BURKOT

THE RENAISSANCE MAN

BY: BILLY LIGGETT


“For decades, Dean Burkot made Campbell College — now University — run like a well-oiled machine. He was a busy man, and the light in his office often burned well into the night, especially around registration and graduation.”
– Carroll Leggett (‘63), writer and former editor of
Campbell’s Creek Pebbles student newspaper



Is this Latin?

“Our purpose has been not to supply all the answers, but to insist that there are many which you do not know. Continue in the quest and whisper an occasional word of thanks for us who are your friends.”

– A.R. Burkot, his message to student in the 1956 edition of the Pine Burr yearbook

He was a master of languages. He taught five of them, could speak seven fluently and if you count those he could read, the number climbed to at least 12.

But even A.R. Burkot was stumped by the small piece of paper taped to the office door of James Jung, the chemistry professor at then-Campbell College from the 1960s and beyond. The paper read:

O simili si ergo
Fortibus ees enero
O nobili deus trux
Vatis ennum
Causan dux

If there was a language Burkot loved most, it was Latin — the root of all languages — yet Jung’s little poem came off as gibberish. Puzzled and somewhat angry with himself, Burkot took the paper off the door and approached Jung, almost demanding a translation.

“Turn it over,” Jung told him. Looking at the other side, Burkot read aloud:

Oh see Emily, see her go,
Forty buses in a row.
Oh no, Billy, they is trucks.
What is in em?
Cows and ducks.

“Oh, he was angry,” recalled Jung, now a professor emeritus whose years with Campbell number 51. “He turned around and stomped off in disgust.”









Burkot returns exultant

The front page photo of the Dec. 6, 1966, edition of Creek Pebbles, Campbell College’s student-run newspaper at the time, showed the ear-to-ear grin of Leslie Hartwell Campbell — Campbell’s second president and the son of founder James Archibald Campbell — as he stepped off a train in Dunn at 2:30 a.m. after the long trip back from the conference in Miami Beach that raised the status of Campbell to a fully accredited senior institution.

“Campbell Returns Exultant” read the headline in three-inch bold print. Six hundred students and a band greeted the returning president at the train station to celebrate the news.

Pictured behind Campbell is Alexander Roman Burkot, holding up a “No. 1” sign with his right hand … his smile (or smirk) showing more exhaustion, relief and pride than pure joy.

“For Dean Burkot, Dr. Campbell’s first lieutenant of 30 years standing,” read the article, “the high-spirited, after-midnight turnout was recompense for much of the midnight oil he had given to the detail work of winning for Campbell College that coveted credential — ‘fully accredited.’”

“He thought it was strange that he could be paid for something he would willingly have done for nothing”

– the late Glen Rasmussen on why A.R. Burkot never left Campbell for higher-paying jobs

The accreditation was a huge step for Campbell and the culmination of years of work by Burkot, who’d held dozens of titles at the school in his 30 years before taking on the role of vice president for academic affairs and provost. Before that, he was a professor, the registrar, the director of admissions, the academic dean and the dean of men. In the 50s, he served as president of the North Carolina Junior College Athletic Association.

When he wasn’t involved with Campbell, he taught Sunday school at the local Baptist church for nearly 50 years.

From 1935 until his death in 1984, Burkot did it all at Campbell. Leslie Campbell said as much early in Burkot’s career in the 1946 edition of the Pine Burr yearbook — “A history of Dean Burkot’s duties and areas of service is impossible to list.”

Not even Burkot’s son, Jerry Burkot, who grew up on the Buies Creek campus can remember all of his father’s jobs and titles.

“Dr. Campbell’s job was to go out and raise money,” Jerry Burkot (‘63) recalled, thumbing through old articles about his father at his home in New Bern. “So dad was … well, he was basically in charge of anything academic at the college. And then as dean of men … well, he was also in charge of anything student-related at the college.”

“He was the answer to everybody’s problem,” added Dorothea Stewart Gilbert (‘46), who took French under Burkot in the early 40s and returned to Campbell as his colleague on the faculty several years later. “And he was as responsible for the success of Campbell as any president. He was a professor, an administrator, a friend and one of the strongest supporters Campbell’s ever had.”

Most importantly, Gilbert added, people loved him.

