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Interview with Herbert and Sylvia Fisher, June 27, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Herbert and Sylvia Fisher, June 27, 2006
Date:
June 27, 2006
Description:
Herbert and Sylvia Fisher discuss their history with Wilmington College and UNCW. They graduated from New Hanover High School (Class of '49) and both enrolled in Wilmington College. Sylvia (neé Watson) Fisher was the first Wilmington College Queen, in 1950. After graduation in 1953, Mr. Fisher opened The Varsity -- a grill, pharmacy, and soda shop -- a block away from the college. The Fishers describe the business, which served as a place for students to socialize until it closed in the 1970s. In 2006, the Fishers donated the largest outright gift to UNCW. They established a $2 million endowed fund to maintain the new student center. Interview includes memories about their lives in Wilmington, from their high school days (both were voted "Most School Spirited" in senior superlatives) to the present time.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Fisher, Herbert and Sylvia Interviewer: Riggins, Adina Date of Interview: 6/27/2006 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Riggins: Good morning. My name is Adina Riggins; I'm the University Archivist from University of North Carolina--Wilmington. However, you don't see me. I'm behind the camera. We have a very special pair of interviewees here today. I'm very privileged to be at the office of Coastal Realty. Today is June 27, 2006, and I'm here to interview Mr. Herbert Fisher and Mrs. Sylvia Fisher. Please, can you each state your name for the tape just so that we can have that on the record?

Herbert Fisher: Alrighty. I am Herbert Fisher and I do own and operate Coastal Realty Company and I am a lifelong member of the City of Wilmington. Born and raised here.

Sylvia Fisher: My name is Sylvia Fisher, and I also am a native Wilmingtonian.

Riggins: Well you've already answered my next question, which is always "Where were you born and where did you grow up?" You're both born in Wilmington in the hospital?

Herbert Fisher: Yes. Yes uhm.. I was born in a hospital called Bullock Hospital, which was on Front Street, and a Dr. Bullock owned that hospital, and uh.. I think Sylvia possibly.

Sylvia Fisher: I was born at James Walker Hospital.

Herbert Fisher: So we were born in two different places. However, uh.. that was a time where we did have two hospitals in Wilmington, and this is going back to somewhere in the early 30s.

Riggins: At the University, we have done a history of medicine in the region so I've learned some about James Walker Hospital. Bullock to a lesser degree--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- but that was not a (inaudible)

Herbert Fisher: That was a very private hospital and it was operated only by Doctor Bullock, and the building still stands and- and uh..

Riggins: Well, either one of you may answer this if you choose to, but when and how did you first meet?

Sylvia Fisher: We met in high school.

Riggins: Really?

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: And that was at which high school?

Sylvia Fisher: At New Hanover High School.

Riggins: Okay. Do you remember how you met?

Herbert Fisher: We really uh.. both went out our freshman year in high school. In order to be a cheerleader, you had to go out and have a trial uhm.. what would you call it?

Sylvia Fisher: A tryout.

Herbert Fisher: A tryout.

Sylvia Fisher: (laughing)

Herbert Fisher: A try out. Yes, a tryout. And so Sylvia went out, and I did not know Sylvia. She came from Sunset Park Junior High and I went to Chestnut Street Junior High. So we both went out not really knowing each other at the time, and so we both made the cheerleader squad together. In those days, it was a boy-girl team and it worked out where somehow-- there were 10 cheerleaders, 5 boys and 5 girls, and Sylvia and I paired off as the two teams of she being my partner, and so that's where we really met.

Riggins: Was cheerleading big at this time?

Herbert Fisher: Cheerleading was very big. That- that was the- the second-biggest thing other than playing ball and being on a team. Uh.. now, I did play in the New Hanover High School Band so, therefore, I got a double dose of it. I could do cheerleading at the games and play at the band-- uh.. play with the band, and we had a New Hanover High School Band as well as we had an ROTC band. So we had two uniforms.

Riggins: And you played in both?

Herbert Fisher: Both. Yes.

Riggins: What instrument did you play?

Herbert Fisher: I played trumpet and enjoyed that very much. Took many trips with the New Hanover High School Band all over eastern Carolina 'cause we were an outstanding school and still, New Hanover High School is still an outstanding school.

Riggins: I can hear quite a bit of pride. In--

Herbert Fisher: Very much.

Riggins: -- order to be a cheerleader you have to be very, very peppy. So how long did you both remain cheerleaders?

Herbert Fisher: Four years.

Riggins: Really? All four years?

Herbert Fisher: Yes. Yes, we did.

Riggins: What was involved with that? Lots of practices, lots of--

Herbert Fisher: A lot of practices and in the summertime, before- before school opened in the fall, we would do, like, a whole week of the entire ten-member squad, and we would go down to Wrightsville Beach in the afternoon and we would practice at Wrightsville Beach and uh.. get all of our uh.. things that we were going to do for the fall, we would get that all planned and we were organized to the point that at a moment's notice, on the field, we could go into motion without hesitation.

Riggins: How did you manage that with being in the band?

Herbert Fisher: Well, I was excused from the band, so I wore a cheerleader uniform to the ballgames and- and uh.. the band, being a 50-member band, I would just run out, but the squad-- the cheerleader squad--

Riggins: Needed you.

Herbert Fisher: -- needed me, and in those days sports in Wilmington were- were the bigger event and New Hanover High School was the only high school, and it was the largest high school in the state of North Carolina.

Riggins: Was it really?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, it was.

Riggins: Were you in the band, Mrs. Fisher?

Sylvia Fisher: No.

Riggins: Okay. And what was your maiden name?

Sylvia Fisher: Watson.

Riggins: So you're Sylvia Watson at the time and busy with cheerleading as well as the academics. It was a big high school then. Was it known as an academic high school?

Herbert Fisher: Oh, very- very much so.

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Herbert Fisher: If you went into New Hanover High School, you were eligible almost to get into college with the background. You had to have good grades, but New Hanover carried a good rating to go to Chapel Hill or to State, Duke, Wake Forest. Those were the big four, and uh.. of course Greensboro, which was a women's college at that time, and this is before your time, 'cause now it's a co-ed school, I believe. Uhm.. but uhm..

Riggins: And some people may have gone out of state but not as many?

Herbert Fisher: Oh- oh, I'm sure a lot of 'em did but the m-- the large majority were State and Carolina uh.. alumni today as- as time has passed on. We meet-- we do have class reunions and we meet one another and- and uhm.. remember old times.

Riggins: What was your class? The class of?

Herbert Fisher: '49.

Riggins: And yours?

Sylvia Fisher: Same.

Herbert Fisher: Same.

Riggins: Same. Same class. So did you start dating at the time or were you--

Sylvia Fisher: Oh, yes.

Herbert Fisher: Yes. Yep.

Riggins: Oh, right. Right.

Herbert Fisher: I would pick her up and I would date her, especially the night of the ball game, and after every ball game we had a teenage dance, and the dance was held in the old USO building that is still standing at Second and Orange, and there would- there would be a band, a small band, playing and we would invite the visiting team as our guest and the cheerleaders were responsible for bringing the cheerleaders and the team, the visiting team, to the dance, and it kind of gave us a little bit of a fellowship and closeness with who we were playing that--

Riggins: Hospitality ________--

Herbert Fisher: Yeah, hospitality.

Riggins: -- were friends.

Herbert Fisher: Right.

Riggins: So this was after the game.

Herbert Fisher: After the game.

Riggins: You'd compete ___________.

Herbert Fisher: That's right.

Riggins: Well that's really interesting. Was that a common thing that happened in other schools?

Herbert Fisher: Uh.. I- I don't know that any other high school offered that. Uh.. we were one of the first to start it. Now uh.. little by little it would-- was catching on, but see we happened to have a good place. The USO Club was a good place 'cause it was a dance hall for the military during World War II, and so it made it very convenient that we had a location. It wasn't like going to a gymnasium, and that's what you would do and a gymnasium doesn't have the uh.. same type of interior decorations and uhm.. the dance floor was a dance floor and the bandstand was a bandstand. So it- it was very nice.

Riggins: Your high school experience was basically after World War II--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- (inaudible). Was there a sense of people being happy about things (inaudible)?

Herbert Fisher: Very much so. The patriotism and the feeling of enthusiasm, and we had just won the war, uh.. all of our young men were returning home and uhm.. it was a very patriotic period of time.

Sylvia Fisher: And that's mainly the reason they formed Wilmington College, to give these veterans a place to use the GI Bill locally.

Riggins: So you remember those times. You would've been young when the University was formed.

Sylvia Fisher: Right. We lived--

Riggins: We remember hearing about that.

Sylvia Fisher: Well, we were still in high school and the veterans were across the street at uh.. Wilmington College, and then later when we graduated we joined 'em.

Riggins: Right. From what I understand, there was a real need for it--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- but at the same time the taxpayers of the county had to be convinced.

