Cinderella of the Sticks: Dorothy Brown
In the mid-1950s, a reporter and photographer stumbled upon a beautiful teenager in the backwoods of Iredell County while hunting for the dam that would create Lake Norman. Two newspaper columns later, her story was picked up by the wire services, and suddenly Dorothy Brown ’59, nicknamed “Long Sam” after a popular comic-strip character, was a nationwide sensation. The “Cinderella of the sticks” lived with her family in a two-room cabin and dropped out of school after the seventh grade to take care of her siblings. Her homelife was difficult. “I was the third girl in a family that wanted a boy,” she told the Charlotte Observer in the 1990s. She added: “I thought my daddy drank because we were poor, and, of course, we were poor because my daddy drank.”
Brown tolerated her newfound fame for a time, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and in Life magazine but turning down offers to appear on the Steve Allen Show and in Li’l Abner on Broadway. What she really wanted, she said, was an education. Brown parlayed her fame into enrollment in the high-school class at Wingate Junior College. She made mostly A’s and B’s, perhaps to the astonishment of classmates familiar with her story. “People seem surprised when they meet me for the first time,” she told one interviewer. “They look as though they expected me to be wearing a tiger skin and swinging across the room, screaming like Tarzan.” She went on to earn her associate degree at Wingate and her baccalaureate degree at Women’s College of the University of North Carolina (now UNC Greensboro). “I want an education, because you have to have an education to be somebody,” she said. “Knowin’ leads to living.”
Master of Chemistry: Walter Johnson
Teaching freshman chemistry “with a combination of grit and gentleness,” Walter Johnson nonetheless was no pushover: He always carried a meter stick, which he used to rap the desk of any student caught dozing. A shy farm boy from the mountains of North Carolina, Johnson was the first in his family to attend college. He was a master teacher who in 1972 was named an Outstanding Educator in America. In 1976 The Gate yearbook was dedicated in his honor, with the staff writing: “The debt the campus community owes him can never be repaid.” Johnson, who taught at Wingate for 33 years, was the first winner of the Corts Award for Excellence in Teaching, in 1984.
Bridge to Prosperity: Herbert Bridges
In 1957 J. Herbert Bridges, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his wife “made possible a building for housing the business program” at Wingate. He also arranged for the donation of new computers for use in the building. Also interested in the arts, Bridges “led a drive that culminated in the construction of a fine arts center known as the Burnside-Dalton Fine Arts Center and Laney Hall.” With an apt surname, Herbert proved to be a bridge to the Charlotte business community, his business connections helping Budd Smith raise the money necessary for Wingate Junior College to grow to nearly 2,000 students.
Principled Leader: W.T. Harris
A self-made millionaire, William Thomas Harris was principled but practical – a perfect combination for a trustee who served Wingate during a boom time for the University. Harris served on the College board from 1957 until his death in 1989, spanning the tenures of three presidents. He was innovative with his grocery stores but also refused to sell alcohol in his stores for years. “He didn’t hesitate to take a stand but didn’t interfere with the will of the majority,” said his old friend Tom Ray, soon after Harris’ death. Often, that meant taking a stand for education. Harris was an active member of the board at Wingate, giving of his time and money, and he persuaded many others to give to the College as well, believing that the school’s Baptist education was important to the community. The W.T. Harris Dining Hall was dedicated in 1965 and rededicated in 1988.
Caring Doc: Tom Koontz
Dr. Thomas Koontz ’60 followed his high-school basketball coach, Francis Essic, to Wingate Junior College in the late 1950s. His faith in Essic was repaid multiple times over. Koontz was valedictorian at Wingate and was the first junior-college recipient of the prestigious Morehead Scholarship. “Coach Essic told me life was going to knock me down time and time again, but I always needed to get back up and keep trying,” Koontz said. In 1993, Koontz started Doctors Care, a program that helps people in Forsyth County receive low-cost healthcare. It has given away over $25 million worth of healthcare over the years to those most in need.
