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Interview with J. Marshall Crews, January 21, 1999
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January 21, 1999
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Interviewee: Crews, J. Marshall Interviewer: Dutka, Andrew Date of Interview: 1/21/1999 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 45 minutes

Dutka: How about telling us where you grew up and things like that.

Crews: I grew up in West Tennessee near a town called Mackenzie The area was known as Pea Ridge. It was named that because it was said that the land was too poor to even grow peas. We had a poor background. My mother died when I was two years old and I don’t remember her. But I had a grand stepmother who reared me and ___ and my sister. We were very poor... and I graduated from the elementary school. I went to __ School House and I got the best education, I guess, I’ve had in my whole career. It had one teacher. I was really lackadaisical about going to school as a kid. And one day the county sent a man, a retired preacher, to the little school to make a talk. I don’t know what he talked about. I don’t know how he looked, but he said something that made me want to go to school; and from then on I always wanted to go to school. So anyway, we moved out of that area and went to another closer to town. And I caught a school bus... went to high school. And graduated high school. Worked for the government half a year, then went on a baseball scholarship to _____ College. ___. And I got interested in going on and working. I worked until I was a junior, then got drafted in World War II. Came back... went to the South Pacific for say, 2-1/2. Came back... and then I went to Vanderbilt Peabody and got my Master’s and Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and applied for a job in this area because I married a girl from South Carolina. I was accepted here at Wilmington College. And this Wilmington College had been started for one year.

Dutka: What year was that?

Crews: The year I came here was ‘48, but it was started in ‘47. I came over and I taught high school physics and three college subjects. But anyway, I went along and became assistant registrar after three years; then registrar, then assistant dean, then dean, then __. ___ ladder. In 1965, I started going to North Carolina State. In ‘70, I got to ___ . That was the extent of my education... formal education. In 1972, I quit the classroom and taught 5 years in the mathematics department and then retired. The ... well the... that improved my... my first ___. We married and had four children and reared the kids here in Wilmington. It was quite a different city than it is now, in 1948. But going on to the college now, it was... several people thought they were the first ones who thought about a college here. One was a Mr. H.M. Roeller who was the superintendent of public schools here in Wilmington. He said that he stayed one year in Germany during World War I, and studied the system of junior colleges, ____ school they called it. But he studied there a whole year in anticipation of starting one here in North Carolina. He wasn’t at Wilmington at that time. He came later on. But John Marshall was the business manager of the board. He also said that he was originator of the idea in the early 1930’s. And the war came on... well whoever thought about it anyway... The war came on and it was put in abeyance for the duration. But I always believed that old Dr. John T. Hoggard was originator of the idea because he was chairman of the Board of Education. A local physician and just a grand old man. He was the type of person that had always been a grand old man (laughs) even though young.

Dutka: (Laughs).

Crews: You’ve seen that type, I suppose.

Dutka: Yes, yes.

Crews: But he was called the daddy of Wilmington college. John T. Hoggard. And the Hoggard Building. Now in 1945, house bill 892 was passed, introduced by H.L. Le Grand; and there was a fellow named Rowe. I don’t know exactly where ... who he represented at the legislature, but LeGrand and Roe was supposed to introduce this bill. And it passed. And the bill authorized the County Commission to levy up to five cent tax, as a separate cause to be used in establishing a __ college ___. And they were to use the facilities of the existing system that were in high school and have two years of standard college work. Now that could always be argued what standard college work is, but we used, I think, a liberal art school. Now the Board of Education though, in that law, must request the Board of County Commissions to establish, or give permission to have elections to levy that tax and establish a cause. And they did. They requested that April 12, 1945. And the Chamber of Commerce... I mean the county commissioners refused... turned it down. Now why, I don’t know, but I imagine this is through ill informed facts of what a college was being taught. Also, of course, there was some large land owners on that County Commission Board, and they didn’t want an increase of tax, so that... until they saw ___. So, in 1946, now that was ‘45... ‘46 the... Governor Cherry, of North Carolina, held a conference of the college prep... of all the college prep. And they realized they must establish something to take care of the veterans; that’s when the veterans started coming back. And they established 12 centers, one of which... Wilmington was one. And it was under The University of North Carolina, I believe. And the one is Williston... that was during the segregation days. The Wilmington College, or what became the Wilmington College was for whites; and it was run by the University of North Carolina. And the one at Williston was run by Fayetteville State College. It was for blacks. That was the situation then. Now, the one here, for which we had ours, was... Dale Spencer was the first dean. Dale was... I’d say he was... I forget what he was... I believe he was principal of an elementary school, or something. And well, anyway, he became dean for one year. And Williston was run by Mr. Rogers, to who I think people owe a great debt of gratitude for his _____ to a little situation. But anyway, these two systems, these two plans didn’t satisfy the people. They wanted a college itself, these were centers they were called. So, January 13, 1947 the board voted to request the Chamber of Commerce again to approve limiting the tax. Now meanwhile, the... old Dr. Hoggard, I’m sure, was a prime mover of this. He got a lot of influential citizens behind the affair. So they had a meeting. I don’t know what the date was, but Mr. E. L. White, who owned White’s Milk and Ice Cream Company, which is nonexistent now; Fred Willet who died... savings and loan; Rabbi Friedman, who was head of the Jewish church here; W. W. Bell, I forget what he did, but he was a man of influence, Harry Gardner; __ Hewitt; George Trask Sr., not... way up the line; and L.J. Coleman and J.W. Hall were the county commissioners. You read in the paper this morning, I believe, where the Hall’s Drug Store... well, that... Mr. Hall started that.

