UNC Pembroke’s “First Lecture” on January 23 was billed as an event where legendary people from the university’s past would share their wisdom with the modern institution.
The message from the past came across loud and clear: Care for each other and continue to nurture the university they loved so deeply.
Sponsored by UNCP’s American Indian Faculty and Staff (AAIFS), the event was attended by approximately 150 friends, family, faculty, staff and students in Moore Hall Auditorium. The First Lecture was part of the university’s continuing celebration of its 125th anniversary.
“With the First Lecture, the American Indian Faculty and Staff wanted to do something to help celebrate the university’s 125th anniversary,” said Dr. Olivia Oxendine, AAIFS chair and emcee for the event. “With the First Lecture, we are remembering our elders and our founders.”
From UNCP’s past were:
- Math Professor James A. Jacobs was presented by a former student and retired teacher, Douglas Hunt;
- Dean Herbert Oxendine was presented by his daughter Dr. Linda Oxendine, who is the retired chair of the Department of American Indian Studies;
- Assistant Dietician Vergie Mae Oxendine Sutton presented by her son, attorney and former state legislator Ron Sutton; and
- History Professor Clifton Oxendine presented by Magnolia Oxendine Lowry, a retired faculty member and relative.
Doug Hunt came to the Pembroke State College in 1957, young, smart and thinking “I thought I knew it all; and then I took James Arnold Jacobs’ class.
“I learned the difference between a high school teacher and a professor,” Hunt said. “I really only understood later that he was one of the best professors I ever had.
“One of his sayings,” Hunt said was “‘Boys, go sell your books and buy candy; you’ll get a lot more out of it.”
But his former pupil found Prof. Jacobs was “serious about learning and serious about teaching.” In fact, Hunt found his future as a teacher in Prof. Jacobs’ class.
Dr. Linda Oxendine recalled asking why the family was moving back to Pembroke after her father had earned a master’s degree and doctorate from Boston University.
“He said his people needed him; he loved his people and this university,” she said. “I grew up on Faculty Row on campus, and we were forever taking in students.
“He really wanted students to succeed,” Dr. Oxendine said. “And he realized how important this university is to the success of his people.”
Professor Clifton Oxendine reportedly named Old Main, the university’s oldest landmark. Dr. Olivia Oxendine remembered him as a caring teacher who always asked about her family.
“At the end of the semester, he said ‘you know your grandmother and I are first cousins. And how is Queenie?’” Dr. Oxendine said. “He always asked if I needed any help; it was his way of caring for students.”
The Oxendine family was very proud of the man Magnolia Lowry remembered as “Uncle Clifton.”
“He believed in education, and he ran a tight ship,” Lowry said. “Students brought him their problems, academic and personal. He was known for fixing problems, whatever it was. We were very proud of him.”
If the other legends of the First Lecture represented the faculty, Vergie Mae Sutton represented the staff. The first thing her son Ron wanted the audience to know was that his mother was a high school dropout, who made it possible for her eight children to be successful.
Sutton contributed mightily to the education and success of students at the college, from the college’s kitchen and from her heart.
“She went to work at the college in 1959, and it was hard work,” Sutton said. “Many times she drove her car to Lumberton to get supplies when no one else could.”
In the mornings, Vergie Sutton arrived on campus long before anyone else to make breakfast. The assistant dietician had many talents including serving as the school’s unofficial counselor.
“The students called her mom,” Sutton said. “She could size someone up in a minute, and I remember her counseling many female students, who were often crying.
“What would my mother say to us today?” Sutton asked. “You’re lucky to be at this university; life is so much better now.”
It is better because of people like the Clifton and Herbert Oxendine, James Arnold Jacobs and Vergie Mae Sutton.
In introducing the event, Donna Lowry, a former university trustee and current student, said there are more legends being made at the modern university.
“I’ve found faculty members who will stay after class to make sure I understood the material,” Lowry said. “There are professors who will Skype a class to you if you are out of town on business.
“There are professors who must have cots in their office because they are always here,” she said. “The professors here will push you and be your cheerleader too.”