As soon as the first guests arrived, memories began to flow during “Reflections: A Look Back at UNC Pembroke’s First 125 Years.”
When retired Biology Professor James Ebert arrived, Larry Barnes, a 1971 graduate, recalled a turning point in his college career.
“I was a Biology major until I heard how hard Dr. Ebert’s anatomy and physiology class was,” Barnes said with a laugh. Ebert remembered the first time he taught anatomy and physiology in 1956.
“I came to the university in 1956. In my first class I had a group of outstanding students,” he said. “Two of those young men, Mr. James ‘Buddy’ Bell and Mr. Lycurous Lowry, are here tonight. I had only a handful of bones and a model torso, but they were great students.”
Held during UNCP’s 125th anniversary celebration, the “Reflections” event kicked off a week of homecoming activities. More than 125 people attended the event held in the University Center Annex.
Joining Ebert, a panel of alumni looked back on their time at UNCP. University historian Professor Emeritus Linda Oxendine gave the keynote address. She celebrated the early years of a school founded in 1887 with one teacher and 15 students.
“This is a wonderful story; the most unique story I know,” said Oxendine, who was the long-time chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies Department. “The early history of the school is inseparable from the local community, and we’re not so far from our origins today. There remains a strong cultural ownership of the school by the American Indian community.”
In a roomful of people who are connected by history, Oxendine noted that she babysat for Ebert’s young children. Her father was a faculty member, administrator and namesake of the Herbert G. Oxendine Science Building.
Oxendine outlined the school’s beginnings and the contributions of founders like W.L. Moore, students like the first graduate D.F. Lowry and long-time trustees, O.R. Sampson, Anderson Locklear and Preston Locklear.
The original state appropriation of $500 was earmarked for salaries. It was left to the Lumbee people to provide land, lumber and labor for the first school building.
“The state gave us two years to build a school or the money would be returned,” Oxendine said. “W.L. Moore was so committed to starting a school, he gave $200 for the first building. That was a lot of money then.”
The year 1953 was a watershed moment for the university, which was one the first state institutions of higher education in the nation to voluntarily desegregate.
The university as a crossroads was a theme all evening. Barnes, who was the first black to enroll at the university, remembered Teets’ father, Walter Pinchbeck. Pinchbeck supervised maintenance of the school for many years and is the namesake of the modern Facilities Maintenance Building.
“My family didn’t have the funds to send me to college, but Pembroke State University chose me,” Barnes said. “People like Dr. Les Murray and James B. Chavis (namesake of the University Center) worked it out for me.
“As a work-study student, I worked for Mr. Pinchbeck,” he said. “He was a mentor who told me wonderful stories.”
Both Barnes and Teets are retired educators. Teets was literally raised on campus and remembered a charmed life surrounded by education.
“Living on campus was wonderful,” she said. “My father was once asked why he stayed in Pembroke after having traveled all over the nation. His answer was that this is the friendliest place he ever been.”
For more information about the university’s continuing 125th anniversary celebration, go to www.uncp.edu/125/.
Scott Bigelow is the associate director of public relations for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.