Dutka: I see. Okay.

Crews: Addison Hewett was a lawyer; and his son just died not too long ago. George Trask was... Rayford was his son. I don’t know what Mr. Coleman and Gardner did. But anyway, they were members of the board. Well, they met at... downtown somewhere and had a big rally. And there was a statement made there that I think was a... somebody with Mr. __ from Fayetteville, who was a state representative; he knew what he was talking about. He said Wilmington can have a junior college; and something more splendid and no one ever thought of that power as being what it is now. I didn’t and I’m sure very few people did. But the... Mr. Grove, Dr. Hoggard and Mr. Dossier... Dossier was the post master at that time. He was a very influential. And they met at Lewis Barbecue on Greenfield Street. It’s nonexistent now, but there was an eating place there... it was a barbecue. And they met with Wallace West, who’s still living and a retired principal for a high school over at ____.... They met and formed a plan for a drive to get people to approve this vote. The commission voted to let the people decide by election whether they wanted a college and __ tax. And, oh I forgot to mention there was one person who voted against it on that. That was Rayford Trask... I mean not Rayford, Mr. Trask. Rayford’s daddy.

Dutka: (Laughs).

Crews: I asked Rayford several times... I said, “ I wonder why you voted that?”. He said well... he said... it was because he didn’t want any taxes, I guess. But on May 26, 1947, the Board of Education formally voted to establish a junior college. Now the... that was after the election. And they had to vote again, of course, to establish it. Roland was the superintendent of the school. He was Hoggard’s work man. In other word, you always have a boss, then somebody to do the work. But anyway... he was a good man. He got a Mr. Perlin from the state of New Jersey to come down and study our situation and recommend the structure of a junior college. Well, he did. And he... well, let’s see... here’s... he said that the school should have five departments: Vocational; for the person who wants to go to work; adult education; technical, which is for all machinists, I guess; college parallel, for people that wanted to go on; and terminal. Now that terminal is a... I think, a duplicate of ____, vocational and technical. But anyway, they called it that. So anyway, Roland was given the task in May, to set up a junior college; hire the faculty; text books; establish the library, by September. And that was some order.

Dutka: (laughs).