Herbert Fisher: Right. Right.

Riggins: Was it a tough battle to convince them?

Herbert Fisher: It took- it took two years for our superintendent of schools and several of the Board of Directors, of the Board of Education, to convince the legislature and the senate, and this is the state legislature and the state senate, to appropriate funds to start a college, and it was not to be a called a community college. It was to be called uh.. Wilmington College.

Riggins: I have heard that. Where did that vision come from?

Sylvia Fisher: Dr. Hoggard. That was his idea, that it should not be called a junior college or a community college. He wanted it Wilmington College.

Riggins: He just had bigger ideas?

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Sylvia Fisher: Mmm-hmm.

Riggins: There was a sense that this community needed a four-year college.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, and- and he didn't want to ac- accept anything less because you could easily get a community college approved possibly, but they did not want that. They- they wanted something to grow like it has grown and it has proven to be successful. So--

Riggins: And of course, it didn't start as a four-year college.

Herbert Fisher: No.

Riggins: It started as a two-year college.

Herbert Fisher: Two-year college.

Riggins: But there were always plans, and almost all the way up from the beginning there were hopes for its own campus?

Herbert Fisher: Oh yes, yes. Uhm.. that was just a starting point of a building that was available in the afternoons, and part of the day, that was centrally located and conveniently located for teachers and instructors and uhm.. it was where Wilmington in- in the 1947 period, and that's when the school-- college started, uh.. Wilmington had not grown enough. College Road didn't exist in 1947. So it was generally in the heart of Wilmington.

Riggins: Right, the downtown was where--

Herbert Fisher: Oh, yeah.

Riggins: -- everything was.

Herbert Fisher: Everything was downtown. There weren't no malls and no shopping centers.

Riggins: There was a lot of activity--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- in downtown. Well that, I think, would've been nice. I wish I could've s--

Herbert Fisher: Been-- I wish you could've been here too.

Riggins: (inaudible). It was nice, and it was different from the wartime days, right? Wartime days was very, very crowded--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- all around.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, it was. See the-- by- by now, all the shipyard workers that had come to Wilmington to work, the had now-- the- the shipyard had closed and those people went back to their hometowns, and so Wilmington-- the population of Wilmington in 1947 was 20,000 people.

Riggins: Which was a lot for that time.

Herbert Fisher: It was- it was a lot but considering that included- that included New Hanover County, so it- it was spread out.

Riggins: Spread out.

Herbert Fisher: Yeah, very- very nicely.

Riggins: (inaudible) is more of a rural populations. So there was a lot going on. Let's fast forward to your senior year. What superlatives did you get? We were discussing this before the tape started.

Herbert Fisher: Well, uh.. fortunately, we were both elected as the two people who had the most school spirit, and uh.. this occurred from the standpoint that we both worked. We had a newspaper at the high school called The Wildcat, and it was a very good newspaper and Sylvia worked uh.. on the editorial staff publishing the paper, and I worked on the circulation and the business staff to distribute the paper and sell the paper, and so by-- she working to produce the paper, we came in contact regularly, and the paper had to be ready to go to press the day before we published it. It came out once a week, every Thursday morning. So we both worked together on the school newspaper for the four years and uh.. that put us closer together working as a team on the school paper.

Riggins: As well as in the cheerleading squad.

Herbert Fisher: And the cheerleading squad, and then Sylvia was elected, and I'm speaking out of uh.. and maybe I'm monopolizing this conversation, but she was elected as a judicial judge, and we had judicial marshals and we had a judge where when things came up in school to relieve this-- teachers and the principal, a- a judge would hear whatever the problem was with a student and Sylvia was a judge.

Riggins: Sort of a peer--

Herbert Fisher: They would appear in a- in a little courtroom- in a little courtroom at a certain time after school to be heard, and if they wanted to bring a witness with 'em as to what happened.

Riggins: Would you all sort of be like the jury, or the student judges would be a jury, sort of?

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Herbert Fisher: The judges were the jury.

Riggins: Oh, I see.

Sylvia Fisher: And Herbert and I were both active in the Dramatics Club. We did a lot of plays together. (laughing)

Riggins: You were (inaudible).

Sylvia Fisher: Well, and we did so many things together.

Riggins: The Dramatics Club. So you had a--

Herbert Fisher: Oh, yeah.

Riggins: -- dramatic side to you. Any singing? Did you do singing?

Sylvia Fisher: No.

Herbert Fisher: Yeah, I did. I sang in the uh.. we- we had a club. At tho-- in those days known as the Hi-Y Club and it was uh.. we put on a big sh-- talent show every year and it was uh.. I sang and acted in the uh.. Hi-Y Club, but in the Dramatics Club we would put on shows as much as maybe four or five productions a year, and we- we even took a set that we built here in Wilmington, and it was so successful in Wilmington that we took it to Chapel Hill to compete in the state dramatics department and we took the entire set by truck to Chapel Hill, set it all up, and did the show, and we won honors on that production.

Riggins: What are some of the things that you believe you took away from these activities? Sounds like you're both leaders at the school.

Sylvia Fisher: Joy. (laughing) It was fun. (laughing)

Riggins: That's a great answer. I thought you might say something serious like, "Oh, we learned leadership," and--

Herbert Fisher: Well--

Riggins: I think that's an important thing to remember, that you do it because it's fun and also that--

Herbert Fisher: Well, it uh.. I-- you caught the answer right because I- I feel like it was a leadership thing, not knowing that it was happening but it was happening. If you were 15, 16, 17 years old, things happen where, if you're needed to do something and a teacher-- in those days, if a teacher asked you to do something or said that we need something, we just- we just did it. We just did it. We had to have a tree to make a table for one of the Dramatics Club's shows and the tree needed to be three inches in-- I mean, three feet in diameter, and she said, "I want it to be a rustic, old table like you would find in a cabin." So two of us guys got together and we went out and we cut down a tree with a handsaw, that's that cross-cut saw, and after we cut the tree down then we had to cut a slice out of the tree to make the tabletop, and I only wished I had more pictures of that because that was so interesting and it was a time consuming and hard work, but we did it and it was joy, but it was also learning leadership.

Riggins: Right. And you didn't really realize you were learning it.

Herbert Fisher: No, no we didn't.

Riggins: But you were asked to do something. The teachers had high standards--

Herbert Fisher: Yes, very much.

Riggins: -- for their extracurricular activities as well as academics. Well, how about the academics? Was it a hard program at New Hanover High School or was it challenging? What subjects did you like?

Sylvia Fisher: It was a- a good program. I tended to like the social studies.

Riggins: Geography, history?

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Herbert Fisher: I- I liked history and government. The- the government was very interesting because I seem to have a knack for understanding how our city council locally and our county commissioners locally operated, and so uh.. and of course history runs right along with government. They're- they're kind of a matching team, and uh.. during the course of that government class, once a year the student body would elect a mayor, a student mayor, and a student city council and you were mayor and council member for a day and you would run the city that day.

Riggins: What was the city? The whole school or was it the grade?

Herbert Fisher: It was- it was-- you had to be a senior- you had to be a senior, and you had to qualify to be able to be a council member, and I was elected as a member of the student council to serve on the city council. So it threw me right in the middle, and in those days we only had five- five city council members. One was a mayor and four council members. So there were only five of us, and they also had one- one of us were elected to- to be the city manager. But I- I belonged on the city council, and so the city council itself had arranged enough business to be on the table that we made the decisions as to what should be done to those particular items that were on the subject matter for the day.

Riggins: Well, that sounds like you had a role model because you could look at the real thing.

Herbert Fisher: That's right.

Riggins: Who were some of the people in local Wilmington life that you remember from those days or even from later?

Herbert Fisher: Well, surprisingly, Dan Cameron was the mayor--

Riggins: At the time?

Herbert Fisher: -- at the time. The council members uh.. Mr. Alsbrook [ph?], double-o. Alsbrook who worked at White's Ice Cream and Milk Company, uh.. he was general manager and he was on council. Uhm.. I'm trying to think of some additional members on council.

Sylvia Fisher: It's too long ago. (laughing)

Herbert Fisher: And I cannot--

Riggins: You both are doing very well with your memories.

Herbert Fisher: Well, I remember Mr. Alsbrook and Mr. Cameron, and they stood out more than any one else in my mind right now since you asked that question.

Riggins: Sure, sure, I know. You'll think of it later. So, Cameron was a young man.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, yes he was. He had just returned from the war and uhm.. at that time, the Cameron family ran the largest service station in Wilmington and it was called McMillan and Cameron, and McMillan was the other half of the partnership, and McMillan died later and they became Cameron only. But it was a beautiful station and uhm.. I kind of, you know, felt like I knew Mr. Cameron, even though I was just a high school senior. Uh.. he had been to war, and he had come back home, and now he was running the family business. The family business was a big business even then, and then he was taking a part in civic affairs.

