The George Truett Junior College, Inc.
From 1930 through 1944, the flame of an institution of higher learning lay dormant. But many people remembered the Hiawassee Academy and the Blairsville Collegiate Institute. The flame was there, awaiting another ignition.
Another Mountain Preachers’ School was held at Blairsville in July 1944.
Who preached the sermon that ignited the flame as Rev. Ferdinand C. McConnell had done in 1886? The person’s name is not known to this writer, but several factors were present to remind the gathered preachers that the time was right to propose a new Christian college in the mountains.
Dr. George Washington Truett died July 7, 1944. He had become a model for visionary ministers who set aggressive goals and worked to reach them. The ministers talked about establishing a college in his memory.
The Great Depression was past. America’s involvement in World War II, although taking a toll on young lives, had brought a raise in economic levels through work associated with the war effort. Many of the young men who would be returning from war when it ended would desire an education.
The vision was born in the hearts of several men. Among them were the Rev. Claud C. Boynton, Rev. L. Clinton Cutts, Dr. W. A. Taliaferro, John B. Payne (layman), Dr. Leslie S. Williams, Dr. James M. Nicholson, Mr. Frank Shuler (Union County Superintendent of Schools and a layman), and Rev. Clarence Voyles. Mountain preachers and mountain laymen seized the vision, fanned the flame.
After the Preachers’ School had ended, the above-named men met for prayer and discussion in the basement of First Baptist Church, Blairsville, where Rev. Claud C. Boynton was pastor. The dream was turned into a plan. The flame of knowledge was again ignited.
After several meetings, a committee drew up a charter and the men approved it.
The charter named the new school the George Truett Junior College, Inc. It was legally filed in Superior Court of Union County, Ga., on September 15, 1944.
A Firm Foundation and Founding
Desiring that the college have a firm foundation and adequate sponsorship, the next step was to present the plan to the Georgia Baptist Convention. Dr. Leslie S. Williams, professor at Tift College, Forsyth, gave the resolution at the Georgia Convention on November 13, 1944. The recommendation was referred to the Convention’s Executive Committee for study. Rev. Claud Boynton and others spoke in favor of the resolution.
At the 1945 Georgia Baptist Convention, the resolution to establish Truett Junior College passed and an appropriation of $25,000 was designated from the convention’s educational funds. A committee was appointed to “recommend…the best location and plans for securing additional financial support.” (from Georgia Baptist Convention Minutes, 1945, pages 80-81).
A “Committee of Ten” was appointed by the Convention’s Executive Committee to do preliminary work relative to site and fundraising. From November, 1945, through March, 1946, various north Georgia towns vied for the college’s location and pledged land, money and endowment. Blairsville was among the towns vying for the location.
At the March 12, 1946 meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, the announcement was made that Cleveland, Georgia would be the site.
Several factors entered in. The location was still within a mountain county. The college would draw students from a broad area of Georgia and elsewhere, and having the college south of high mountains such as Unicoi Gap and Neel Gap would facilitate access at a time when the state and nation were still recovering from effects of World War II, scarcities in tires and transportation. Citizens of Cleveland had pledged more in acreage, building materials, money and utility services.
The Christian Index, newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, announced in its July 11, 1947 issue that the new college to honor the late Dr. George W. Truett and Dr. Fernando C. McConnell would be located at Cleveland, Georgia.
A massive area-wide rally was held in Cleveland, Georgia on July 23, 1946, the official founding date of Truett-McConnell Junior College. Rev. L. Clinton Cutts, then pastor of First Baptist Church, McCaysville, Ga., temporary chairman of the Interim Board of Trustees, presided. A large crowd of Convention officers, ministers, and citizens of a broad area attended the rally. Five persons who had attended the Hiawassee Academy when the Rev. George W. Truett taught there were present. They were Mrs. J. Miles (Maggie) Berrong of Hiawassee; Mr. B. R. Dillard of Dillard; Mr. and Mrs. Andrew P. Ritchie of Clayton; and Mr. John A. Earl of Lakemont.
Sixty years had passed since the Rev. F. C. McConnell had ignited the spark for education on the courthouse steps in Hiawassee. From Cleveland, Ga., the flame was kindled and the vision was stirring toward reality.
A New College Opens Its Doors
Much work ensued from the July 23, 1946 founding date until the college opened doors to students on September 15, 1947. Facilities for classes and administrative offices had to be arranged. A curriculum and faculty had to be assembled. Plans for accreditation had to be drawn up. Arrangements for boarding students to live with citizens in the town were made.
Fifty-four charter students and eleven faculty and staff met in convocation with the first president, the Rev. Dr. Loomis Clinton Cutts leading the processional. In a little more than a year, Dr. Cutts and others had formulated plans and the word was “Go!” Much cooperation had brought about a miracle in little more than a year.
I was in that first group of students meeting on September 15, 1947. We had a vision. I had a distinct sense of mission and calling to be in that place at that time in a brand new college. It was exhilarating and motivating. And so has it been in the sixty years since to remain closely associated with the “light in the mountains.” In this sixtieth anniversary year, the vision continues. The flame still glows brightly, has taken on a new aura. “Veritas liberat” is the motto, “Truth liberates.”
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 2, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.