Crews: But he did. And they opened September the 4th, 1947. Now, in New Hanover High School in Wilmington, they graduated the first class in heating and air-conditioning on September 11, one week later. Well, the way it was set up... George West was the chief of industrial arts in New Hanover County. And he had these courses going in brick laying and carpentry... all these things. That had been going on a couple of years. But Dr. Hoggard and Mr. Roland said that these would go under the junior college now. Although George didn’t want it to (laughs). He didn’t care much for the college; but anyway... it did and that was the class that graduated. So that was our first graduating class. First... what we would think normally as a graduating class was in 1949. Thirteen people. Now Mr. Emory Laney was on that Board of Education at that time. And he was... he’s still living . And he’s the only original member of the board still living. Mr. P.T. Hamilton was the president. Dale Spencer was dean. Northrup Lewis was registrar. And all this, of course, was under the Board of Education and under the personal direction of Mr. Roland. The dean, of course, took his orders from Roland. Now, the first student to register was Robert ___ and I believe he’s still a resident of Wilmington, though I’m not sure. Now, the state Board of Education says that if you have a junior college, you must have $2500 in library equipment. That’s the minimum, a 3000 volume library of anything. So we put out the urge or request to people to donate books. You should have seen that library... western novels and magazines... anything anybody wanted to throw away that was... that counted. And that’s the way we established the library. The... I don’t know what the library was in ‘47. It was part of New Hanover... I think it was a mixture of... with their library over there. But in ‘48, it was a room, oh, let’s see, maybe 20 x 24 something like that. A small room that was our library. And that was a year later it happened. Because in 1948, when I came, we had one office and one classroom. There’s one thing that old Dr. Hoggard kept out of the conversation. That’s the word junior. He never would permit it to be junior or Wilmington Junior College, instead of Wilmington College. There again was a philosophy or prophesy. We had during our earlier days we had quite a few handicaps, I guess you’d say, or things, I felt, were working against us. Not foreign to me. One was that the New Hanover High School was the only high school here, and it seemed as if the teachers ignored us. They recommended the good students to go off to Duke, or Carolina. And if you’re too poor and... don’t have the grades, go to Wilmington College. So that was, I felt, was the fault of the counselors and the teachers. And also, we were considered an extension of the high school; not a college. And it seems everybody was thinking about the Carolina basketball and football. And the athletics grew. And also people who maybe didn’t want to levy the taxes. I’ll put it that way. But anyway, we had several people who worked for us. I think one or the low points in 1953, I believe it was, out enrollment for the spring quarter was 158 students. Incidentally, we began... opened it with 212 in 1948. We had a 158 students, so it was going down. Dr. Randall was the president and I was his assistant. I don’t know what title I had at the time. Anyway, we decided that we’d better get out and publicize as much as we could. So we accepted every chance that we had to make a speech or talk of sorts. And from then on, there was never a decrease in the year. It really revived us. Not because we did it but somebody else. The first... the big... the 1958, we were... had an election; and that was to establish the community college system statewide. And our election was held and we were approved... or the law was passed and became part of that. And we were then a fully state supported junior college. Up until then the county supported it ___ taxpayers. In 1952, Addison Hewitt was in the legislature and he was on a committee...the Carlisle Commission, I believe it was called, and he got them to allot $5500 a year to Wilmington College. So that was our first state aid that we had. That was 1952. ___ was our second dean. He came from the high school in Jacksonville, I believe. And he left in 1951 and Dr. Randall came. Randall was Dean of the Coast Guard Academy, I believe it was. And he was going down to Georgia, the University of Georgia, to take a job in the library there and had a wreck... he and his family had a wreck out here in Bolivia. So Mr. Hobbs, the owner of Hobbs Motel on Market Street there, heard about it and he called Hoggard said that this man out there was a college man with a doctorate degree. So Hoggard and Roland went out to see him. And he accepted the dean-ship. So that’s the way we got him. By accident.

Dutka: (Laughs).

Crews: But he was a good man. Now, that was in ‘51, I believe it was, or ‘53. I forget now which. The... one of the main things that took place after this 1958 election is that the state was... the county would put up $600,000. The state would match it for building, for a new campus. So, their job was the Board of Education. Incidentally, that board was made up four people appointed by the county commissioners, four by the Board of Education and four by the governor. So Mr. Fred Graham was one member. He was a man of determined thoughts. They met one day... I remember the old gymnasium there... they were to choose the architecture. So, the architect was ___. He brought a modern style form. And everybody said “yeah” except Mr. Graham. He said, “no”. He held out for two hours there. He was the only one. Now, Rayford Trask says he was too, but he wasn’t there. He was absent.

Dutka: (Laughs). But anyway, they decided... “well, you come back with a Georgian style in two weeks, a picture of that, and we’ll decide”. So, he did and everybody accepted it then and that’s why we have this architecture here. We would have had modern if it hadn’t been for Mr. Fred. Now, on that board was Chaplain McDowell Davis, who was president of Coastline at that time. The Coastline offices were here. And he wanted to go to the golf course to put this college. The old community golf course.

Dutka: Yes, yes.

Crews: That hit the paper one morning; and I mean, they took it off that night! (Laughs) It was such an uproar. Whew! They didn’t want that. People didn’t want that at all. They wanted a golf course. But anyway, they came out here and bought this. They bought 350 acres from International Paper and a 150 from Rayford Trask all for a $150 an acre. They bought where the ball field is from Hugh Morton’s sister. Same price. Then they had the __ and some little parcel out on the road out there. They had to pay more than that for that, I believe. But anyway, where Hardee’s is... or right near Hardee’s there... I forget the name... the people who owned it; they sold it to them, then gave the money back to them (laughs). I don’t know how they arranged it. But I guess it was for tax purposes. But all that ball field down there was a cypress swamp. Bill Brooks came up to my office one day and said, “ Come on and go with me down... I’ve got a fellow looking at...” what is it a hedge hog or... to cut little trees and bushes. And we down there to there to the fellow who was there and Bill said, “ Let’s see you run that thing out there and see what it will do. He run out there... anyway, Bill wanted to do it free of charge. And he didn’t want to do it. And we stayed down there... I know I stayed down there an hour and I said, “ Bill, I’ve got to go back”. So I went on back. And well, Bill wound up... the fellow cleaned the whole place for nothing (laughs).