Riggins: So he was an interesting person to follow and to pay attention to. Even though you may not have thought about it in that way--

Herbert Fisher: That's right.

Riggins: -- he probably had an impact.

Herbert Fisher: I had very much of an impact. Every time I saw his name in the paper I read the article, because there was something that drew me to him.

Riggins: Then graduation came and you were all excited about that?

Herbert Fisher: Oh, we really were excited about graduation.

Riggins: Your families were excited?

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: Your parents' high school experiences, I don't know if they were from here but were there as many activities for them and things like that? Do you remember hearing them talking about that?

Sylvia Fisher: Things were quite different.

Riggins: Right. There was the Depression and things like that.

Sylvia Fisher: Mmm-hmm.

Herbert Fisher: That's right. They had- they had gone through the Depression and it was a little different for our parents. Now my parents were both from Lebanon, so then they were immigrants, and I was the first generation of the Fisher family.

Riggins: American--

Herbert Fisher: American born, yes.

Riggins: So it's a very different experience.

Herbert Fisher: Very different experience, and I enjoyed the pleasures that they didn't have, and uh.. and they were very much interested in what I would tell them; what I learned in school. The stories at the table, there- there were five children in my family and at the dinner table there would be seven of us, and we would share what we did. We-- all five of us went to school, but it was junior high or high, but we would share information at dinnertime about what you did that day, or what happened to you that day, you know. Uh.. if you had a test or an exam, how- how did you come out? And uh.. but-- and Mother and Dad always wanted to keep informed as to how we were doing. They were very much interested in our welfare and uh.. we were a close family, and I think that Sylvia's family was somewhat the same way 'cause in meeting her, early as a freshman, then I got to know her pretty good by the time we were seniors, and I got to know her parents so, therefore, uh.. it was a- it was a very pleasant time and I think that our parents enjoyed seeing us grow up and having things better than they had it in their day and time.

Riggins: Very supportive. Same for you, Mrs. Fisher? You said your parents, they didn't have time. Or maybe those activities didn't even exist when they were in high school.

Sylvia Fisher: Well the s-- the New Hanover High School didn't come into existence until the mid-20's, and my parents were grown and married by then. I'm not even sure what school they attended, what- what existed before New Hanover High School. I'm just not sure.

Riggins: But they were from this area ________ Wilmington?

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: Right. So it was probably more of a phenomena from after the war and maybe a generation or so before students were very involved in their school.

Herbert Fisher: Wasn't Charleston the high school for a period of time?

Sylvia Fisher: I have no idea.

Riggins: It may have been. I don't know either.

Sylvia Fisher: I just-- I don't know.

Herbert Fisher: Uh.. something rings a bell that Charleston was the largest junior high school and I think that it served as a high school later until New Hanover High School was built, and- and something in my mind says that New Hanover High School was built in 1928.

Riggins: Yes, that sounds right.

Sylvia Fisher: Mmm-hmm.

Herbert Fisher: Okay.

Riggins: I know it was the 20's, right like you said.

Herbert Fisher: And it was such a beautiful building and so well constructed that here it is, 2006, and it's just as beautiful as ever.

Riggins: There's a lot of history, that's--

Herbert Fisher: Lot of history.

Riggins: -- that's for sure. Your senior year came along and what plans were you making?

Herbert Fisher: Well, I think we were both planning an education; to further our education, which obviously we went to Wilmington College. Now uhm.. my brothers and sisters went away to college because at the time they graduated, there was no Wilmington College. This kind of opened the door to be able to have the best of two worlds. You could stay at home at a lesser cost of living and, since I was still dating Sylvia very much so, then I didn't necessarily want to leave Sylvia and to be together on weekends. We really did not have any classes together in college so, therefore, we would only see each other after school and on weekends.

Riggins: Well that's interesting too, because it shows that students have a life outside of classes--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- so that's important.

Herbert Fisher: It was very m-- very important. Uh.. some other little details that came out of this was that uh.. I knew that I was going to-- I don't know how I was gonna do it but I knew that I was gonna go into business. But how I was gonna do it, where I was gonna do it, and the financial means was yet to come, but there was some determination that you just say, "This is my plan and somehow it's going to work."

Riggins: Was anybody in your family in business?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, my father was a businessman and so, therefore, I picked up a lot of good uh.. a- as a teenager then I was able to pick up a lot of good information from my father.

Riggins: What was his business?

Herbert Fisher: He had a furniture business called Fisher Furniture Company, and it was located on Castle Street. So uh.. in those days you sold furniture and then you would go out and deliver it, and you would also go out and collect the payments, 'cause all furniture was sold as it is today on time. But you would go out collecting, and I would ride with my father on the routes to collect furniture payments. So little by little, you're just thinking about. "What am I gonna do? What will I do?" And I- I did know that I would wind up in the business that I chose to go to but the opportunity to presented itself, and during World War II, my parents bought all the children war bonds. They were called saving bonds, but they were ten-year bonds and they were purchased in the years of-- equivalent to 1943 and '44, and they were- were not mature until the year-- ten- ten years later. So it would be in '53 and '54. So when my bonds matured, I decided to open the Varsity.

Riggins: We'll get to it. I want to certainly spend some time on that.

Herbert Fisher: We'll go back to that later.

Riggins: Yeah. That's an interesting story that- I will pick up on that. I want to ask Mrs. Fisher, what business was your father in or what did your parents do?

Sylvia Fisher: Well, uh.. my father was a policeman. My mother worked as a stenographer until she started a family and then she remained a housewife.

Riggins: What was your reasoning for going to Wilmington College? When you were in senior year, did you just kind of say, "Well, this is where I want to go," because it's closer? What was your thinking?

Sylvia Fisher: That was it. It was- it was close and uh.. I couldn't-- I had a part-time job. I could work and go to school too.

Riggins: What was your ___________?

Sylvia Fisher: I worked for Reeds Jewelers, and they were very cooperative about arranging my schedule so that I could take classes at Wilmington College.

Riggins: So you're very grateful for Wilmington College having been there--

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- and it helped out your family, I'm sure. Just like you were saying, because of cost. Well, when you started at Wilmington College, it was just basically across the street from--

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- Isaac Bear School. Were there still classes being held in the high school?

Sylvia Fisher: Yes, there were high school classes and college classes in the same building.

Riggins: Oh, you had it right there in New Hanover High School?

Herbert Fisher: Yeah.

Sylvia Fisher: No, it the-- over at Wilmington College building.

Riggins: The Isaac Bear Building.

Sylvia Fisher: The- the Isaac Bear Building--

Herbert Fisher: The Isaac Bear Building.

Sylvia Fisher: -- was used for both.

Riggins: Do you remember if you had classes at the high school as well? I think in the early days they did.

Herbert Fisher: Yes. Uh.. the high school classes were held on the second floor and the college classes were held on the first floor.

Riggins: Of Isaac Bear?

Herbert Fisher: Yeah, of Isaac Bear.

Riggins: What did you study there? What was your field?

Sylvia Fisher: I- I took business courses because I knew that I was going to probably do some office work when I finished.

Herbert Fisher: And I- I took college prep courses. I took chemistry. I took Latin, algebra, chemistry, uh.. and then for my elective subjects, because you were able to take electives, I took a lot of elective subjects like typing and bookkeeping and uh.. the-- I'm- I'm trying to think of another course, maybe. Well, I took dramatics as an elective. You- you can have one elective course per year so each year I took an elective, and when you learn the business part of it and the typing and the uhm.. dramatics, it gave you a variety of things to begin to kind of choose from.

Riggins: How long did you attend Wilmington College?

Sylvia Fisher: I only attended one year because the following summer we were married. (laughing)

Riggins: Really?

Sylvia Fisher: Yes. But he went a little longer.

Riggins: You were married in 1951?

Sylvia Fisher: 1950. The summer of 1950.

Riggins: You attended for two years?

Herbert Fisher: I- I continued on. Uh.. now I did take-- I wasn't taking a full load because I was able to work and go to school so then I would take the courses that I would need to take in '51 and in '52 and in '53, and that's why I'm a '53 class and uh.. I just continued--

Riggins: Where did you work?

Herbert Fisher: Well, I was lucky enough to get a job managing a Trailways bus station at Carolina Beach and uh.. it was a brand new station and uh.. that's why in the yearbook it shows Herbert Fisher, Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

Sylvia Fisher: (laughing)

Herbert Fisher: And uh.. when we got married, we bought a home at Carolina Beach and I ran the bus station during the summertime and worked there part-time during the wintertime, and that worked out very nicely.

Riggins: So you were working and _________.

Herbert Fisher: And- and I was going to school.

Riggins: And there were probably a lot of people in that--

Herbert Fisher: Oh yes.

Riggins: -- it's not everyone.

Herbert Fisher: Uh.. I think everybody had to work part-time to help compensate the-- their cost of living and the cost of school.

Riggins: Well we're going to show some pictures from the yearbook. So when did you finish at Wilmington College?