“They loved him whether they agreed with him or not,” she said with a smile. “Though I can’t imagine anyone ever disagreeing with him.”

A.R. Burkot arrived at Campbell College in 1935 at the age of 26, hired as a foreign languages professor and dean of men. He and his wife Velma moved to Buies Creek before classes began that fall and lived in a small apartment in Layton Dorm, which once stood near where Butler Chapel stands today. Campbell paid Burkot a paltry $500 a year, in addition to free housing and meals.

Before coming to Campbell, Burkot taught at a high school in Redding, Pa., and as was the case with most young teachers, he also had to coach a sport. Burkot coached boys track, and ever the perfectionist, his team won the state track meet in Philadelphia in 1934.

The Burkots had their first son, Michael, in 1938; and Jerry came along in 1941. They lost Michael at the age of 5 in 1943 to encephalitis, according to Jerry, who was 2 at the time. His sister, Betty, was born in 1946. Both Jerry and Betty would go on to earn degrees at Campbell.

Jerry said Burkot’s relationship with the school and the Buies Creek community helped him through the loss of his oldest child. A.R. Burkot returned the favor with his leadership in the ’40s when Campbell saw its enrollment drop from 700 students to just more than 400 during World War II. As dean of men, he saw the male enrollment dip into the double digits. And when those men returned, they leaned on him for not just academic support, but emotional support as well.

“He was as responsible for the success of Campbell as any president.”

– Dorothea Stewart Gilbert ('46)

“He was kind of like a father figure to a lot of these rough-and-tumble guys, especially the ones coming back after the war,” Jerry said. “Early on in his career at Campbell, he just endeared himself to the school and the community. And he was so much more than a teacher or a dean.”

The personal testimonies to Burkot’s influence in Buies Creek are numerous. But in terms of growing Campbell as a respected academic institution, two of Burkot’s major contributions reside in the school’s securing accreditation — as a junior college in 1941 and a senior college in 1966. “His careful, efficient and tireless work contributed greatly to these two milestones,” wrote J. Winston Pearce in his book on Campbell’s history, “Big Miracle in Little Buies Creek,” published in 1974.

Pearce wrote about that near-freezing night in Dunn when Burkot and Campbell returned to the Tar Heel State triumphant after the accreditation hearing in much-warmer Miami.

“When the train came to a stop in Dunn at 2:30 a.m. in the morning, having been delayed for more than an hour, the sight that greeted their tired and sleepy eyes went far to rejuvenate them,” Pearce wrote.

Campbell College would become Campbell University 13 years later in 1979 with the graduation of the Norman A. Wiggins School of Law’s charter class.

Sometime between the late 1950s and the early 1960s, A.R. Burkot went from a slender man to … well, a not-so-slender man.

The reason for the noticeable weight gain had little to do with diet, according to Jerry Burkot. A.R. packed on the pounds, instead, because in his early ’50s, he finally learned to drive a car.

“People who knew Dad later on often wondered why he was so skinny in his earlier pictures,” Jerry said. “Even though he cooked a lot and ate a lot back then, he didn’t have a driver’s license. He walked everywhere he went.”

Living on campus and later very near campus, the elder Burkot walked to work, even in foul weather. Eventually, middle age caught up to him, so when it came time to learn the art of driving (at least enough to do it legally), he sought out the best possible coach — Fred McCall, the legendary Campbell basketball coach who co-founded the nation’s first basketball camp in 1956 (a camp that featured instructors like John Wooden) and inventor of the McCall Rebounder.

In the outfield of Taylor Field, Burkot, McCall and Ora Cansler (another faculty member who piggy-backed on the free lesson) tore up the outfield grass learning proper turning signals and how to park.

“I guess they figured Dad couldn’t hurt anybody without going through a fence first,” Jerry said, laughing. “Of course, when he got his license, he finally became a well-rounded person. Or he lost some height, as he liked to put it.”





“A.R. Burkot has been called a ‘20th Century embodiment of a 19th Century American legend.’ But he is more. His students will attest to the fact that Dr. Burkot is always there when he is needed. He is, to any who so wish, a very good friend.”
– April 11, 1978 Creek Pebbles editorial

Master of Languages

A.R. Burkot’s father was a Polish immigrant who crossed the Atlantic to find work mining coal. After settling in Kaska, Pa., he sent for his bride-to-be, Pauline, and the two started a family. A big family.