Dutka: (Laughs).

Crews: That was... that Bill was something. The editor of The Star News was a man named Al Dixon at that time. He was an invaluable help to us. And he and Randall were... got along real well. Now in 1955 we took over the Williston units from Fayetteville, but they didn’t integrate the students until ‘61. Mr. oh, what’s the place name over here, near the gymnasium... Eaton... Dr. Eaton and Dr. Opperman went to see Dr. Hoggard one night and said, “ We’re going to sue the college, we wanted to tell you about it, for integration. And Dr. Hoggard talked to them and said, “Well, were going to move out here next year. How about waiting until we get out here and we’ll integrate”. And they said, “Okay”. So they agreed and Hoggard upheld his end of the deal. There were two black fellows came in. Ernest Fullwood, who is now a judge of superior court and Marshall Collins. They were the first two. Everybody upheld their word, no more trouble at all. Now, in 1947, the tax rate was $73 million dollars and the tax levy with 5% levy on that was $36,500. Now, we finished the year with a $5000 surplus (laughs).

Dutka: (Laughs).

Crews: How about that! Our basketball team during the 50s consisted of., well, I would say, outcasts of the Atlantic coast ___. Bill Brooks had an arrangement for the McGuire ___ Carolina that they would take a boy that they wanted to get in up there and he hadn’t finished high school, well, they’d send him down here and he could take high school courses and be in college here for some grades we had. So we had a real good basketball team. We could have held it __ in any game. I think it hadn’t won as many times as we lost. Charlie Nebitz was a member of one of those teams. And he scored... he was held a national lead in high scores of the game in the nation. He was a leader. Fifty-eight points in one game at __ Junior College. I remember going to a ball game. We held it over in the Chestnut Street School gymnasium. And there were five people in the audience; the president, I, the ticket taker and her husband and one visitor seeing that boy play. He was good. There’s no doubt. Now the 1957 or ‘58 .... Oh, I had those numbers from county commissioner wrong. There were two from the city and two from the County Commissioner Board of Trustees who were appointed . The Board of Education still has four and the governor four. Now, the surviving members of that board were D. E. Schwartz, he’s always been on the board here, for the longest time; and Brad ____ a local retired judge; Mr. Graham, who’s responsible for the architecture of this school and the landscaping. There was an old pond out in those first three buildings. Those first three buildings were built for a total cost of a $1,200,000. It’s got ceramic tile all the way up here. That tile would be worth more than that right now. But anyway he cut down those pines there and planted those oaks. Mr. C.B. Berry called me one day and said, “I have supported this college from the beginning, but I’m through. No more. Now you’ve cut down those pines.” (Laughs) I said, “ Well, I’m sorry.” But anyway, he set those oaks out... little saplings I remember. Gene Thomas was from Southport who... to me, he wanted to contribute. He was a very, very efficient engineer. And he’s now a chairman of the Coastal Commission, I believe it is. But anyway, he wanted to really help the college, but it seemed like the politics was the other way, anyway. He did; he served well. Fred Colvill, from Atkinson was a blueberry farmer, and he really did a lot to promote the schools activities. Fred Rippe with Rippe Cadillac had financial interest. I mean financial concern, no interest... concern. Dr. C. E. Hartford was the president of the Regal Paper Company. Pam Marx was the owner of the... I believe it was the machine business downtown... what was the name of that thing? Oh, North ____. Rayford Trask; Cyrus Holt, Mrs. Holt, her ancestors ___. Anyway, she’s from old Wilmington. Jim Swift from up at Maple Hill, I believe it was; Arthur Wooten, same area and ______. Now in 1958, as I told you before, the people voted to go under the state community college system and levy the $600,000 bond. And they said also that the acres 380 or 382 acres with International Paper; a 173 with Trask, and took a few more __ 41 acres there and 43 acres ___ made a total of 622, I believe it was. That was a ___ stolen you might say. It was so cheap. Also the past resolution back then... that the land was to be used only for college. Nothing else. I think one or two situations have come up. I can’t recall what they are right now. Somebody __ some differences that held it up. Now, the ground breaking was April 1, 1960 and Gomer Hodges was here. I never will forget. He was over there at the student service making a talk (laughs) some __ student over here under one of those trees sacking out asleep... reading, anyway, he was establishing himself... and on purpose. Everybody was ___. I forget who that was now, but anyway. And say it integrated in ‘61, ‘62. May 26, November 