Herbert Fisher: '53.

Riggins: '53, with a two-year degree?

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: Or, with an associate's degree?

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: What was that field?

Herbert Fisher: In b- business.

Riggins: Business. Mrs. Fisher, you did about a year in business.

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: Dorothy Powell, was she teaching then? I know she may not have (inaudible)

Sylvia Fisher: Yes. She-- yes, yes she did.

Riggins: She taught some business education.

Sylvia Fisher: Yes she did. She taught me.

Riggins: Really?

Sylvia Fisher: Mmm-hmm.

Riggins: That's _________.

Sylvia Fisher: She was teaching business courses.

Riggins: Well I'd like to show these pictures. Since we were talking about 1950. This is the 1950 yearbook. If you could actually (inaudible)

(crew talk)

Riggins: The lady front and center, the young lady is Mrs. Fisher. Sylvia Watson. Can you talk a little bit about this picture please, Mrs. Fisher?

Sylvia Fisher: Well--

Herbert Fisher: Tell about your dress. About your dress. Would you like to?

Riggins: Or anything. This was the queen of Wilmington College and her attendants--

Sylvia Fisher: That's-- they-- it-- we were elected by the student body and uhm.. at that time, in the Azalea Festival, they always managed to get a Hollywood movie star to be the queen and her court was made up of the May Queens from the major colleges in the state. Duke and Carolina and State and so forth. Wilmington College was too small to be included.

Riggins: And, of course, hadn't been around for very long.

Sylvia Fisher: Exactly. So uh.. Mr. E.L. White, who was mentioned earlier with the ice cream company, he provided a float, a beautiful float, and we had our own float in the parade and- and the four of us rode on our own float.

Riggins: The _____________ says here in the center, "Ms. Sylvia Watson, queen of Wilmington College, and her attendants." So that must've been a lot of fun.

Sylvia Fisher: It was. (laughing) It was exciting.

Riggins: All right. And the float was, I guess, pulled by a car. Cadillac or something?

Sylvia Fisher: Yes, and it was freezing cold that day. (laughing) I remember that.

Riggins: That was at the Azalea Festival, and then the caption underneath says, "The float bearing the queen and her attendants in the Wilmington Azalea Festival parade was sponsored by the White Ice Cream and Malt Company." Well, that was a nice way to kind of have a spring memory of college.

Sylvia Fisher: Or to- to have our own float was very special, and it was beautiful.

Herbert Fisher: I might have a picture of the float and if you have uh.. have the time to maybe uh.. cut for a moment, I would get you--

(tape break)

Riggins: We're back. This is Adina Riggins again. We took a little pause, and during the break I was talking a little bit with Mrs. Fisher about the 1950 queen of Wilmington College and her attendants, and I was asking, just because for me this seems like long ago. Were you surprised that you were elected to the--

Sylvia Fisher: I was very surprised.

Riggins: -- a real _________. Was it fun for you?

Sylvia Fisher: Well, naturally it was an- an honor and I was flattered, but I was completely surprised.

Riggins: Right. Because how many times had you been on the May Court in high school?

Sylvia Fisher: Not ever. (laughing)

Riggins: At least one of your attendants had been on the May Court in high school.

Sylvia Fisher: I- I think so.

Herbert Fisher: What's her name? Jean Cross. [ph?]

Sylvia Fisher: Jean Cross, I think. Mmm-hmm.

Riggins: Were the others from New Hanover High School?

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Sylvia Fisher: Well actually Ruth Malsby [ph?] was from another town. She was not from Wilmington, but the others-- other-- three others were from Wilmington.

Riggins: We were talking a little bit about the atmosphere in the new Wilmington College. It was close geographically to New Hanover High School and shared a building with high school students, but it was a different atmosphere, and that was largely because there were so many veterans--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- in the class, so--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- you really did feel like you were really more mature people, right?

Herbert Fisher: Well, you're right.

Sylvia Fisher: Oh definitely.

Herbert Fisher: Uh.. we- we were like 17 and 18 years old and some of these men that were returning from war were 24 or 25, cause if they'd been in a war for four years and they went in the war when they were 18, they were then, you know, 18 or 19, then they were, you know, they were-- we looked up to them as being somewhat leaders and they had been around and done things and we were just Wilmingtonians and, significantly, teenagers.

Riggins: I would think people were pretty cordial because they were mature.

Herbert Fisher: Very. Very, very much- very much so.

Sylvia Fisher: It was a nice atmosphere.

Herbert Fisher: Oh, a very close atmosphere. They were interested in getting an education, but they were also interested in making friends with the Wilmington people and the new Hanover High School people. Uh.. the biggest draw to the college would be from New Hanover High. That would be the- the big draw. So, of course, they would-- the veterans that were going to college were- were making their point to make friends with these new people.

Riggins: And some of them, how did they end up in Wilmington? Was it because the military may be--

Herbert Fisher: Yeah.

Sylvia Fisher: They were- they were local people.

Herbert Fisher: A lot of them were local and uh..

Riggins: Or they had been away for a while.

Sylvia Fisher: Oh, yes.

Herbert Fisher: But see, a lot of 'em were stationed at Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg. So both of those are the world's largest Marine base and the world's largest Army base. Fort Bragg is the world's largest Army base.

Riggins: But there had been a Camp Davis, correct?

Herbert Fisher: And a Camp Davis in between.

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Herbert Fisher: That's correct. And Camp Davis was only 25 miles from Wilmington, where Camp Lejeune was 50 miles. So the connection was when they were training to become soldiers, when they had a weekend leave, Wilmington was the place to come and Carolina Beach was like Coney Island. It had a boardwalk, it had the ferris wheel and the whip and the uhm.. merry-go-round and all the things that a Coney Island-type recreation facility. So the servicemen got to know Wilmington pretty well before they went overseas and fought.

Riggins: Sure. It was busy and a lot of things to do here.

Herbert Fisher: Very busy. Very busy.

Riggins: You're right, there was a connection, a long history there. Well what do you remember about some of the teachers? New Hanover High School as well as some of the teachers who continued and taught at Wilmington College.

Sylvia Fisher: New Hanover High School had excellent teachers. We were very blessed in that respect and, therefore, the students got the very best education possible for high school students.

Riggins: Who were some of those teachers? With being involved in dramatics, was Doug Swink the teacher of--

Sylvia Fisher: No, Doug was not in Wilmington then. There was a woman called Grace Robbins who headed the dramatics program, and she came from Chapel Hill. She had trained with the Carolina Playmakers, and she was excellent.

Riggins: What about in the College later on? Mr. Fisher, did Doug Swink teach you--

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: -- later on?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, Doug Swink did appear and had gotten to be very popular and active in dramatics and uh.. especially in theatrical work. I- I think that he would uh.. say that most of his training came from Wilmington College. Uh.. but as I go through the University today, many teachers-- uh.. Mr. Adrian Hurst was my math teacher and there is a street named Hurst Street at the University. Uh.. there is uhm.. Morton-- the Morton-- Shannon Morton was my English teacher and she-- the- there's a building named the Morton Building.

Riggins: Morton Hall.

Herbert Fisher: Morton Hall.

Riggins: That still, to this day, houses English.

Herbert Fisher: Uh.. yes.

Riggins: And history.

Herbert Fisher: Right. And uhm.. there was of course Coach Brooks was a physical ed teacher and coach at the time and a coach-- and Coach Brooks is known as Brooks Field uh.. at the present time. Uh.. Marshall Crews was a teacher, and he taught math and physics, and later became Dean of the College and- and uh.. Marshall is still living and- and I do see him from time-to-time. Mr. Dorsey, W.K. Dorsey, taught business education, diversified and distributed education, and he was a teacher uhm.. I'm not sure that I remember anything named at the school at the present time. Uhm.. Doctor Randall was the second chancellor and the Randall Parkway- the Randall Parkway, which goes all the way through the University, was named after Dr. Randolph. Uhm.. then there is- there's the Hoggard building-- Dr. Hoggard-- there's a building out at the University called the Hoggard Building and Dr. Hoggard was a teacher, uhm.. an instructor. However, he really served more in the administrative as president of the University. The first president. Uhm..

Riggins: Well he started out as New Hanover High School Principal, and then became the present--

Herbert Fisher: Superin--

Riggins: -- the--

Herbert Fisher: -- tendant.

Riggins: You must remember Dr. Hamilton.

Herbert Fisher: Dr.-- Mr. Hamilton was a very, very good principal and he did not mess around with any uh.. what--

Riggins: That's what I remember hearing.

Herbert Fisher: Yeah. Okay.

Riggins: Well I interviewed Mary Bellamy. Was she--

Herbert Fisher: Yes. Mary Bellamy was a teacher.

Riggins: A teacher of yours?

Herbert Fisher: Yes. Yes, as well as her husband, who uhm.. later became superintendent of schools. Mary Bellamy's husband's first name?

