ASHEVILLE NC – A yearlong celebration of Western Carolina University’s 125th anniversary kicked off Thursday, Jan. 23, as the campus and surrounding community paused to reflect on the institution’s growth from a one-room schoolhouse with 18 students to a comprehensive regional university with an enrollment of more than 10,100 – that, and to eat cake and enjoy a fashion show.
Before the fun, games and icing, WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher began the celebration with a touch of formality, reminding the crowd of the many changes that have occurred at the institution over the years – including names ranging from the Cullowhee Academy through Western Carolina Teachers College to its current moniker as part of the University of North Carolina system.
What began as teacher training school – a model emulated statewide by institutions known today as Appalachian State and East Carolina universities – has grown and diversified over the decades to offer a variety of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees not only in Cullowhee, but also in Cherokee, Asheville and online, Belcher said.
“In the two-and-a-half years Susan and I have been at Western Carolina, one of the things that has struck me the most is how, despite the remarkable changes this university has witnessed here in Cullowhee over the decades, the fundamental mission of this institution remains the same,” said Belcher.
“Through all of the changes, a strong mission to serve the people of Western North Carolina has been the foundation of this strong institution,” he said. “And Western Carolina has taken that mission and infused it into its instructional, research and service profile, challenging students to be engaged in their communities even during their collegiate years.”
Belcher urged those the packed house in attendance in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center to participate in events planned throughout the year, both on campus and in surrounding communities, that are designed to help celebrate the milestone of reaching 125 years – an anniversary known by the formal name quasquicentennial.
“The year 2014 will be a year of events, exhibits, reflections and anticipation of the next 125 years of educating eager minds in the heart of a mountain paradise – a region rich in culture, art, music and innovation,” he said. “It’s going to be a great year. It will be a year for the history books, and certainly one in which you will want to be involved.”
Following Belcher’s remarks, students, faculty, staff and community members took part in a fashion show of clothing from throughout the university’s 125 years of history, along with apparel adorned with WCU’s commemorative 125th anniversary logo.
Highlights of the fashion show included Will Peebles, director of WCU’s School of Music, wearing 19th-century vintage overalls; Sylva Town Manager Paige Roberson in an Edwardian bustle dress; Susan Belcher, wife of the WCU chancellor, in a purple 1930s May court dress; and Paws, the Catamount mascot, dressed in a 1940s football uniform with padded pants.
Members of the Cathouse Band, the cheerleading squad and the dance team then helped roll out a cake decorated with candles in the shape of the numbers 1, 2 and 5, and the crowd broke into an impromptu rendition of a popular birthday song.
The event, which also featured a variety of games, prizes and giveaways, and a display showcasing the university’s history, was just the first in a yearlong celebration of WCU’s 125th anniversary.
Activities moved that night to Ramsey Regional Activity Center as the men’s basketball team played Davidson College in a Southern Conference game, with special activities and promotions as part of the evening.
The official 125th birthday bash will be held in August, the month in which the school that became WCU was founded in 1889. The event is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 26, with a picnic on the University Center lawn, old-fashioned games, music and photo opportunities in historical garb representative of the late 19th century.
The final celebration event is tentatively set for Friday, Dec. 5, in the Ramsey Center, with music from the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band (which will have just returned from its appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), refreshments, remarks from the chancellor and special recognition for those who will graduate in December 2014, the last graduating class of WCU’s 125th year.
Other events will be designed around traditional highlights of WCU’s annual calendar, such as spring commencement ceremonies, Mountain Heritage Day, the Spring Literary Festival, Homecoming, alumni receptions across the state and the Southeast, and a variety of events in communities across Western North Carolina.
For more information, visit the website at celebrate125.wcu.edu.