With motorcycles rumbling and a giant birthday cake, UNC Pembroke kicked off 14 months of celebrating its 125th anniversary.
The fanfare on March 14 included celebrities from the university’s past and present. Television talk show host Cecil Chandler of WPDE-TV served as emcee. To enthusiastic cheers, he introduced Mike Williams, UNCP’s newly crowned national wrestling champion.
Chandler also introduced three of UNCP’s oldest living alumni: Beulah Mae Ransom Cormier of the classes of 1939 and 1952, Cattie Mae Hunt of the class of 1941 and Tessie Hunt of the class of 1942. They had front row seats as UNCP’s cheerleaders rolled in a massive birthday cake. He also introduced Larry Barnes, class of 1970, who was the first African American to enroll in the university.
A five-motorcycle procession, led by Chancellor Kyle R. Carter, roared into the Main Gym to launch the celebration. Chancellor Carter was followed by his wife, Sarah, and honorary chairs Alphonzo McRae of the class of 1974, Linda Oxendine, former chair of the American Indian Studies Department, and Mickey Gregory of the class of 1988. In his remarks, Chancellor Carter invited the crowd of 1,000 to join in the celebration of its university.
“We’re going to be celebrating for the next 14 months until commencement 2013,” he promised. “We will take every opportunity to celebrate the founding of this great institution.”
UNCP student and television personality Victoria Huggins sang Happy Birthday, and everyone ate cake. Steven Roberts Original Desserts, a bakery that recently located in Pembroke and provides decadent desserts to restaurants throughout the country, created and donated the confection of layers of chocolate and vanilla cake and ice cream.
The popular local rock band Dark Water Rising, led by former American Idol contestant Charly Lowry, closed out the celebration. As if to demonstrate that a rapidly growing regional university of 6,000 students still has its roots in its home community, the band’s drummer, Shay Jones, is the grandson of the late Chancellor English Jones, namesake of the English E. Jones Health and Physical Education Center, where the kick-off was staged.
There was a lot of fanfare, but it was a day to remember the university’s history, too. In discussing UNCP’s 125-year history, a variety of landmarks stood out in the minds of those in attendance.
When asked what is the second most important event in university history after its founding in 1887, answers varied.
Miss UNCP 2012 Jocelyn Hunt, who sang the national anthem, reached back to 1972, “when the university became part of the UNC system,” she said. “It brought the university to another level.”
Dr. Linda Oxendine, former chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies Department, offered another landmark event from 1939. “I would say it was when we became a four-year college,” she said.
Dorothy Blue, who wore her class ring from 1955, had a more personal answer. “In 1951, when they named Locklear Hall for my grandfather (Anderson Locklear),” she said. “Five generations of our family followed him here.”
Dr. Richard Vela, who has taught English at UNCP since 1971, had a modern take on the university’s history. “To be honest, the biggest thing was the name change (to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 1996). It changed the way people look at us.”
Student Government President Brian McCormick considered the return of football as a possible answer, then offered this: “I believe it is the growth and expansion of the university to reach out to the entire state and nation. It did this while continuing to serve the community that founded this university. Without that growth, I would not be here.”
The comments and the celebration both put a spotlight on the theme of 125th celebrations: “Honoring our Traditions, Soaring Toward our Future.”