CULLOWHEE – A longtime dean and a former trustee were awarded honorary doctorates in recognition of their dedicated service to Western Carolina University and a Gaston County woman received a major alumni award as the university held spring commencement exercises Saturday (May 8.)
A fast-moving thunderstorm dropped dime-sized hail on the campus and temporarily knocked out power during afternoon ceremonies at the Ramsey Activity Center but did nothing to diminish bursts of cheers and applause from families and friends for Western’s May 2004 class of approximately 760 students.
The University presented an honorary doctorate of education to Gurney E. Chambers, who served as dean of Western’s College of Education and Allied Professions for 17 years before his retirement. Wachovia Bank executive Joseph D. Crocker, who served as Western Board Chair and as a trustee for eight years, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. The Alumni Association gave its Award for Academic and Professional Achievement to 1972 Western graduate Loretta P. Dodgen, a Gaston County management consultant.
A Wilkes County native, Chambers earned a bachelor’s degree at Western in 1961, and went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees at George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. He returned to Western as professor of education in 1967 and filled many roles over the years, being named dean of the School of Education and Psychology (now the College of Education and Allied Professions) in 1981. He retired as dean in 1998 after serving Western as a teacher and teacher educator for more than 30 years.
Western Chancellor John Bardo praised Chambers for his leadership of Western’s teacher education program. “You took it as a personal quest that Western produce the best and brightest public school teachers to be found anywhere,” Bardo said, reading from the degree citation.
“That allegiance to excellence still serves the university today, as the teacher education program that you nurtured leads the state and is envied nationally,” Bardo said. “As a model dean, you sought to bridge the gap between theory and practice. You sought to instill the qualities that you found in all great teachers – empathy, high expectations and a genuine concern for the student.”
Chambers told the crowd at the Ramsey Regional Activity Center that he was grateful for the education he received at Western and for the opportunity to serve the community for so long. “Finally,” he said, “I am thankful that I have lived long enough to see, enjoy and appreciate the incredible progress Western has made and continues to make under the energetic and visionary leadership of Chancellor [John W.] Bardo.”
A Kings Mountain native, Crocker earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Western in 1974 and completed the North Carolina School of Banking at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . He then began a business career that led him to Wachovia Bank in 1988. Crocker currently serves as senior vice president and community affairs manager for Wachovia, based out of Winston-Salem .
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors in 1995 appointed Crocker to a four-year term on the board of trustees. He was appointed to a second four-year term, and in 2001 became the first African-American elected to serve as chairman of the board.
Bardo noted the “unprecedented academic achievements and growth by the university” that marked Crocker’s time as a trustee.
“Most of all, Joseph Crocker, your deep and sincere love of this university has been evident in everything you have done,” Bardo said, reading from the citation. “You have given of your time, wisdom and energy in such measure as to inspire and encourage others to contribute and become involved. Your pride in and commitment to the building of Western Carolina University will be of lasting benefit to the students, faculty and university and its growth and development.”
Crocker told the crowd that “the real rewards in life are not the ones engraved on plaques and trophies. The real rewards are those we receive when we give to others.
“There’s no doubt that I love Western Carolina and all that it stands for,” Crocker said. “I have received so much more than I have given. Thank you for this exceptional honor.”
Dodgen, winner of the Alumni Award for Academic and Professional Achievement, worked as an educator and administrator in the Gaston County school system for 14 years before co-founding Multiple Choice Inc., where she now provides leadership development, strategic planning and change management for clients ranging from non-profit organizations to government agencies and from small businesses to Fortune 100 corporations.
“When I sat where you are sitting in 1972, with my proud and relieved parents, I certainly never imagined that I would be on this side of the podium receiving this wonderful recognition and addressing the Western Carolina University class of 2004,” Dodgen said. Cautioning students not to let the problems of the world and the imperfections of life slow them down, she said, “At Western, you have received a foundation that will enable you to weave a perfectly wonderful life,” and she added, “I wish you the strength and the grace to make choices that will enable you and your neighbor to succeed.”
In his remarks, the Chancellor singled out a number of students for special praise, including Danielle E. Hochstetter of Charlotte who earned a Fulbright; Yoneko Allen and Christy Blackwell, both of South Carolina and both outstanding athletes, who were named Arthur Ashe Scholars; Christine S. Swyers of Asheville who serves on the Buncombe County Rescue Squad; Dr. William C. Brannon of Candler who is medical director of Mission Children’s Hospital and Helen Powers Women’s Center at Mission Hospitals in Asheville; and Heather M. Kasey of Asheville who launched successful fundraising efforts for Relay for Life at Western in honor of her mother, who died of cancer.
Speaking to all of the students, Dr. Bardo said, “You will be missed. Come back often and continue to be a part of this campus. And be proud that you are graduates of Western Carolina University .”
A complete list of graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.