Dean-o: Donald Haskins
In his first year of teaching economics at Wingate Junior College, in 1960, Donald Haskins shared a cramped, two-chair office with another newbie, religion professor Byrns Coleman. “When a student would come in, one of us would have to leave,” Coleman said. From such inauspicious beginnings, Haskins birthed a memorable career as a professor, a dean and the conscience of countless students. For 44 years, Haskins, a graduate of the Wake Forest School of Law, taught one of the most popular courses at Wingate, Business Law 101. His longevity, personality and interest in the students made him part of the fabric of the University. “He always seemed larger than life, a part of the foundation of the entire campus at Wingate,” says Bruce Hudson ’69. “Mr. Haskins gave his life to Wingate and its students and friends.” “When I entered Wingate in 1968, I felt that the dean took a special interest in me,” says Lee Galloway ’70. “But it was not just me, for he took a special interest in almost everyone.” For years, Haskins serenaded graduating seniors with the song Precious Memories during Commencement rehearsal. On every other day of the year, his song and dance was about personal responsibility and expectations. He expected students to give their best.
Haskins was known as “Dean-o” for his stints as dean of men and dean of students (he also served as vice president for student affairs and senior vice president for student development). Many students can still recall the chill that went down their spine when they heard Haskins’ familiar “heh heh heh” laugh that could portend a round of behavior correction. But there was love in the discipline. Bill Crowder ’68, now a University trustee, remembers hearing that laugh just after he’d launched a snowball through an open Helms Hall window. “I didn’t have to turn around to know I was caught,” Crowder says. “I had many run-ins with Dean Haskins, but for me it was more of a game to see if I could not get caught doing what I knew he’d wear me out for if he could catch me.” Like countless others, Crowder remembers Haskins fondly, even if Dean-o was Tom to Crowder’s Jerry: “I thought the world of Dean Haskins even then.”
Loyal Trustee: Clark Goodwin
Clark Goodwin got his start at Wingate Junior College in 1952, and although he transferred to UNC Chapel Hill before earning his associate degree, he eventually returned to become one of the school’s most faithful supporters. In 40 years as a member of the Board of Trustees – making him the longest-serving trustee in Wingate history – Goodwin established scholarships, supported athletics and the arts, helped get academic programs off the ground and saw capital projects through to fruition.
Religious Icon: Byrns Coleman
When Byrns Coleman arrived at Wingate fresh out of seminary in 1960, he really wanted to be a full-time minister or missionary, but fate intervened. He met the love of his life (Alice), settled down and became an institution at Wingate, retiring as a religion professor in 2012, by which time the junior college he had grown to love had become a four-year college and then a university and had split from the Baptist State Convention. Through it all, Coleman was a rock. “He sets high academic standards for students and gives generously of his time and energy,” former President Paul Corts said when presenting Coleman with the Corts Teaching Award in 1989. “He is an inspirational teacher.” Coleman’s service to the University was thorough (he chaired the Division of Humanities for 17 years), but he continued to get his preaching fix by regularly being an interim pastor at churches throughout Union County, in the process becoming an ambassador for the University. He demonstrated his devotion to Wingate in 2017 when he and Alice, who was working in the Ethel K. Smith Library when they met, decided to donate their house to the University.
Model of Decorum: Frances Vick
A native of Union County, Frances Vick arrived at Wingate in 1961 after moving around for years with her Air Force captain husband, Giles. Related by blood or marriage to nine of the Wingate School’s first 15 trustees, “Lady Vick” was a well-respected teacher and “the recognized symbol of decorum on campus.” She headed up the English Department for years, edited the College catalog and Commencement program, and coached the ever important May Day events, stressing grace, dignity and elegance. “I first met her thirty years ago at the beginning of my career as an English teacher in the middle of the ragged sixties, a time when everything seemed under siege,” former professor Maurice Thomas once said. “In all that rancor, she never wavered but offered us the alternative: duty, order, form, correctness, civility. She brought those qualities to everything she did and enriched Wingate with her tireless dedication.”