Sylvia Fisher: Haywood.

Herbert Fisher: Haywood Bellamy. Yeah. Haywood and Mary uh.. are still living and they live downtown in- in the historic district, and they were both very active and Haywood later became superintendent of public schools. Uh.. as I- as I look through here uh.. we- we covered uhm.. we covered uhm.. Ms. Johnson. Now--

Riggins: Well one thing I remember hearing about your husband ___________ the name of the first principal, I couldn't remember Mr. Hamilton's name, but I remember Mary Bellamy said that he was the type of person who would enter a classroom and it would just fall deafly quiet.

Herbert Fisher: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Riggins: Just that kind of presence, that kind of control.

Herbert Fisher: When he walked in the--

Riggins: That kind of fear.

Sylvia Fisher: (laughing)

Herbert Fisher: And then there was Dorothy Powell, and she was a business major at the time. She taught business, and uh--

Sylvia Fisher: Later Dorothy Marshall.

Herbert Fisher: And-- yeah, uh.. she possibly is recognized at the University as Marshall-- Mrs. Dorothy Marshall. Uhm.. if T.T. Hamilton walked in a auditorium, it would become silent immediately. He- he demanded respect and I think that we all admired him for it, even though maybe at the time we thought he was rather strict.

Riggins: Too strict. Right.

Herbert Fisher: But uhm.. as the time went on, we realized how much the emphasis that he carried to the public in general and how- how they respected him.

Riggins: We're flipping through these yearbooks which was known as "The Fledgling" back then.

Herbert Fisher: "The Fledgling." That's right.

Riggins: Do you have copies of these at home?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, I do. Yes I do.

Riggins: Let's take a look at a picture of you. We saw one of Mrs. Fisher so why not? Turnabout is fair play.

Herbert Fisher: (laughing) Okay, let's just see if I can find Herbert in here somewhere.

Sylvia Fisher: We did have one of them. I had it.

Herbert Fisher: Huh?

Sylvia Fisher: I saw it in one of them.

Riggins: Yes, I saw it this morning. I believe it's in this '53.

Herbert Fisher: Yeah, this is the '53, so I'll find it in here. Uhm.. here we go. We'll find it now. Uh..

Sylvia Fisher: Here.

Herbert Fisher: Okay. This- this would be where my finger is.

Riggins: Bring it forward, just because--

Herbert Fisher: All right.

Sylvia Fisher: Wasn't he good looking? (laughing)

Riggins: (inaudible)

Herbert Fisher: Yeah. _____________ that's me.

Riggins: Wow.

Herbert Fisher: I got the book. If you want to kind of--

Riggins: Okay. Yeah. That's perfect. So that's you on the far right side?

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: Third from the bottom, third row from the bottom right there.

Herbert Fisher: Right there.

Riggins: You look different.

Sylvia Fisher: (laughing) 56 years makes a difference.

Riggins: It makes a difference.

Herbert Fisher: It's been about 50 years.

Riggins: Very handsome. Still very handsome.

Herbert Fisher: So thank you.

Riggins: ______________ looking very closely at this one too. Maybe we can also find a--

Sylvia Fisher: Yes. (inaudible)

Riggins: You weren't the class of '50. You would've been--

Sylvia Fisher: I'm- I'm in that book though. I found it this morning.

Riggins: Oh, it probably was--

Herbert Fisher: Under Watson.

Sylvia Fisher: Watson. Yeah.

Riggins: Oh, that's pretty.

Herbert Fisher: Okay.

Riggins: Very last picture in "W."

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: "Miss Sylvia Watson (inaudible)." Very pretty. You don't look different.

Sylvia Fisher: (laughing) Oh, thank you!

Herbert Fisher: She held her- she held her charm and her beauty.

Riggins: Yes, absolutely. _______ of being around people like Dorothy Powell, it just influenced you right?

Sylvia Fisher: Yes. (laughing)

(crew talk)

Riggins: Front and center is queen of Wilmington College, Miss Sylvia Watson. That's great. I'm so glad that we have those images because that helps with the interview.

Herbert Fisher: Very good.

Riggins: All right. Well you can set that down.

Herbert Fisher: Alrighty.

Riggins: Thank you very much for your help. You both have an amazing memory, I have to say I'm impressed. You finished with your academic program--

Herbert Fisher: Yes, yes I did.

Riggins: -- in business, or I think you had a business focus. What happened after that?

Herbert Fisher: Well, in '53, there was a young man who was studying drafting and his name was Rod Nash, and since he was studying drafting and getting ready to get his degree from State in engineering, uh.. Rod helped me design a building in advance of my plans. I was designing a building in my mind that was to be called The Varsity.

Riggins: How did you get that idea?

Herbert Fisher: Uh.. it- it's hard to remember exactly how, but I remember that Rod said, "I'll help you draw the plans. You tell me about what you're thinking and I'll put it on scale," and- and he happens to be in that class of '53. So Rod and I together drew the plans for The Varsity and, of course, the next step was, how do I go about accomplishing it? You had to find a piece of real estate, you had to build a building and then you had to equip the building and you had to put the inventory in the building. This was quite a project. If- if I was only 22 years old at the time. So uh..

Riggins: And not having a lot of wealth on your hands.

Herbert Fisher: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Riggins: So you got quite a project. You wanted to be a pharmacy, a drug store--

Herbert Fisher: Yes, yes.

Riggins: -- but also a place to--

Herbert Fisher: Accommodate--

Riggins: -- like a lunch counter.

Herbert Fisher: Right. And- and in that day and time, students were known after-school to be what they call "Drugstore Cowboys." Everybody wanted to gather after school at the drug store, and have a Coke. A Coke was a nickel at the time.

Riggins: Do you remember the show "Happy Days?"

Herbert Fisher: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Yes. "Happy Days" kind of falls right in the category that we're talking about.

Riggins: "Happy Days" was sort of, of course, much later but a nostalgic look at all that.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: So it was like that.

Sylvia Fisher: Very similar.

Riggins: But not exactly the same.

Herbert Fisher: Well, we had the- we had the soda fountain and we had the- the seating arrangements uh.. to seat as many as 200 people so that large crowds-- since there was no student union in New Hanover High or UNC, which would be Wilmington College. So The Varsity, when I finished building it, became the student union unofficially.

Riggins: Right, sure. Defacto. 200 people. That's a huge number.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, it was.

Riggins: Was it actually built to accommodate all _____________?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, it was. Yes it was. It was-- well, knowing that there were that many-- there was over 2,500 students in New Hanover High School and then the College had about 350 in- in the College at that time. Uhm.. if only 10% of the student body came in, which was far greater than that, but then I needed to s- _________ I'm going to have to seat about 200 people and in those days, of course, the kids all sat six in a booth instead of just four in a booth. But then the amount of people that stood around talking with you while you were sitting in a booth, and this is why we had a large seating capacity and it uh.. it served the purpose for the next 20 years.

Riggins: When did it start?

Herbert Fisher: Uh.. I opened it in October of 1953. I didn't quite get it finished in time for the school opening in September but by October I was through building it.

Riggins: Were you involved with this at all, Mrs. Fisher?

Sylvia Fisher: No, I was working as the office manager for Mutual of Omaha.

Riggins: Oh really? So you're--

Herbert Fisher: She put her business- she put her business degree to work in uh.. in the insurance business and--

Riggins: It may have been less hectic there in some ways.

Sylvia Fisher: Yeah.

Riggins: I can imagine it was very--

Herbert Fisher: The Varsity was very hectic. The cr-- the- the crowd that would be at the soda foun- fountain would just be uh.. two or three deep. Uhm..

Riggins: We're actually running out of tape. If I could just stop because I don't want to put anything off.

(tape change)

Riggins: Well hello, this is Adina Riggins again, in the background, university archivist. My name is Adina Riggins and I'm here with Mr. and Mrs. Fisher- Herbert and Sylvia Fisher. We're continuing from our first tape the discussion of the opening of The Varsity in 1953, October of '53.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, uh-hum.

Riggins: And the seating capacity was 200.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: You wanted to make sure to not break any fire codes.

Herbert Fisher: Right.

Riggins: And all that. Right. So please pick up where you were before, please?

Herbert Fisher: Well, it was a place where young folks meet to eat, and the type of classes and people- people dressed neatly when they went to school. Uhm.. it was a friendly atmosphere. Uh.. everyone enjoyed themselves when they came to The Varsity. Uh.. The Varsity was well known by all the students at the high school. They would come in in the morning, before school; they would come in during their lunch period and have lunch in the school because there was only a cafeteria in the school and the cafeteria could not even begin to handle the amount of students that was trying to get there. So The Varsity was really a blessing to New Hanover High, and to Wilmington College.

Riggins: You mentioned there were about 350 students.

Herbert Fisher: In- at the college.

Riggins: At the college at the time.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: In 1954.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: Which is amazing. Now we have how many? Over 12,000.

