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Fit for BattleThe Story of Wake Forest's Harold W. Tribble
By Jenny R. Puckett
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Jenny R. Puckett
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Fork in the Road
Retrospect has been exceedingly kind to Harold Wayland Tribble, much more so than were his own times. When he retired in 1967, Tribble was not a rich man, but he had amassed true wealth in the honors and gratitude offered to him by a newly minted university. His was the most tumultuous presidency of modern Wake Forest history, yet it was the most startlingly productive. Those who look back on the Great Removal Program, which brought a good regional college to Winston-Salem so that it could become a first-rate national university, marvel that it ever happened at all. If the college had not found the right leader at the right time, the school's greatest gamble would have failed. Today, many who knew Harold Tribble or who witnessed the events of his years in office say that a lesser man could never have met the multiple and enormous challenges that faced Wake Forest's 10th president in the school's most critical era of transition. Fortunately, if success depended on sheer determination and a thick skin, Tribble had those qualities in abundance.
This chapter traces the events that led the school to select Harold W. Tribble as the 10th president of Wake Forest. To understand the significance of his pivotal role in the history of Wake Forest, it is necessary to revisit the era of radical change which preceded his presidency by twenty years. World and local events in the years between 1930 and 1946 culminated in the search for a president who might be capable of taking on unprecedented and multiple tasks which would alter the very future of the college. In those years, the beloved old campus faced rapid changes, some of which were benign and hoped-for, and others which could only be called calamitous. The decisions made in each case brought Wake Forest to its most important choice and biggest gamble: should it leave the town of Wake Forest, its home for over a century? And who would build the college a new home in Winston-Salem and lead it there?
The trials of the Thirties: the beginning
After the retirement of William Louis Poteat in 1927, Francis Pendleton Gaines was named as president of Wake Forest. His ambitious plan for the college was to make it into a "gentleman's school"; toward that end, he advocated smaller class size, increased tuition, raised admission requirements, and instituted higher grading standards. In 1928, with unfortunate timing, the trustees ordered a beautiful new president's house to be built on Durham Road, a structure which became another millstone around the neck of the college when the stock market crashed in 1929. Following what was thought to be his professional aspiration, Gaines resigned in 1930, in order to accept the presidency of Washington and Lee College in Lexington, Virginia.
Soon thereafter, Thurman Delna Kitchin, a physician, science professor, and dean of the Wake Forest medical school, was chosen as the next president, an office he would occupy for 20 years. One of Kitchin's first decisions was to lower the tuition to its previous level, so that Wake Forest matriculation could remain competitive with Duke and UNC. But the times were more than unfriendly to the college's economy; in fact, the entire decade became increasingly difficult. Even as the Great Depression became a dreary reality, in 1933 and 1934 a series of mysterious and devastating fires broke out on campus and in the town of Wake Forest, which had no fire department. On the night that the College Building (Wait Hall) burned to the ground, May 5, l933, the first flames were spotted by the engineer on a train passing near the campus. He immediately telegraphed the Raleigh fire department for help, but the trucks came too late to save it. Students who lived in the wings of the building escaped the fire, and watched along with the faculty and townspeople as it burned to the ground. The next year, at midnight on Valentine's Day of 1934, Wingate Memorial Hall burned, destroying the campus' only chapel and physics labs. Although a few relics from the lab were saved, one of the incalculable losses was a group of historical portraits on the second floor: "... portraits mostly in oil and well framed, of many whom had been prominently connected with the College ... everything on the second story was lost." Many other fires were set that year, damaging campus structures and houses throughout the town, but the arsonist was never officially identified.
The need to replace or repair the buildings damaged by fire added more financial pressure to the college administration. In the meantime, as dean of the two-year Wake Forest medical school, Kitchin was keenly aware that all medical schools in the United States were under scrutiny, owing to the uneven and sometimes deplorable state of medical education. Sweeping and badly needed reforms were beginning to take place on a national scale; medical school educational practice was itself under the microscope. A national study of medical schools, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation, had evaluated all 155 medical schools in the United States, beginning in 1910. The final report, known as The Flexner Report, lauded the Wake Forest medical school for its labs and teaching methods; Wake Forest was one of only 11 schools out of 155 that required two years of college for entrance. But the report also pointed out that the Wake Forest students had no access to hospital training, and had to spend large blocks of time off campus. Due to similar findings at other schools, the report concluded in strong terms that all medical schools should become four-year institutions similar to the German model of biomedical science-based coursework and hands-on clinical training. Although the desire to improve its medical school was evident, unfortunately there was no funding for such an expansion at Wake Forest.