Vick marked all errors in submitted papers and was thus considered a teacher to avoid. But she also cared deeply about her students, simply wanting them to “be able to use words correctly and effectively and if possible to write a polished sentence.” At Commencement, the most outstanding English student is awarded the Frances C. Vick Award, an honor established by Vick’s colleagues. Vick received an Excellence in Teaching Award in 1970.
Vick’s entire family has played a role in helping Wingate make a difference over the years. Giles was also a longtime teacher (math and science), and the couple were lifetime, and very active, members of the Friends of the Library. Their sons, Wes and John, both medical doctors, have given generously to the University, including donating their parents’ entire personal library, which includes a rare copy of the “Vinegar Bible.” Wes’s wife, Deidre, is a lifetime trustee at Wingate.
Gold-Medal Winner: Mo McHone
The only Wingate graduate to ever become an NBA head coach, Mo McHone ’63 is relatively unknown outside of pro-basketball circles. But his resume is impressive. The journeyman coach was a Florida State assistant the year the Seminoles nearly upset UCLA in the NCAA finals (1970), reached the state championship game as a high-school head coach in Florida, won a pair of titles as a head coach in the CBA, was a longtime NBA assistant and for a brief period an NBA head coach (with the San Antonio Spurs, in 1983), and led the USA men’s team to the gold medal in the Tournament of the Americas. For the last of those achievements, McHone was named USA Basketball’s coach of the year in 1997. “It was probably one of the biggest honors I’ve ever had,” McHone says.
Nurturing Presence: Beverly Christopher
A very involved undergrad at Wingate, Beverly Bailes Christopher ’57 returned to the College in 1962 as an English professor who remembered what it was like being a student. During her undergrad days, Christopher was editor of The Gate, president of the Baptist Student Union and dorm president. She later became highly regarded as a very student-centered teacher. “She made her subject interesting and got a lot of work from her students,” said one of her earliest pupils. “She was always ready to give any help after class.” That type of attention continued over 45 years in which she and her husband, longtime baseball coach and professor Ron Christopher, became institutions at the University. They were well known for creating a family atmosphere among Ron’s baseball teams. “He and Mrs. Christopher just had their doors open to us all the time,” says former star pitcher Alvin Morman ’90. “I know that can’t happen around all sports and all schools. That’s something special.” Christopher won the Corts Teaching Award in 1988.
The Total Package: Ron Christopher
The numbers don’t do Ron Christopher’s career justice. Sure, he won 15 regular-season or tournament conference titles; six regional or district championships; and 536 games in 24 seasons. And yeah, he went to three national tournaments, finishing fourth twice and fifth once. Oh, and the University’s baseball stadium is named after him. But what Christopher accomplished records-wise pales in comparison to the impact he had on his players’ lives. He and his wife, former English professor Beverly, treated Wingate’s baseball players like their own children. “His door was always open,” says Jim Morris ’84, a star centerfielder and Wingate Sports Hall of Famer. “Anytime you needed to talk, you could go to their house. They’d do anything for you.”
Christopher became the first baseball coach inducted into the Wingate Sports Hall of Fame, he’s also in NAIA Hall of Fame and the National Junior College Hall of Fame, and he spent a stretch on the committee that selected Team USA members for the Olympics. But he was more than just an on-field coach. Christopher was as committed to his players’ academic careers as to their athletic ones. He instituted mandatory nighttime study hours and required players to pass in order to play. “Some coaches just look out for records,” says Mike Martin, a centerfielder for Christopher in the 1960s who went on to a legendary coaching career in his own right. “This man looked out for each individual, and he played a big role in the way I try to do things. He made me feel comfortable yet never too comfortable. That’s the kind of coach he was.”