Herbert Fisher: Now we have over 12,000 students, at- at this particular time. So you can see just how fast it's grown. Uh.. we had a very good time. The teachers, as well as the principals, would come over and visit with me at The Varsity. Uh.. we cooperated with the school that no students were allowed to skip school and come into The Varsity during school hours. Uh.. that was a rule that I put into effect. Uh.. it was not to be a place where you just loitered around. Uhm.. I gave an award, for many years, to the most outstanding student on the editorial staff of the school paper, and I gave another award to the most outstanding student on the business staff of the school paper.

Riggins: Was this the high school or the college?

Herbert Fisher: This was the high school. I- I am jumping a little bit from the college but--.

Riggins: Right, no, that's fine- you had ties to both, that's for sure.

Herbert Fisher: Yes. Well since Sylvia was active in the editorial and I was on the business, we thought it would be an incentive to give a plaque to the student who was the most outstanding student. And it- it kind of gives a student a little bit of a reward for what he or she had done.

Riggins: For their hard work- sure. Did that continue?

Herbert Fisher: That continued for about ten years and then somehow or another when they changed staff members, it got lost in the shuffle of the staff not being the same, and it- it did uh.. come to an end, not at my request but somehow or another uh.. the election of who was going to get the award ceased to be and- and- and it just stopped.

Riggins: Well, let's talk about The Varsity. It had a counter, a lunch counter.

Herbert Fisher: A large--. It had a 30 foot soda fountain.

Riggins: Soda fountain, yes.

Herbert Fisher: And then uhm.. we had, of course, all the drug sundries, as well as a Prescription Department. Uhm.. we were able to have food ready in advance when the kids came out for lunch- they--.

Riggins: A grill- did you have a grill?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, yes we had a full grill.

Riggins: And milkshakes.

Herbert Fisher: And- and milkshakes. We had a milkshake machine that produced milkshakes like you get instantly; uhm.. French fries, hotdogs and hamburgers, and ham and cheese sandwiches was a big favorite then. Uh.. we would grill those ham and cheese sandwiches with a toaster that toasted both sides at one time. And that- that was a- a quite a popular sandwich.

Riggins: Do you remember any of the faculty who came more frequently than--? Did some faculty come in and out? Did Calvin Doss come, for example, or did you ever see Dr. Randall?

Sylvia Fisher: (laughs)

Riggins: No, I bet he was ____________ totally.

Herbert Fisher: I would say that uh.. Wallace West, Wallace West was one that rang a- a--. He was a familiar face to come over to The Varsity 'cuz he would like to come over and have a cup of coffee. And uh..- and we did serve coffee. Uh.. the uh...

Sylvia Fisher: Coach Brooks.

Riggins: Coach Brooks.

Herbert Fisher: Coach Brooks would come over, right often.

Riggins: Have you seen him recently?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, I did. I saw him at--.

Riggins: I'm in touch with him now and then, too.

Herbert Fisher: Are you?

Riggins: Yes.

Herbert Fisher: Well I go to the Seahawks banquet, presently, and I have made it a point to uh..- and he and I keep in touch. And he goes to my church so I see him in church. Uh.. I'm trying to think of some names. There was uhm... And I'm thinking of John who- who uh.. lived next door to Mrs. Turner. Mrs. Turner came over. She was a teacher and she taught geometry and algebra. Uh.. she would come over. And then there was a principal- and what was his last name, do you remember?

Sylvia Fisher: I'm sorry, I don't.

Herbert Fisher: John, lived right next door to Miss Turner.

Sylvia Fisher: I know, but I don't--. That was years later and I don't- I did not know him.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: But Coach Brooks came in occasionally?

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: He could keep an eye on students that way.

Herbert Fisher: He could keep a eye on the students. And- and see, on Saturday, on Saturday, right across from The Varsity was Boseman's Sporting Goods, that is now on New Center Drive. But Boseman's Sporting Goods, on Saturday, would have a television set and they would watch the ballgames on Saturday that were being played in Chapel Hill, or Raleigh, or Durham. And all the coaches would come over, and Coach Brooks was one of 'em, and they would come to The Varsity to get their lunch and then they'd go over to Boseman's Sporting Goods to watch the game. And it was back and forth- drinks and food, drinks and food. So it was a--. And this went on for years.

Riggins: They could discuss the game and the plays.

Herbert Fisher: Oh yeah, they could do that quarterback--.

Riggins: Discuss or argue- whatever the case may be.

Herbert Fisher: It was like doing that Monday morning quarterback- uhm.. call the shots before and after they happened. There were a lot of teachers that did come over. And right at the moment my mind is drawing a blank because I didn't think of uh.. that question being brought to my attention.

Riggins: Yes, that's all right. Your memory is great. There's a treasure trove of information in this tape, I'll tell you that much. Well The Varsity was then very popular because--. And one thing, you said the high school cafeteria was not sufficient.

Herbert Fisher: No, it was not.

Riggins: There wasn't really a--. There was from what I understand maybe a little tiny snack bar in the Isaac Bear building- do you remember that at all?

Herbert Fisher: Very small. In the basement of the Isaac Bear building there was a little cold- like cold drinks and wrapped sandwiches that were pre-made somewhere else, and that was their only means of having some food there, on the premises. And- and there was a basement to the Isaac Bear building.

Riggins: Where was The Varsity located?

Herbert Fisher: It was located on the corner of 12th and Princess Street, and- and the- the high school ran from- from 12th and Princess to 14th and Princess- it was two blocks.

Riggins: Yes, and so it's perfect- right there at 12th and Princess, yes.

Sylvia Fisher: And- and Wilmington College was at 12th and Market.

Herbert Fisher: Market, right across from the college.

Sylvia Fisher: So it was one block away.

Riggins: One block away. Are there pictures of The Varsity? Do you remember seeing it in any of the yearbooks, pictures of The Varsity?

Herbert Fisher: Uh.. there were pictures of The Varsity in some yearbooks of the high school.

Riggins: Oh the high school.

Herbert Fisher: Of the high school, yes. There- there would be students uh.. maybe having a coke, talking- and it would--. They- they would run a lot- since I don't have a high school one here- they would run a lot of uh.. casual pictures, casual dress. And uh.. The Varsity was- was featured in right many Ativarians [ph?], and- and that's what it was called, the Ativarian.

Riggins: Yes, certainly. Well so it sounds like it was very busy, and you employed quite a few people and you were the general manager as well as the owner.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: So there on the list of it--.

Herbert Fisher: And I even employed high school students to come in and help. At lunchtime they would come in and work maybe the first 15 minutes of the rush period, and then they would get their lunch at the last of the school. And what I would like to say that out of the students that I employed, two of them- one became a doctor and one became a dentist. And uh..- and they keep in touch with me to this day.

Riggins: Amazing.

Herbert Fisher: The dentist has retired and lives at Kure Beach, and the doctor is still practicing right here in North Carolina. But I felt honored. Uh.. others went on to become executives and CEOs of companies, like Wilmington Shipping Company- I'll use that as one illustration. But I felt like that they took a responsibility to come and work and serve students, like you do if you were in college and you were working in the cafeteria and waiting on tables. And these- these kids were still 15-years-old. Uh.. but, to know- to know that two of 'em became doctors and one of 'em became a CEO with a- a big company, I feel like that that was saying something special, about the kind of students that we had.

Riggins: Definitely. That's really a testimony to their experience as well. Who else did you employ? Was there a kitchen staff?

Herbert Fisher: There was a complete kitchen staff, because we made everything in The Varsity. We- we cut our own French fry potatoes- there were nothing pre-cut or frozen. So we had a complete kitchen staff, we had a complete soda fountain staff and--.

Riggins: Did you have someone supervising the kitchen and--?

Herbert Fisher: Yes Ma'am, uh-huh. We had one lady that worked in the kitchen for 10 years and another lady that worked until I closed uh.. the business. So we had longevity employees. And uh...

Riggins: And the high school students would report to them or--?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, yes, uh-huh.

Riggins: And I'm sure they weren't--. There were stripes they had to--.

Herbert Fisher: Oh yes, they- they would--.

Riggins: Show up on time and do a good job and--.

Herbert Fisher: Absolutely, absolutely. It was- it was a pleasure- it was a pleasure to go to work in those days and it was a pleasure to see the students, and especially when- on the day school opened, it was uh.. like, "Happy days are here again." Students like to meet each other again, and they lose that during the summer. And it's kinda like when you graduate, there's a certain feeling that you're losing this closeness with your friends; whether you're going to college or not, you're not going to be there, at the school, at 8:30 Monday morning- going scattered.

Riggins: Everyone will go in different directions and yes, oh yes, there's excitement but there's also a loss.

Herbert Fisher: Oh, it is.

Riggins: People might say, "Oh, I'm just happy" but they're sad.

Herbert Fisher: They're sad, they're sad. And we were all sad when we graduated. Graduation was a very sad time, 'cuz you know it was all coming to an end.