A piece of the campus breaks away
But 110 miles away, hope was on the horizon in Winston-Salem. The president of Reynolds Tobacco Company, Bowman Gray Sr., had set up a foundation, the Bowman Gray Endowment, for the purpose of bringing a medical school to his Piedmont city. In 1939, the foundation approached the trustees of the University of North Carolina medical school, offering to relocate the school from Chapel Hill to Winston-Salem, build a new facility, and make it into a four-year program. When the UNC trustees met to discuss the offer, they turned it down, because they would not move their medical school from Chapel Hill. But among the trustees was a well-respected lawyer and prominent Baptist, Odus M. Mull of Shelby, who quickly traveled to Wake Forest to talk to Dr. Kitchin. After confirming the interest of Wake Forest, Mull went on to Winston-Salem to talk to Bowman Gray, Jr. In short order, a deal was cemented. Through Kitchin's negotiations, and with the assistance of the Dean of the Medical School Dr. Coy C. Carpenter. Wake Forest's future medical school was awarded approximately a million dollars.
On August 6, 1939, the Winston-Salem Journal reported, "Wake Forest College will expand its medical school from a two-year to a four-year medical school and the entire medical department will be transferred to Winston-Salem....In the past students at Wake Forest medical school have had to leave Wake Forest several afternoons a week for clinical experience. Officials of the American Association of Medical Colleges have indicated that the abundance of clinical material in Winston-Salem would support the finest kind of medical school." Two years later, in August of 1941, the Wake Forest medical school reopened on Hawthorne Hill in cooperation with the North Carolina Baptist Hospital. The Bowman Gray School of Medicine had been established. It was later said of the founding dean of the four-year school, Dr. Coy Carpenter, that he "took a shoelace and built a shoe to go with it."
It is important to note that at this moment, when funds were needed for the new facility, Dr. Coy Carpenter mentioned Wake Forest to William Neal Reynolds, president of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and brother of the founder of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. Reynolds wondered aloud if the medical school would be stronger if it associated itself with a university in Winston-Salem, instead of being tied to an institution 110 miles distant. Once expressed, the idea remained in the mind of "Mr. Will" Reynolds until resurfacing five years later as a stunning proposal from a philanthropic foundation.
The war comes to Wake Forest
When the decade of the 1940's arrived in the little town of Wake Forest, the 106-year-old campus was showing some bruises while carrying on business as usual. The medical school was leaving, but it would free up much-needed classroom and laboratory space. At the beginning of the 1940 fall term, almost everything else was as before: the all-male student body delighted in returning to its magnolia-covered campus. It was a bachelor's heaven, occupied by nearly twelve hundred men, a number of whom lived with professors in spare rooms, basements, and attics. But in the winter of 1941, the war came to Wake Forest. The times, already frightening, became financially even more trying. In the words of the 1942 Howler yearbook, "The gravity of the situation was made clear to every man. Many students had to leave almost immediately for training camps; others signed up for service after graduation. The rest remained in school and waited." But with all the shattering changes, the war brought in another, more acceptable necessity: the entrance of the first regular-admission women students in the fall of 1942.
President Kitchin desperately needed the women's tuition money. At first, he believed that taking in female students was necessary, but only until the end of the war. Many of the "bachelors" also held reservations about the matter. The yearbook writer, describing reaction to the female invasion, said "When the news began to sweep over the campus, everybody decided that that indeed was a momentous day. There was opposition at first—antagonism toward this new idea, this 'radical' idea that would change Wake Forest forever. But then the real motive was revealed: Without the admission of women, there might not even be a Wake Forest in a few years—with the enormous exodus of men to the armed forces. The students were reconciled. Gradually the invaders subdued the vanquished."
The women lost no time in becoming integral parts of the student body. In the first year of their admittance to Wake Forest as regular students, the female contingent numbered fourteen; they lived together under close supervision in the large Powell house on North Main Street and walked to classes. Indeed, they walked everywhere; none of them had a car. Miss Lois Johnson was hired in May as the first Dean of Women, with the additional duty of teaching French classes. Under Johnson's watchful eye, the women rapidly enlarged and enriched the cultural and intellectual activities on campus, thus fulfilling the new dean's pledge to the male students that the women in her charge would soon "give you a run for your money." The female zest for competition did not limit itself to academics: the women also enthusiastically pursued sports. Within five years, the first female full-time faculty member, Marjorie Crisp was hired for the new women's physical education department. Crisp immediately established a flourishing intramural sports program.
