to twelve structures: chapel; library; science building; administrative-student services building; law school building; gym; and six residence halls – four for men and two for women.
Power of Persuasion
It wasn't long before crews began to encounter the site problems that would dog the project throughout. Beneath the gym location was a bog that wasn't apparent from the surface; footings had to be widened and extra stone filling and drainage work done. One especially vexing spot was the dip to the east of what are now Carswell and Bostwick halls. "It was an unbelievable quagmire trying to get concrete trucks through there," Moore says. "To keep it passable, we kept dumping fill material into it. Old battery cases from Douglas Battery lasted for a while, but they got mashed down into the muck. We finally used bricks from a demolished school." (Terrestrial challenges would be on-going on the Reynolda Campus. An underground stream found during initial site preparation for the Scales Fine Arts Center in the late sixties required major pre-construction engineering work.) Red dust and mud blew or was tracked into every cranny imaginable. Later, when grass wouldn't grow on the Quad, landscapers scattered tobacco stems over it to supply nitrogen, prompting one Old Gold and Black wag to warn pedestrians against walking on it lest they get cancer of the feet.
North Carolina's Baptist churches made important contributions toward the new campus, but it would not have been built, and certainly would not have been nurtured in its formative years, without the burgeoning support of the Reynoldses. At the end of 1954, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation upped its annual allocation to the College to $500,000 and tacked on an extra $40,000 for every million dollars raised by the Baptist State Convention for capital needs. Charles and Mary Reynolds Babcock alone donated close to seven-and-a-half million dollars in cash, rare books, real estate, and Reynolds stock. Besides the land for the campus, the six hundred acres they gave to Wake Forest included the sylvan field along Reynolda Road to Coliseum Drive, the Groves Stadium site, and Reynolda Gardens. Nancy Susan Reynolds made the library her own special cause, giving some two million dollars to its endowment. These figures from the fifties and sixties would have a much higher dollar value today.
A good portion of the Reynolds largesse can be attributed to Tribble's powers of persuasion. His productive relationship with the family is rendered all the more remarkable by the fact that he was offending or angering so many other major constituents at the time. After a hit by a Carolina tackler injured a star Wake Forest player in a football game, Tribble publicly accused the Tar Heels of coaching their players to play dirty. The ensuing uproar dissipated months later, but Gordon Gray harbored ill feelings toward Tribble for years. A series of conflicts and unpopular decisions involving assorted coaches and athletic administrators – James H. Weaver, the strong-willed but successful athletics director who resisted Tribble's domination and finally quit to become the first commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference; Weaver's successor, Paddison W. Preston, who chafed under what he deemed to be arbitrary and capricious rule by Tribble and ultimately resigned along with football coach Tom Rogers in late 1955; baseball coach Taylor Sanford, who quit one year after guiding the Deacons to the national championship because of the "disloyalty" reflected in the president's earlier attempt to fire him based on rumors about his personal life; basketball coach Murray Greason (JD '26), whom Tribble wanted to have fired for failing to teach his players to shoot free throws accurately – fomented student demonstrations and unfounded rumors that Tribble planned to deemphasize athletics and pull Wake Forest out of the ACC.
All this, coupled with lingering anger over the Peahead Walker episode and the persistent belief of many in the Baptist State Convention that the College was not sufficiently Christian in all of its practices, prompted outgoing board chairman Basil Watkins (1915), a conservative, to appoint a nine-member panel in November 1955 to investigate the "overall situation" at Wake Forest. Behind Watkins was Grover Jones, a fundamentalist preacher who recently had been elected president of the Baptist State Convention. But after surveys had been distributed to the faculty and staff, the board suddenly squelched the inquiry in December, and then announced in February that no change in the College administration would be made "at this time." Clearly, a majority of the board was concerned about the political and public relations damage that removing Tribble could do to the relocation at that critical junction. Afterward, a defiant Tribble wrote a letter to new board chair Odus Mull (1902, JD 1903) asserting no wrongdoing and castigating the motives of "Basil and his crowd" as a "plot to gain control of the College."
It is doubtful Tribble would have overcome his trials or have raised money as effectively as he did locally without the backing of trustee Irving E. Carlyle (1917) of Winston-Salem.
A founding partner of one of the state's largest and most prominent law firms and an early and energetic member of the Wake Forest College Planning and Building Committee, Carlyle helped to offset the more reactionary members of the board with his businesslike and relatively liberal approach. To protect the move, he shielded, defused, and bridged more than one bullet, land mine, and pitfall for the president.
A 10-part series adapted from the September, 2006 edition of Wake Forest Magazine.
By David Fyten
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