February 16, 2015 | 7 Comments
Shortly after Dorothea Stewart-Gilbert ’44, ’46 was born about a mile from Campbell University’s main campus in 1927, her parents took out an insurance policy to cover tuition so she could eventually attend the school. “It was always a given that I would attend Campbell,” she says. “It never entered my mind to question that.”
Her grandfather, Charlie Stewart, often drove a buggy for the university’s founding president, J.A. Campbell. Her mother attended the school when it was then Buies Creek Academy, a boarding school. She grew up with Catherine Campbell King ’44,’46, the daughter of the school’s second president, Leslie Hartwell Campbell. And she attended both high school and junior college at Campbell before earning a bachelor’s in English and a teacher’s license from what is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Later, after teaching high school English, history, and French classes for 12 years, she returned to her family farm in Buies Creek and joined the faculty at Campbell. She taught college-level English there for the next 32 years.
A few years after retiring from teaching in 1992, she returned to the campus to direct the Lundy-Fetterman Museum & Exhibit Hall, bringing her total years of service at Campbell to more than 44 years. “Campbell has been part of my life and my upbringing,” she says. “I’m glad it was, because it has been good for me. I hope I’ve contributed something to it.”
She certainly has. In addition to her contributions in the classroom and as director of the Lundy-Fetterman Museum, she is a go-to-source for university history. She is one of the few who have known all four university presidents. She also gave Campbell the property where her 40-acre family farm stretched for nearly a century. With her blessing, the university sold the property to a developer who transformed most of the land into the Arbor Crest housing development about a mile from campus. Nearly two acres, where her house and pond still stand, were preserved for Stewart-Gilbert. “Campbell will get the house, too, when I’m finished with it,” she says.
A portion of the sale proceeds went toward establishing three fully-funded endowments that provide scholarships to students in Campbell’s English department, Lundy-Fetterman School of Business, and Divinity School. “My grandparents lived in the shadows of Campbell, and I think they would’ve been happy with my giving the university the property,” Stewart-Gilbert says. “My thoughts have always been directed to Campbell.”
Stewart-Gilbert talked to Campbell.edu about her student and teaching days at Campbell and the manner in which the campus community will remember her. The following is an edited and condensed version of the interview with her. Portions of this piece originally appeared in a profile written on Stewart-Gilbert this fall posted on campbell.edu/giving.
What was it like to be a student at Campbell in the early 1940s?
When I was a student, Campbell was a junior college, and it was pre-World War II. We used to have little shops there where the student center is now. My uncle had a grocery store there; there was a drug store on the corner; and there was a hardware store, where my aunt would sell materials and threads. There was a gas station where the post office is now. Behind that gas station, my father had an automobile repair shop and paint shop. When we would go to those stores and shops, we called that “going to town.”
The rules were very strict for boarding students. They were required to go to church, and girls also had to sign out before they could leave the dorm to go uptown. They had to wear hats, gloves, and some kind of high heels. That changed, and you know what changed it? World War II, because when the boys came home, they were men, and you couldn’t require them to go to church.
What led you to teach?
I was determined that I would never teach. When I went off to school, I majored in English. One morning, when I was a student at UNC-Greensboro, I was stopped in my tracks, and I knew at that moment I had to teach. I was on my way to class and turned right around and went to my advisor’s office. She said, “If weren’t for the fact that teachers are so scarce, I wouldn’t let you change this late in the semester.” It was at least two weeks into the semester, and I had to add some education courses. That’s why I became I teacher. I didn’t have a choice. I was called by God to teach.
Why teach English?
I think it’s the influence of three women -- my mother; Ms. Mabel Powell, a legend around here who taught grammar and Latin; and Ms. Gladys Strickland, who taught literature here -- but mainly my mother, because every afternoon she would read to me. We had a set of encyclopedias, which they couldn’t afford, but they had a precious daughter, so they bought them. Mother read to me a series of stories about a young girl, and I loved hearing about them over and over. Those stories with Mother reading them to me whetted my appetite for literature.
You began your teaching career at Buies Creek School, when it ran from first grade through the 12th grade. What were your early teaching experiences like?
I started teaching high school at Buies Creek School in 1948. Today, it’s Buies Creek Elementary School. I started teaching in that building, still there on Main Street, even before it was finished. We had four teachers, including the principal. There were maybe 12 or 13 students in the senior class. I taught English, French, U.S. history, British history, and first aid. I coached softball and basketball after hours. In the first game of the tournament, we knocked off the best team in the county. Those were good days.
How did you end up back at Campbell teaching?
I taught at Buies Creek School from the fall of 1948 through the spring of 1955. Then I got married and moved to Garner and taught there for five years before I learned about an opening here at Campbell in English. It was 1960, and back then, Campbell still had high school as part of its studies and only two years of college. Mr. Leslie Hartwell Campbell, the second president, offered me a job teaching junior and senior high school English and then one freshman course in college. He called me just before classes started and said he was promoting me even before school started because they needed me full time in college. I said, “Sounds good to me.”
What memories from your classroom teaching experience still stand out to you?
Campbell had Saturday classes, even when I started teaching here in 1960. In 1963, I remember President Kennedy was assassinated on a Friday, and I had a Saturday morning class. As luck would have it, I was to teach John Donne’s “Death, Be Not Proud” that day. That was President Kennedy’s favorite poem. Well, I read it. I barely got through it, and then I dismissed class because everyone was upset.
How would you describe your teaching experience at Campbell?
It was wonderful, and I enjoyed it. I taught at Campbell from 1960 through spring of 1992. That made 32 years of teaching at Campbell, and that’s a lot of years grading papers. That’s why I retired from teaching at 65. By the time I finished one set of grading essays, I had to assign another set. I had three sections of freshmen English, and I had to read 90 to 100 essays every few weeks.
A few years after retiring from teaching in 1992, you returned to Campbell to serve as director of the Lundy-Fetterman Museum. Why did you come back to work at Campbell?
To prove that I can. I like a challenge. Twelve years ago, my second husband died. Two months later, after church one Sunday, Dr. Wiggins, the third president, approached me. He said, “Dorothea, I want to talk to you.” I thought, “I’m retired. I haven’t done anything wrong. What is he calling me on the carpet for?” It wasn’t that. He wanted to offer me this job. I said, “Give me a night to think about it and pray about it.” I thought this was what I needed, and I thought I could offer something over here.
You’ve known all four of Campbell’s presidents. What are the similarities and differences between them?
They were all community people, but J.A. Campbell was a community person in a way that no other president has been. He had to be. He had to get his child -- this school -- off to a great start.
What do you make of what his school has become?
I was teaching here when Campbell was a junior college. In just two or three years, it became a senior college. In a few more years, it became a university; and now it’s exploding in growth and in beauty. The campus is more beautiful than it has ever been. I credit current Campbell President Jerry Wallace for that. In academics, Campbell University strives for the best and everyday reaches that goal.
How do you hope the Campbell community will remember you?
This is very general to say, but for my closeness and dedication to Campbell. And for my sunny disposition.
Photos by Bennett Scarborough. Interview conducted and edited by Cherry Crayton, senior staff writer.