Educator shares history as he lived it
by BETTIE MARLOWE, Banner Staff Writer
Jul 17, 2011 | 1560 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ALEXANDER DELK teaches public speaking at Cleveland State Community College and is in the Toastmaster’s Club.
ALEXANDER DELK teaches public speaking at Cleveland State Community College and is in the Toastmaster’s Club.
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Who would have known that one of Cleveland’s institutions of higher learning sits on what used to be farmland where a moonshine still was once operated. This is one of the facts shared by Alexander Delk when he spoke at the United Club’s monthly meeting on June 27.

Delk said as one looks at the universities and colleges across the state, there are many. For instance, Nashville, he said, has been referred to as the “Athens Of The South” for many years. There, Delk said, one sees such great institutions as Vanderbilt University, where he attended many years ago; Belmont University, a Baptist oriented school; David Lipscomb University, a Church of Christ oriented school, Trevecca University, a Church of Nazarene school; along with a number of others, including Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical College ... and on down the line.

Just 30 miles south of Nashville at Murfreesburo is Middle Tennessee State University, a very large campus with 20,000 students. He also mentioned Knoxville, in the eastern part of the state and home to the University of Tennessee.

In Chattanooga, Delk added, there’s UTC, and in Memphis, there’s the University of Tennessee at Memphis, University of Memphis and Memphis State University.

In his talk on higher education in Tennessee, Delk focused on Cleveland, pulling from his own experiences and memories. “In our own community,” he said, “we have Lee University and Cleveland State Community College.” He said he was associated with both of these schools in the past and thinks highly of them.

Delk discussed the history that lies behind these two schools. He said the history of the Lee University campus — the physical location of the facilities — goes back to 1885. He mentioned a plaque on Ocoee Street which recognizes Centenary College which, at one time, was a Methodist school for girls occupying a large building known as the “Old Main.”

This facility was built to house the girls’ school where the present day Higgenbotham Administration Building sits today. Across the street, Centenary Avenue got its name from the Centenary College. The girls’ school later closed its doors in 1929 due to financial difficulties and the same year, the Great Depression swept the country.

Delk said Bob Jones College bought the property from the Methodists in 1933 and several new buildings were built, including Walker Hall, now Medlin Hall, on Ocoee and 14th streets.

Evangeist Billy Graham lived at Walker Hall while attending Bob Jones. A section of 15th Street was renamed Billy Graham Avenue just recently after securing permission from Billy Graham’s family.

Delk said Bob Jones College was a strict fundamentalist Christian school, affiliated with the Baptists. Bob Jones Sr., a very strict individual and the college president at that time, erected plaques around the campus stating what students could and could not do.

He said there was one such plaque that Billy Graham, as a student didn’t like —“No Grumbling Allowed.” So, the story goes ... “Graham left the college after one semester and moved to Florida.”

Some of the buildings used by Lee University today were built during the Bob Jones era, including the Walker Memorial Building at the corner of Ocoee and 11th streets, which is used for classrooms; the Vest Building on the corner of Church Street (now closed) and 11th Street. This was the college library and was the president’s office in the 1950s during the time Delk taught at Lee. It again served as the office building of the university president and other administrative staff from the late ’80s after a new library was built.

Dormitories included Walker Hall (now Medlin) on 14th and Ocoee streets and two women’s dormitories located on what used to be Church Street (now Sharp Pedestrian Mall) in the late ’80s.“We came in together and we’re going out together.”

Delk said when he came to teach at Lee in 1954, there was a large building known as the “Old Main.” He described the building when he first saw it as “a humongous big old brick building” that stretched out for quite a distance where the administration building is now.

He and his wife moved up from Florida and had his furniture stored in the Old Main for a couple months. The building was torn down in 1962 and replaced with the present-day administration building.

When the Old Main was torn down, Delk said, there was some criticism from the community because of the historical significance, but “the old building was past its practical use.”

A section known as the East Wing was added to the Old Main at a later date and faced east toward what was Church Street, he said. It was left and remodeled and a section of it is called the “Centenary Room,” in which social gatherings took place.

When Delk taught at Lee, the Centenary Room was called the “dating parlor.” Lee College, he said, “was very strict on dating rules where couples could meet every Saturday night and were only allowed to talk to each other and not kiss or have any other physical contact.”

Lee was divided into four different divisions: Lee Junior College, unaccredited with a two-year program; Lee Bible College, unaccredited two-year program; high school division, which granted high school diplomas; and Religious Education, for those training for the ministry who had very little educational background.

Lee was a small, unaccredited junior college with an enrollment of around 400 students when he began teaching there in 1954, Delk said. During his tenure at Lee, the enrollment dropped over time to around 250 by 1960 and the college was on the verge of closing by the time he and his wife left.

In 1960, Ray H. Hughes took over as president of Lee, which began a turnaround for the college. In a few years, Delk said, the school was given accreditation as a junior college with more teachers with doctorate degrees teaching there. Later, Lee developed into a four-year institution and during the 1960s, ’70s and the early ’80s became a much better recognized school as enrollment gradually increased.

In 1986, Charles Paul Conn became Lee’s new president and the college’s growth started to increase dramatically.

Delk said he attributes Lee’s success to Conn’s foresight and leadership. In 1997, Lee College was upgraded to university status, thus allowing the school to add graduate courses to their program. Enrollment reached to more than 4,300 students as of fall 2010, along with the construction of many new buildings.

He noted the beauty and good taste of the campus were able to be preserved when the new buildings blended in with the environment. He said Parker Street used to be just old houses and, over the years, he has seen all of that change.

The Church Of God operates also the Church Of God Seminary, an accredited institution for ministers and missionaries.

About Cleveland State Community College, Delk said in the 1960s, Tennessee was establishing the statewide junior college program. Through this, there are many junior colleges throughout the state in many communities making it accessible for kids out of high school to enroll. Cleveland State is part of the state junior college system and was started 1967 with the first graduating class that year.

Cleveland State serves several counties: Bradley, Polk, Meigs, McMinn and Monroe with some students coming from Rhea county, Chattanooga and Georgia. The school offers pre-university courses like nursing, business and other areas. Carl Hite is the president and he is credited with the college’s growth and progressive programs.

Delk said Tennessee is one of the most educationally blessed states in the union and “we’re blessed to have two highly accredited institutions of higher education right here in Cleveland.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Information for this article was taken from the minutes of the United Club meeting which were provided by Shaun Markie, club recorder.