Riggins: Well, how much did you work? This was probably a time-consuming--.

Herbert Fisher: I would put in a- a- I would put in a 12-hour day. Uh.. the business--.

Riggins: I bet you remember those days.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Sylvia Fisher: Very well.

Herbert Fisher: She had- she had to take care of the house and the children, and during this period of time we had three children. So, she had her hands full. But The- The Varsity demanded attention by, I'm going to say the owner or the operator, and that was me. Uh.. I felt the need to be there from, really and truly, from 7 in the morning till 7 at night.

Riggins: I mean, I can imagine. And the weekends, was it--? Saturdays--.

Herbert Fisher: We- we did open Saturday and we opened half-days Sunday.

Riggins: Oh wow- people would come after church.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, uh-hum.

Riggins: Well I'm sure this--. Probably- how about your children; did they sort of grow up there?

Herbert Fisher: Well they would come- uh.. as they grew up they would come down maybe on the evenings, late in the evenings, and help stock the candy department- the chewing gum, the Nabs, and the- the things that came in boxes. It was a little bit of a pleasure to them, and they would be something like 8, 9-years-old.

Riggins: I'm sure.

Herbert Fisher: And they all learned how to make change at The Varsity by letting them uh.. ring the cash register and try things out. But- but the kids did enjoy it. Uhm.. ketchup that comes in the little containers today, as you see when you go to a fast food restaurant--.

Riggins: Right, the little plastic--.

Herbert Fisher: The--. Yeah. There was none of those. So we had to make our own. And one of the things that my children would do, like on Sunday night for Monday morning, is that they would go down and fill the trays full of ketchup, individual containers, 'cuz each tray of French fries had a container of ketchup with it. But it was- they would fill the ketchup.

Riggins: This sounds very all American.

Herbert Fisher: Oh yeah.

Riggins: Did you get any ideas by visiting other grills or places like this, or did it all come from you?

Herbert Fisher: Yeah, I- I would get some additional--. As time passed on you needed to make changes. Uh.. you would change colors inside, you would uh.. add additional things to the menu. We ran a special on a sandwich called The Varsity sub sandwich. That became- that was something new, a sub sandwich. It was unknown when The Varsity opened. Today we think of a sub sandwich as just part of a sandwich. But uh.. we- we introduced new things and made 'em very interesting to the school and to the students. Uh.. the milkshake is- as you mentioned earlier, uh.. we had a medium-sized milkshake and a large milkshake. So therefore uhm.. we were able to give them milkshakes for a reasonable price. And all of our menu was very reasonable, very reasonable.

Riggins: That was part- you wanted to keep the cost down.

Herbert Fisher: Keep the cost.

Riggins: Get people coming and--.

Herbert Fisher: You could eat a complete lunch and have money left after school to buy a drink for as little as 50 cents. 50 cents.

Riggins: And the students from the high school, were they allowed to come over for lunch freely?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, oh yes. They- they did not have to have a pass. The school allowed them to frequent The Varsity at lunchtime, at liberty. And they would just come running over in droves, and then we would- it was our job to be ready for them.

Riggins: Right. Well you continued in this business through the sixties and--.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, and right up through 1973.

Riggins: Yes. And what were some of the challenges of running a restaurant?

Herbert Fisher: Well the challenges then were not as much as they are today because the competition was not as great as it is today. And since we specialized in the sandwich department and the school and the students, uh.. just having things ready and serving good food, at reasonable prices, that was really the- the biggest challenge.

Riggins: How about when the college moved to its own campus in 1961, I believe it was--?

Herbert Fisher: '62.

Riggins: '62. Did you feel that?

Herbert Fisher: I felt that very much and I did feel uh.. like I had lost a good friend, being the whole school just picked up and moved- the staff, students and everything.

Riggins: (inaudible).

Herbert Fisher: It- it was- it was sad, it was very sad to know that this fall, the college wasn't going to be there. And it takes awhile to get over that. But then you try to move on.

Riggins: Well, yes, clearly you did, since you were in business for a good--.

Herbert Fisher: Ten years afterwards, yes.

Riggins: 12 years- yes, 10 years after that.

Herbert Fisher: 10 to 12. Uhm- uhm.. fortunately, the biggest portion of the business was made up of high school students, so the college did not make or break The Varsity from being successful.

Riggins: Funny, I can imagine some college students paying but maybe not as many because they may not have had the spare money as much.

Herbert Fisher: That's right.

Riggins: Since so many of the faculty were the same, I'm sure you saw some of the college people and some--.

Herbert Fisher: Oh yes. And see there were a lot of big homes around The Varsity area. The- the- the Chestnut and Grace Street and Princess Street had large homes, and these people who owned those homes would rent a room to a student, 'cuz there were no dormitories. So these students did have to live somewhere close by. And they didn't all have automobiles to drive around. Uh.. so they would come back in the evening. We opened until nine p.m. So they would come back and maybe eat their dinner at The Varsity, after everybody had gone home for the day.

Riggins: Wow, you stayed open that late.

Herbert Fisher: Yes we did.

Riggins: Wow- because I guess they didn't have kitchen privileges as much or--.

Herbert Fisher: No, they didn't have any kitchen privileges, other than if the- if the landlady that they lived with said uh.., you know, you can eat dinner with us; but very few of 'em wanted to get involved in that. They would rent 'em a room and they would eat out.

Riggins: Right, right. Well what happened? Eventually you closed the doors and--.

Herbert Fisher: Well, I started- I started buying real estate during the period of time that I was running The Varsity. And my father had owned some real estate, so I was just following in my father's footsteps. So I began to build a building, then a second, and then a third and then a fourth. And I realized the potential was greater, as Wilmington was growing; and I was getting older, and I said, well, I think that I would like to venture out into the real estate business, of which by '73 I chose to do that. And uh...

Riggins: Did those high school students--? Did you sometimes feel like you were a principal or a teacher yourself?

Sylvia Fisher: (laughs)

Herbert Fisher: Oh yes, yes.

Riggins: I'm sure it kept you young but--.

Herbert Fisher: You had to be.

Riggins: You said you dealt with kids all day? Then he dealt with kids all day.

Herbert Fisher: I- I dealt with 'em too, yes.

Riggins: You had to break up some arguments and--.

Herbert Fisher: I would have to--. Yes, it- it was just like being the principal of a school, you were the principal of the business, because--.

Riggins: Your customers were kids, for the most part.

Herbert Fisher: Exactly.

Riggins: During a great part of the business day.

Herbert Fisher: And- and the majority of them were good students. But then you would always find somebody that would like to test the waters, to see if they could skip school and come over; or if they would uh.. create a problem, whether it was over a girl or another friend or whatever, and you know, I'd say, you know, "Hold it. We- we won't have any of that in here." No, I kept a- I kept a close shop. I was taught well by the principal of the school that I went to, Mr. Hamilton.

Riggins: Yes, sure, and your own parents too, I'm sure.

Herbert Fisher: And my own parents.

Riggins: Well, so you felt a- but let's go into the more- a different business, a real estate business. Did you found your own company right away, a real estate company or--?

Herbert Fisher: Well uh.. a friend of mine named Mr. Slim Wallace- and his name was really Henry Wallace but we all called him Slim.

Riggins: I remember Mr. Cameron talking about him.

Herbert Fisher: Did he?

Riggins: Yes, I think so.

Herbert Fisher: Well uh.. Mr. Wallace would come in The Varsity an awful lot. And he was in another business and he wanted to get into the real estate business, and the two of us together, talking it over, at The Varsity, for a period- maybe a year.

Riggins: Over coffee, in the morning?

Herbert Fisher: Yeah- yes, uh-hum- and then in the afternoons. Uh.. we were- we were planning a plan and a strategy as to how we were gonna do it, when we were gonna do it, and where we were gonna do it. And all these things had to kinda come together. And they came together in '72, they kinda came together in '72. But I continued The Varsity for another year to make sure that the real estate business was going to be successful and that it was something relatively new to be in it full-time. So I ran The Varsity, and my employees would be there when I wasn't there. But I would open and I would close, but I was here in the office. And this is where we located, right here. We've been in the same location for- from '73 till today, and we're still here.

Riggins: Staying to the roots of downtown. I like that, yes.

Herbert Fisher: Right, the roots of downtown.

Riggins: And so you founded this business with him?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, with Mr. Wallace. And unfortunately, Mr. Wallace passed away a few years ago and uh.. I continued the business and I'm the sole owner of the business. Uh.. now I have brought my son, Carlton Fisher, and he is my partner, because I want him to take over whenever I walk out. But he has been very active in the real estate business, uhm.. came right in from graduating from Business School at UNCW, and just uh.. said, "Dad, I've decided I would like to go into the real estate business and work with you." And I said, "The door's open," and- and he did, and he was very successful at it.

Riggins: What is the area here? Is it commercial as well as residential?

