East Tennessee State University junior Elyssa Champion realized as a freshman she was still going to be a nursing student at the school’s centennial, which was celebrated Monday.
“I think it’s really cool to learn about the history and to see everything, all the changes that have been made in the past 100 years,” said Champion, a junior who attended Monday’s centennial celebration at the school’s iconic Mini Dome.
Memories and music were used to mark the occasion. ETSU officially turned 100 Oct. 2. The centennial celebration was held exactly 100 years since the dedication ceremony Oct. 10, 1911.
Class was cancelled and campus offices were closed for Monday’s event, held in the ETSU/Mountain States Health Alliance Athletic Center at 10 a.m.
Authorized by state law in 1909, East Tennessee State Normal School opened with only 29 students who enrolled for two years and were then eligible to teach in the public schools, which at that time were mainly one-room schoolhouses.
The school began to gradually add programs and expand to a four year institution. New buildings were added over the years and graduate courses began, too. The Quillen College of Medicine was established in 1978. Today there are more than 15,500 students enrolled at ETSU, which became a university in 1963.
Lindsey Mumpower, a recent graduate who is currently working with ETSU’s university relations, hoped to be around for the opening of the school’s centennial time capsule in 2061. That capsule was sealed away in a brick column at the school’s Amphitheatre Monday night.
“Even though I’ve graduated, I can see still all of the changes around the campus,” Mumpower said. “And it’s nice to see all the projects, how much has been added to the school, the different colleges.”
Monday’s ceremony included speeches from school administrators, but also from relatives of Besse Brown Cooper, who is the world’s oldest living person and a graduate of ETSNS, and of George L. Carter, who donated the land on which ETSU now sits.
Sidney Cooper, Besse Cooper’s son, was one of her relatives in attendance at Monday’s celebration. He said his mother was born in Sullivan County but the family moved to Boones Creek, where she graduated from the local high school. She enrolled at ETSNS and graduated in 1916.
She taught in the area for a few years and then moved to Georgia, where she is today at age 115.
“She loves this school,” Sidney Cooper said. “She’s aware we’re here. Sadly, she can’t come, but she loved this school. This school meant so much to her. It just did a lot for her.”
Adelaide Smith, a cousin of ETSU benefactor George L. Carter, was in attendance, too.
She knew Carter when she was 5 or 6 years old. She said Carter was in his late 70s at that time and was in the process of reopening some coal mines in Tazewell County Virginia. Her father was made superintendent of those mines.
Smith’s mother was a student at Science Hill High School when ETSNS was established. She was among the high school students invited to attend class at the normal.
Smith spoke to the crowd about knowing Carter, whom she described as a grandfather-like figure. She was proud of the legacy he left behind in ETSU.
“I have tremendous respect for the university,” Smith said. “I’ve known a few students who have been here, but I think it’s amazing, the growth that has taken place. It’s an impressive university.”
One of the highlights of Monday’s ceremony was the performance of the musical piece Mountain Memories, a musical piece commissioned specifically for the centennial.
Mountain Memories was first performed in October 2010. The music tells the story of this region and the school through the art of Northeast Tennessee, according to the school. The piece was composed by Michael Davis, of Washington, D.C.
Performing Mountain Memories was the ETSU Wind Ensemble, ETSU Chorale and the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band.
Additional celebrations Monday included the recognition of the thousands of hours of community service done in the past month by faculty in the College of Education. Community service was a large part of being a faculty member at ETSNS.
Directly after the ceremony Monday there was an unveiling of a bronze portrait bust of George L. Carter., who was born in 1857 and died in 1936. Carter gave not only 120 acres for ETSU but $100,000 to help develop the campus.
The sculpture of his likeness is located outside the main entrance to Carter Hall, the first dormitory on campus. It is still used as a dormitory.
Gladys Cole did not attend college at ETSU but did graduate from University School, as did some of her other family members. University School is the K-12 training school that has operated at ETSU since its founding.
Cole’s father worked at ETSU, though, and now her son sings in 12 Buc’s Worth, an all-male singing group of students who performed during Monday’s ceremony.
“I’m just happy to be here and see the happiness it’s brought to this community, all the many jobs it provides and the good education,” Cole said of ETSU.
Dr. Paul E. Stanton Jr., who will retire as the school’s eighth president in January, said in an interview shortly before the ceremony began that he was reflecting on the many changes the school has seen in its 10 decades of existence.
“And hopefully the next century will end as spectacularly as this one has,” Stanton said. “This university is a great place, building, moving forward doing a lot of wonderful things, so I’m happy with what’s going on today and I look forward to what will go on in the years to come.”