But despite the admission of women in 1942, the men continued to go off to war, accompanied by some of their favorite professors. The next two years saw the situation become even worse; enrollment in the spring of 1944 fell to 328. President Kitchin was desperate for revenue to keep the college open, and so, as did Berea College in Kentucky, he struck an agreement to lease almost the entire campus to the US Army. Beginning in August of 1942, Wake Forest adapted its campus to house the Army Finance School, accommodating the daily routines of approximately 1200 officers and soldiers. The grounds were no longer the domain of the civilian students and remaining faculty. The yearbook editor wrote, "By December, we had given up our cafeteria, our gymnasium, our dormitories, our just-completed music-religion building, and two of our classroom buildings. Five fraternities, forced out of Simmons Hall, had to find new houses. We found ourselves deprived of home basketball, taking physical education outdoors, eating in restaurants downtown, and rearranging our mode of life." But the civilian students maintained their usual rituals and customary good humor, while showing respect toward the soldiers and officers. With a nod to their own cherished identity as Demon Deacons, they even invented a moniker for their uniformed counterparts: the Fighting Financiers.
By the time the Army Finance School departed the campus in January of 1944, it had graduated 16 classes. It had also gained the good will and admiration of the townspeople and the students. To Dr. Kitchin perhaps its most significant gesture of gratitude was that it left the coffers of Wake Forest with a surplus of $200,000.
Destiny, and a large helping of good luck
In 1946, the veterans flooded back to campus on the G.I. Bill, many bringing their young families with them. When the students arrived for the fall term, they found a depleted faculty and a campus badly in need of repair, with insufficient housing for the burgeoning student body. Temporary married-student housing was quickly constructed, but the residence halls and classrooms were crowded and ill-equipped. The monetary contributions of the North Carolina Baptists had dwindled during the war, and even with the recently increased enrollment, tuition receipts remained woefully short of the amounts needed to restore Wake Forest and keep it competitive in the postwar era. Although the bustle of returning students was roundly welcomed on campus and in town, the classrooms and dormitories were crammed to bursting. To alleviate the housing shortage, President Kitchin and the trustees proposed an Enlargement Program, with the ambitious goal of raising $2,000,000 for construction of new buildings, and an additional $5,000,000 to nourish the endowment. To the delight of the students, the plan called for the first four buildings to be dormitories: three for women and one for men. But before they could be built, a stunning offer landed on the college's doorstep.
Once again, brilliant guidance, propitious timing, some good luck, and a tobacco fortune in Winston-Salem became nothing less than the agents of the college's future.
Clouds beneath his feet
The philanthropic foundation that provided the major stake in the building of a new campus for Wake Forest was created to honor the memory of a young aviator whose premature death is still shrouded in speculation.
Until he died from a gunshot wound at the age of 21 at the family estate known today as Reynolda House, the life style of Zachary Smith Reynolds resembled a movie script from Hollywood's 'golden age'. In fact, a film was made in 1935 based on his life: Reckless, starring Jean Harlow and William Powell. Born in 1911, Smith was the fourth child of Richard Joshua Reynolds, founder of Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Katherine Smith Reynolds. His youthful ambitions and daring spirit were praised by Harold Tribble in his remarks at the dedication of Smith's portrait in the library that bears his name:
Zachary Smith Reynolds was flying at the age of sixteen, about one year younger than the average freshman at Wake Forest College. His pilot's license was signed by Orville Wright, one of the pioneers in American aviation. He earned his transport pilot's license at seventeen, and he was at that time the youngest transport pilot in the United States. Two years later he flew from London to China in an 80-horsepower amphibian plane. When we compare aviation in 1931 with the achievements and proposals of the present space age, the imagination is thrilled by the symbolism of blending the adventuring spirit of a young aviator with the spirit of research and learning that boldly seeks to thrust back the frontiers of knowledge.
Excerpted from Fit for Battle by Jenny R. Puckett Copyright © 2011 by Jenny R. Puckett. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPrologue: "I will not let us fail."....................xix
Chapter One: The Fork in the Road....................1
Chapter Two: Henry Wise Tribble....................20
Chapter Three: Estelle....................36
Chapter Four: The World As Learning Laboratory: 1917 – 1939....................44
Chapter Five: Pivot Point: Years of Change in Louisville: 1940-1947....................67
Chapter Six: Climbing the Hill: 1947-1950....................81
Chapter Seven: Tribble and the Battles Over Sports: Into the Fire: 1950-1967....................92
Chapter Eight: Tribble and the Baptists: Losing Battles and Winning Wars: 1950-1967....................112
Chapter Nine: Tribble and Students - Some Stories....................141
Chapter Ten: Our Lines Have Fallen in Pleasant Places....................152
Epilogue: The Last Battle....................163