Herbert Fisher: We- we- we started out with both residential and commercial, but then as Wilmington kept growing, we felt that we could devote more time to commercial and achieve the goal of satisfying the public. And it was hard to do both and do both of them good. So we did keep the two departments open for many years; however, we found that it was better to concentrate on the commercial end of it, and we were successful in doing so. And we've been very fortunate. And we have been blessed. And that is where we are today, that we were so blessed that I wanted to return something to the community, to my alumni, uh.. to show the appreciation of the success that I've had. And I think that uh.. somebody upstairs was lookin' down and taking care- and taking care of me.

Riggins: Well you're certainly- that's certainly true, and ___________ also. But I can observe--. Well before we leave this era of The Varsity, I remembered something that you mentioned at the beginning, that you had some war bonds.

Herbert Fisher: Yes I did.

Riggins: When you were young. And you had sold those to start the restaurant?

Herbert Fisher: Well, that is the- that was the foundation of getting The Varsity started. I had those war bonds that were maturing in '53, and knowing that they were going to mature, then I could plan that much money to be spent. And so then I bought the land and started the building, with that money. And then I borrowed the difference. But I had enough starting capital from the war bonds that my parents had bought for me during World War Two.

Riggins: Wow. You had to start thinking about real estate right then and there too, to buy the land for--.

Herbert Fisher: Well, yes, yes.

Riggins: Sure, you have to.

Herbert Fisher: It- it wasn't like finding an existing building and converting it. I- I built that building from scratch, and I got down in there and worked like a carpenter or a uh.. ditch-digger in digging the foundation. I helped put the roof on. I mean, I worked at it- because uh.. I was trying to save money, I was trying to save money.

Riggins: This brings us to this most recent chapter in your involvement with UNCW, and that is that there will be a new Student Union in the coming weeks.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: You know more than I do.

Herbert Fisher: Okay.

Riggins: When is the target date for--?

Herbert Fisher: Well, the target date for the building to open is somewhere around the end of June. The official opening won't occur until August the 24th.

Riggins: The day after classes start, I think.

Herbert Fisher: That's right- the day after. And so we're planning a ribbon- or the university is planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony and uh.. that will be at 3 o'clock on August the 24th of 2006. And uh.. Rosemary DePaolo, the chancellor, had come to me- and I had been supportive of the Seahawks Club.

Riggins: Oh, had you all gone to the games?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, I had been to the games. Sylvia had not been to very many of 'em. But uh.. I had, and- and of course my son was a real active Seahawk fan and uh...

Riggins: She approached you?

Herbert Fisher: She approached me.

Riggins: Some time ago- yes.

Herbert Fisher: And said we would like very much to uhm.. consider this new student center to be named The Herbert and Sylvia Fisher Center, and we would like for the food inside the building to be known as The Varsity.

Riggins: Because she had- she came to you.

Herbert Fisher: She came to me.

Riggins: She knew her history.

Herbert Fisher: And she knew her history. And I had no idea she was thinking that, 'cuz when she asked me to tour the building in its construction stage, I didn't have the least bit of a clue as to where we were going with this, at that time. Uh.. now previously I had pledged and given to the Seahawk Club. They did not have a decent field house for the baseball team and they needed one very badly, especially for the visiting teams to change before the game and after the game. So uh.. I did make a contribution to get the building kicked off. Now it has not been built yet, but the plans had to be drawn and the money had to be raised- and they do have it now. And I think that by next year the building will be up.

Riggins: And it's with Brooks Field?

Herbert Fisher: And it's with- right opposite Brooks Field. It's just a walk in across the street.

Riggins: So will that be the Fisher Field?

Herbert Fisher: That will be the Fisher Field House.

Riggins: Right, and then this will be the Sylvia and Herbert Fisher Student Union.

Herbert Fisher: Student Center, yes.

Riggins: Student Center. And so she approached you with this idea that she had had and said--.

Herbert Fisher: She came up with the idea.

Riggins: What, she did?

Sylvia Fisher: It was all her--. I was astonished. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

Riggins: Well you were probably surprised that she even knew who you were.

Herbert Fisher: Yeah, yeah. And when she said, "We'll- we'll make the inside The Varsity, a concept of what you had at The Varsity", it did--.

Riggins: That's a great idea.

Herbert Fisher: Yeah, it- it- it was just like it was meant to be.

Riggins: And so what was your thinking when she said--?

Herbert Fisher: I said, "Well, give me over the weekend to think about it," because this was quite a giant step for me to take. And not having planned it in advance. Even though she knew that I was planning something for the future, this was kinda coming faster than we had talked about.

Riggins: It's a different kind of idea- right.

Herbert Fisher: Yeah.

Riggins: So she needed to have plans for the people that--.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, she- she did. And- and uh.. after touring the building and seeing the beauty of that building--. Of all the buildings on the university campus, that is the most beautiful building of all of 'em. And uh.. I couldn't- I couldn't say no.

Riggins: So you thought about it over the weekend?

Herbert Fisher: Over the weekend.

Riggins: As that stood.

Herbert Fisher: And on Monday we were back at the table talking.

Riggins: And it's the largest outright gift in the history of the university.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: I know it's certainly historical- again, something historical, that will be remembered in the life of the university for a long time to come.

Herbert Fisher: We hope so, yeah.

Riggins: Do you have some mementos from The Varsity that you all will be sharing with the people who develop this concept?

Herbert Fisher: Fortunately, I did have some mementos of pictures and- and uh.. things uh.. that I have given the university, and they will be displayed in the Student Center on a wall, and that will be something there to have students to look at, because this would go back to 1953- and that was the starting of it. So they can look back and see what things were like- what the soda fountain was like, what the drug store was like, what the building looked like inside and what it looked like outside. So yes, I have furnished the school right many things to put in the building.

Riggins: Right, right. And so when they develop this--.

Herbert Fisher: The Varsity- yes.

Riggins: The Varsity- will they use some of these?

Herbert Fisher: Yes, yes, they're going to use that. And uh.. I imagine sometime before the month is out they'll start putting up--. The- the workers were still working last week in the building and uh.. they- they were holding off putting anything up until the contractor has somewhat completed his part of the work. But the painting and the carpeting and the floor covering are all in place already.

Riggins: Well, I think it's just an amazing gift, an amazing idea, because as you mentioned at the news conference, this is something that will affect every student. And while scholarships--. This wasn't mentioned necessarily but this is just me talking- scholarships are great, they help the students, they help the department. But this will help every single student.

Herbert Fisher: That's right, everybody will benefit.

Riggins: So everyone will be affected by the Union and--.

Herbert Fisher: Well, they can enjoy themselves on campus by having the library, and uh.. the bookstore- I said library- the bookstore, the theater and the lunch counter, and then the recreation room- they can accomplish about everything that they need to entertain themselves and have social standings on campus, without having to go around the outside perimeters. So it's going to accomplish, I feel like, two or three things in one. It's gonna be big enough- this building has 74,000 square feet. And uh.. I feel like they just built with the foresight of being able to operate for the next 50 years.

Riggins: Right, planning and building for the future.

Herbert Fisher: Planning ahead- right.

Riggins: That's great. And of course the library's just close by.

Herbert Fisher: Close by.

Riggins: So they can go back and forth.

Herbert Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: And it will really change the culture and the lifestyle on campus for the better. It'll be interesting for me as a faculty member to observe that, observe that happening. And how many of your children went to UNCW?

Herbert Fisher: Well, just my son. But then his wife, he met her there. So my- my daughter-in-law and my uh.. son both graduated from UNCW. And then Sylvia and I- and then hopefully maybe my grandchildren will be attending the UNCW campus.

Riggins: That would be wonderful.

Herbert Fisher: And so we are uh.. hoping to continue this tradition on and let it survive, for a long time.

Riggins: Well, on behalf of the University Archives and the Randall Library I'd like to thank you for your gift, and thank you for coming to this interview today and allowing me to come to your place of business and interview you. Have you any other thoughts or questions that I may not have thought to ask you?

Sylvia Fisher: I'd just like to mention, we have two daughters (laughs).

Riggins: Yes.

Herbert Fisher: Yes, we- we did not mention our daughters, did we?

Sylvia Fisher: And uh.. the oldest one graduated from East Carolina, and then she went to Harvard for her Master's, and the youngest one got a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from UNC Greensboro.

Riggins: Oh, so they certainly have been involved in education as well.

Sylvia Fisher: Yes.

Riggins: And they're, I'm sure, very excited for you.

Herbert Fisher: Yes they are, they're very, very excited for us. And uh.. just to kinda uh.. answer your question, I feel like that we're honored to have been asked by the university to do this. We're very humble and proud to be able to do this. So therefore we thank them for asking us to be part of it, and may The Varsity and the Herbert and Sylvia Student Center survive for years to come, after we're long gone.

Riggins: And that it will. I'll certainly be a last--.

(tape ends abruptly)

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