16th, 1960, Brad Tillery moved that... well it was old Fred Grant moved that we request a four year college status. So they put the request in to Raleigh. But May 26, 1962, we voted for another five cent levy for a four year college in the county here. We supported it ourselves. So, it went on like that until 1965 or 6, and the state took over completely financing all the four year students. The... there are several... that was ‘62. In ‘66 it became a four year school. I think four graduated the first class in ‘66, I believe that’s the way it was __. Somewhere near those dates. In ‘68 we had a ... in North Carolina... well, we had a petition in to become part a university. North Carolina Trustees appointed a committee that Mr. Watts and his son, from Durham were on the committee to study North Carolina... I mean Wilmington College ___ and Charlotte and Asheville being part of the university. I believe that was correct. Maybe Charlotte had already been approved, but anyway, Asheville as well. I’m not sure of that. They brought it back to the school board of 95 people, I believe it was and Ashley Murphy, from over in Pender County, was a member of that Board of Trustees. Watts got up and... well the motion was introduced. Watt’s got up and introduced that they refused admission to. Ashley Murphy got up immediate and said... moved at that new table there. There was a table there the whole time. So, Ashley Murphy who we owe a great deal to, about Atkinson or somewhere over in there. We’ve always been supported by those people. There are several sleepers, I call it; people who have really contributed to Wilmington College that you never hear mentioned. One was B. P. Washington, who was a fellow who was in charge of the Williston unit and very quietly performed his duty without a lot of __. J. C. Rowe was Dr. Hoggard’s friend. And he owned the dry goods store over on Front Street. Roe; J.C. Roe. He was very influential in the support of the city. Ashley Murphy, which I just told you about, was always a champion of the school. And Roy Rowe from, I believe, Burgaw... he was a senator, I believe. And he was very much in support of the college up in Raleigh. And William Eubank also, up in Scott’s Hill; Al Dixonn, the publisher. They were here. They don’t get any credit. Now Pinkie Rogers and Lloyd Taylor, Pinkie just died here a while back; they were at every ball game that we ever had and they refereed a whole lot of them. But they really supported our athletic department by being there. Now Edith Coleman and Sylvia Schwartz were due much credit because they started the ‘Friends of the Library’. And, of course, none of this could really happen without Bill Friday. He was just a gift from God, I call it, because he was interested in the school like he was with everybody else. He really got money and influence here. Kim Delaney who is the only living member of the original board. W. C. Blackburn who died over in Burgaw he and I used to work together. He would call me and say, “ How about letting so and so scoot in. He seems to be good”. I said Okay. I called him and I said, “How about hiring a teacher”. He said, “Okay”. We, if either one of us recommended, the other one would hire.. It worked out fine. And as I mentioned Mr. Coleman before; he was there. Paul Reynolds who came in... I had the job of dean of all the college and it needed to be divided. And he came in and they gave him the faculty and to lead the students. He knew more about administration than any person that I ever saw. He really worked there. I always thought that the college was always a winner. I, for one, sometimes didn’t realize that. But sometimes we just couldn’t see it. But it was always there. I’m going to say in ‘69, we became part of the university system. Then Dr. Randall retired in ‘68. Wagner came in at that time. __ of ‘67, the board appointed a committee of, I think, four trustees and three or four faculty members and Dr. Lloyd Bishop, who was in the foreign language department at that time, was chairman of it. And Mr. Graham was a chairman on the Board of Trustees. So Lloyd Bishop got ready to go to work and meanwhile there were two applicants; one was Wagner and the other was a fellow who was at Chapel Hill, and I can’t think of his name, but he was putting all kinds of pressure on them... I mean. So Graham appointed Wagner without letting Bishop know anything about it.

Dutka: (Laughs).

Crews: And Bishop left the school. He was... we shouldn’t have had him. He went up to BMI. But he was a grand teacher; real perfect teacher. But that’s the way Wagner was chosen. They were afraid they were going to have to choose the other one. But that’s the highlights, I think, of the old school. As you know, kept going in leaps and bounds since then. The departmental structure was established, I believe, the early 60s it was. The first professor was hired was Adrian Hurst. And Dale Spencer hired him. The... I think one of the... do you want to turn that off?

Dutka: Yeah.

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