125 Difference-Makers IV
by Chuck Gordon

Poet and Chronicler: Sylvia Little-Sweat

Sylvia Little-Sweat at her typewriter

The longest-serving faculty member, and employee, ever at the University (58 years), Sylvia Little-Sweat ’61 is a legendary English teacher who has become the University’s resident institutional historian and poet. She has worked for five of Wingate’s 10 presidents and has been a part of the University for nearly half of its history (two as a student, 58 as an employee). Her love of the written word is unparalleled, and she continues to put pen to paper, often in service of yet-to-be Bulldogs who will one day want to put the Wingate University they know and love into historical context. She has written two books on the University: 1997’s The Chalk Dust Chronicle and 2019’s The Dream Sustained: A Poetic Journey Through Wingate University’s History. Little-Sweat began working on the latter book in earnest after being named Wingate’s writer-in-residence in 2017 but says she had been working on it her entire life. “I am so thankful that I was a part of the school’s growth and the terrific changes that have come about in my lifetime,” she says. “This is more than skin deep for me.”

Connected Alum: Meredith Galvin

Sometimes a college leaves such an impression on a graduate – the education received both in and out of the classroom – that she’s determined to help others experience it too. Meredith Osborne Galvin ’62, an elementary-school teacher for 30 years, has remained connected to her alma mater through stints on the Board of Visitors and the Board of Trustees. She has also established the Meredith Osborne Galvin Endowed Scholarship. “Through the scholarship, I hope to enable future students to get not only an education but also a chance to establish lifetime friendships and memories like I did,” she says.

All-Time Wins Leader: Mike Martin

Former FSU baseball coach Mike Martin wearing a Wingate jersey

A juco All-American baseball player at Wingate (as well as a starter in basketball), Mike Martin ’64 took the lessons he learned from Ron Christopher and Bill Connell and forged the winningest coaching career in college-baseball history. Martin played centerfield at Florida State and later coached the Seminoles to 2,029 career wins, 19 conference titles and 40 trips to the NCAA tournament. Martin won more games than any NCAA coach in any sport ever has. In his latter years, he exuded a grandfatherly presence, but even in his more fiery earlier years, Martin always had his players’ best interests at heart – just like his Wingate coaches did. “He’s always said that it’s always going to be about the kids and doing things the right way,” says Mike Martin Jr., who succeeded his father as head coach at Florida State in 2019. “He’s a molder of men.”

Student-focused Fundraiser: Harry Sherwood

Harry Sherwood walking

Before he became an ace fundraiser, Harry Sherwood was well known by students, first as a math teacher and then as assistant dean of men and director of housing. He had a big personality but cared deeply for Wingate students. “At first I thought Sherwood was nosy, asking me these questions,” says Dr. Parthenia Richardson ’71. “But I think he was genuinely concerned about my welfare. I think as a black student, to have a good experience, but as a student overall, I think he was genuinely concerned.” In his later years, Sherwood became a politically connected fundraiser who worked behind the scenes to secure grant money and other funding for students.

Artistic Inspiration: Louise Napier

Louise Napier painting

During her 50 years teaching art at Wingate, Louise Napier saw the art world cycle through a variety of trends: from abstract to realism and back to abstract. Through it all, Napier knew, the fundamentals did not change. Neither did her satisfaction at seeing students realize that art is not just for “artists.” “First, I found gratifying the excitement I see in students when they think they can’t do art and find they can,” she said upon her retirement in 2015. Napier has continued to teach as an adjunct art instructor and in 2018 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Union County Community Arts Council.

Pursuer of Freedom: Lilia Montero

A 1941 graduate of Mars Hill College, Lilia Montero returned to her native Cuba after graduation. But over the next two decades, the island nation experienced unrest and eventually the Cuban Revolution and rule by Fidel Castro. “For that generation, it was especially difficult, because they were already working, they were young, they were making their way in the world,” says Montero’s son, Oscar Montero ’68. “And then this happened, and it turned everything upside down.” Lilia’s family was split, with some, like her, fiercely opposed to the communist regime, and others, such as her brother, in favor of it. Lilia left her siblings and parents behind in 1962 and took her children to North Carolina, eventually finding her way to Wingate, where she taught Spanish until 1984. She not only gave students excellent instruction in an important Romance language, but she served as a reminder that the world can be much different beyond The Gate.

Dean, Professor, Coach: Jerry Surratt

Jerry Surratt sorts through papers at his desk

An alumnus, athlete, professor, coach and dean, Jerry Surratt ’57 “personified what was best at this institution,” says his former colleague Robert Doak. Surratt was associated with Wingate for 50 years, first as a student competing on the basketball and tennis teams, and later as a history professor, administrator and coach. In the 1970s, serving as academic dean, Surratt played a pivotal role in shaping the new study-abroad program, W’International, and in helping design a new four-year program of study as Wingate advanced beyond its junior-college status. One student called him “kind and mesmerizing” in the classroom. Something of a gentle giant at 6-foot-6, Surratt was eager to pitch in, serving as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in his later years and returning three years after his retirement to coach the men’s golf team for seven years and the women’s team for a decade. Surratt succumbed to his fifth battle with cancer in 2020.

