Fifty years after they enrolled, early PHCC students reflect

January 10, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

As Patrick Henry Community College celebrates its 50th anniversary, three of the first students to enroll at the school reflected on the ways things have changed — and the ways they haven’t — at PHCC in the last half century.

James Crawford Sr., 67, of Fieldale, recalled that during PHCC’s first year in 1962, only about 67 students attended the college, which was established as a branch of the University of Virginia. At that time, it was in the old North Martinsville Elementary School building.

The school now has its own campus outside Martinsville and a student body of about 3,200.

Crawford earned an associate degree in general studies at PHCC, which was the only degree offered at the time, and transferred to Pembroke State College (now UNC-Pembroke). He wasn’t able to complete his degree there because he was drafted for the Vietnam War in 1966, he said.

After he was discharged from the Army in 1968, Crawford began working in human resources at Bassett Furniture. After 30 years at Bassett Furniture, he worked at American of Martinsville for four years and at Oak Level Finishing, where he was vice president over human resources and purchasing, for five years.

Oak Level Finishing closed in 2010, and Crawford retired the same year. Due to the closing, he was able to go back to college through the Trade Act (Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act), and he chose to return to PHCC the following year, he said.

Crawford said he went back to school because he didn’t want to just sit inside doing nothing during his retirement. Instead, he wanted to challenge himself and to see how well he could do after so many years of not being in school.

He enrolled in the criminal justice program and finished his first semester on the dean’s list with all A’s, he said.

“I didn’t do that (make all A’s) before at PHCC,” he added.

Being back at PHCC, Crawford said he sees how much the school has changed in 50 years. The population and the location are obvious differences, as is the technology: “They didn’t have computers when I went” before, he said.

But he said that one thing that has not changed is the one-on-one help available from professors.

“I’m enjoying it and looking forward to next semester,” he added.

For Betty Joe Fulcher, 68, of Fieldale, PHCC holds a special place in her heart because it is where she met her husband, Michael. They were married for 45 years until his death in 2009.

Fulcher began classes at PHCC in 1962, and Michael started taking classes there during her second year. The two married in 1964, she said.

Fulcher said the small student body was close-knit then, like a family. When she and her husband married, everyone teased them when they returned to class a few days later, she said.

PHCC was and is “one of the best things to happen to this area” because it allows people to stay in the area to study, she said.

After receiving an associate degree in general studies at PHCC, Fulcher went on to work various jobs before finding her way to the Blue Ridge Regional Library, where she spent 26 years, first driving the bookmobile and later as circulation supervisor at the Martinsville branch. She retired there in 2008.

After retiring, Fulcher, too, decided to return to PHCC. She took a few acting classes and performed in three plays at the college: “Steel Magnolias,” “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” and “Red, White and Tuna.”

Through her involvement in the PHCC plays, Fulcher learned about TheatreWorks Community Players, a local theater group. She is now a member of its board of directors and performed in the group’s first five productions.

Another member of the first class at PHCC, Judy Cox, 67, of Staunton, used her PHCC degree to transfer to Radford University.

Cox grew up in Martinsville and applied to Radford in 1962. She said the school was too crowded and wasn’t accepting more students, so she decided to go to PHCC instead. That way, she could stay at home and save her parents some money, she recalled.

That remains a selling point for PHCC, which is less expensive than traditional four-year schools.

Cox earned an associate degree in general studies in 1964 and transferred to Radford in 1966 to major in math. After graduating from Radford, Cox taught math in Prince George County, Prince William County and Staunton schools, she said.

She taught math in the Staunton schools for 14 years before transferring to that system’s central office, where she worked in various positions. Cox retired in 1999 as assistant superintendent for instruction after being with the Staunton schools for 30 years.

Cox had not been back to visit PHCC until a few months ago. She was impressed with the “beautiful campus, and I couldn’t believe they have a gym there” because most community colleges don’t have gyms, she said.

“I was really very proud of the growth of the college,” Cox said. Visiting so many years later reminded her of how the college helped her get an education and helped ease the cost of college on her parents, she said.

The cost for 15 credit hours back then was about $400 a semester, she said — something else that has changed over the years. Tuition and fees now cost about $121 per credit hour for in-state students, according to the college’s website.


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