Decorated Soldier: Paul Little

Col. Paul B. Little ’68 took his associate degree in chemistry and forged a decorated career as a doctor in the U.S. Army. Little was a military physician, served on the staff of the Army Surgeon General at the Pentagon, and was the first medical editor at the U.S. Department of Defense Media Center. Among his many volunteer efforts is his service to Wingate University as a trustee. Little established the Edna Pearle Little Memorial Scholarship in memory of his mother, the first fine-arts professor at Wingate.

Music Fan: Jim Bullock

Through his late wife, Cynthia, Jimmy Bullock ’68 grew to have a deep appreciation for music. Her influence led to a support for music that has had a remarkable effect on Wingate University’s highly regarded Music Department. Made in honor of Cynthia’s memory, a sizable gift from Bullock helped create the Cynthia LeGette Bullock Center for Music Studies, which opened in early 2015 and greatly expanded the rehearsal space available to Wingate’s music students. Bullock and his wife, Sherry, also pledged a challenge gift that launched the Music Department’s campaign to become an “all-Steinway” piano school. Bullock died in 2017.

Veterans’ Advocate: Sam Welborn

When he returned from Vietnam with an Army Commendation Medal and a crushed leg, Sam Welborn ’69 didn’t know where to turn. Encouraged to pursue college on the G.I. Bill, Welborn wound up at Wingate and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill. At both places, he understood what it was like to be an older student, and a veteran at that. In 2013, he and his wife established the Sam and Sandy Welborn Scholarship, which supports Wingate students who are veterans of the armed services and have served in foreign wars. Welborn, a successful salesman for 3M for many years, has been a big supporter of the University over the years. In 1994 he established the Samuel K. and Sandra G. Welborn Scholarship, which goes to students with demonstrated financial need, and the Welborns also contributed to the construction of Welborn Hall, a residential building on campus. Welborn died in 2017.

Trailblazer for Black Students: Clarise Blakeney

Clarice Blakeney delivers newspapers on campus

Not long after she walked past the charred remains of a cross planted in her yard and boarded the school bus to take her to Jefferson (S.C.) High School for her first day of class, Clarice Blakeney ’70 got the only 100 on a test in her science class. “I think the whole class was shocked,” she says. “There were probably always low expectations. I guess that’s why I was so outspoken. You don’t let people sell you short. You don’t brag and you don’t boast, but if you know you know, you don’t need to try to prove nothing to nobody.” Blakeney, who along with John Greene ’70 was one of the first two Black students to earn a degree from Wingate College, says she adapted well socially, though she says adjusting to the demands of a college classroom was another story. “Smart in the country ain’t like smart in the city,” she says. But she did just fine in the classroom too, and she wound up transferring that knowledge to countless grade-school students over the years. Blakeney earned a bachelor’s degree from Catawba College and a master’s from the University of South Carolina, and she worked in public schools, primarily as a teacher, assistant principal and principal, for nearly 40 years. Along the way, Blakeney, who never married, adopted a child, finding out four months later that the girl had cerebral palsy. She was given a chance to rescind the adoption papers. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want her to be put in some home and not taken care of. I think I can do it.’” She continues to care for Candice and has even sat on the boards of state and local disability organizations.

Bill Crowder head shot

Active Volunteer: Bill Crowder

An engineer by nature and by trade, Bill Crowder ’68 has used his considerable gifts as an Army-trained organizer to lead cleanup efforts after natural disasters in the Carolinas. Crowder led a group of volunteers to clean up after a line of tornadoes ripped through the Carolinas in 1989, and for his efforts he was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor. In more recent years, he has taken an active interest in the University, not only giving monetary gifts but also serving on the Board of Trustees, advising the Student Veterans Organization, and taking a hands-on approach to One Day, One Dog.

Loyal Coach and AD: Bill Connell

Bill Connell head shot

There might never be another Wingate athletics career like Bill Connell ’53’s. Several coaches have won more games and advanced farther in national competition, but no one comes close to Connell in versatility. After competing in basketball and baseball as a Wingate student, Connell came back in 1959 and led Wingate to the Pine Bowl in football, beat Artis Gilmore’s Gardner-Webb team in basketball and won 49 consecutive dual matches as men’s golf coach. From 1959 until his death in 1992, Connell served Wingate Athletics loyally. He was, at various times, the head coach of five different sports, and he ended his career as the College’s director of athletics. A former Marine, Connell could be stern, but he always put players’ needs first. “He wasn’t what you would call a dictator, but it was his way or the highway,” says Mike Martin ’64, who played basketball for Connell and later became the all-time NCAA leader in wins as a baseball coach. “He had a lot to do with making me walk a tight line. There were things that were not allowed by him, meaning if practice was at 3 o’clock, you better be on the court ready to go at 2:55.” Martin was one of several of Connell’s players who forged successful coaching careers, leaning on elements of Connell’s disciplined and tactically innovative approach to games. Every year, the Bill Connell Memorial Golf Tournament serves as a major fundraiser for the Bulldog Club.