A.R. was the oldest of 13 children, nine of whom made it to adolescence and eventually adulthood. Three of his siblings are alive today; one of them is Sister Doris Burkot, a Catholic nun who lives in Shenandoah, Pa.

“A.R. Burkot has been called a ‘20th Century embodiment of a 19th Century American legend.’ But he is more. His students will attest to the fact that Dr. Burkot is always there when he is needed. He is, to any who so wish, a very good friend.”

– April 11, 1978 Creek Pebbles editorial

Kaska — located just minutes from Pottsville, home of the country’s first brewery (Yuengling Beer) — attracted immigrants from all over Europe because of its plentiful job opportunities in the early 20th Century. Germans, Scots, Irish, Armenians, Lithuanians, Greeks, Swedes … the town was a melting pot of customs and languages.

It was the kind of town where one could easily pick up on another language or two. Or three. Or 12.

“Alex,” as he was known by as a child, was the star pupil of his small town. He graduated high school at the age of 15, already fluent or familiar with Polish, French, German, Spanish, Czechoslovakian, Russian and, of course, English. One of his teachers in high school, Mrs. Poff, recognized young Alex’s brilliance and encouraged him to apply to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where her husband, the Rev. Nils Poff, taught.

Alex spent two years working in the coal mines to save money for Dickinson. During those two years, he studied a lot at home to become fluent in all seven languages.

In 1927, at the age of 17, Burkot enrolled at Dickinson. He earned a degree in “romance languages” and roomed with a young man whose cousin — Velma Susan Wood of South Carolina — caught Burkot’s attention.

And soon, his affection for Velma sent him south — broke and unemployed until an opportunity opened for a language teacher and dean of men at tiny Campbell College. Immediately Burkot became a local favorite, and his language knowledge amazed the students, many of whom had never been outside of North Carolina.

“One of the high spots of my school life was to be in his class,” recalled alumnus William Shearin. “I think every student was in awe, as I was, of his ability and his unbelievable knowledge of language. Also most impressive was the fact that he could call the name of every student he ever had at Campbell. I believe this continued until he was no longer in the classroom.”

Burkot’s memory was indeed the stuff of legends.

“It was phenomenal,” said W. Earl Britt (’52). “We had around 400 male students back then, and before the year was over, I think he knew every one of them on a first-name basis.”

Burkot’s ability came in handy as registrar when, in the days before computers, he wrote out each student’s schedule at the beginning of every semester. According to Gilbert, Burkot was mostly a one-man show during registration.

“He would gather us in Turner Auditorium, and would shout out, ‘How many of you have had Miss Powell for English?’ We’d raise our hands, and he’d put us in a group and say, ‘Good, you have Miss Strickland this year,’” Gilbert said. “When I returned as a teacher, this was still well before computers, and he was doing the same thing in Carter Gym. I remember he signed in one student, and she told Dean Burkot, ‘I want anyone for English but Ms. Stewart,’ which was me. Of course, I was standing right there, and she didn’t realize that. We all got a good laugh from that.”

Burkot did this for 30 years, until 1965 when the whole process became a bit more modernized.

“If you went to Campbell during that time, you went through my dad,” Jerry Burkot said. “He scheduled you for everything and did it all with a pencil and index cards. He had a system and a master plan that only he knew. I was just amazed at how he was able to know where everybody belonged. And there were rarely any scheduling conflicts. And if there were, it was probably the student’s fault.”

Britt recalled crossing paths with Burkot in 1960, eight year after he left Campbell, at a groundbreaking ceremony the two attended for the new Southeastern Community College in Whiteville. Britt made it a point to greet Burkot at the event, but before he could say a word, Burkot smiled and shouted, “Hi, Earl!” … “as if we’d seen each other the day before,” Britt recalled.

Then 20 years later, Britt — a U.S. District Judge by that time — presided over a trial involving the Harnett County Board of Education. Burkot was a witness in the trial, and before he took the stand, he looked at Britt, smiled knowingly and greeted him with a, “Good morning, your honor.”

“I took recess after his testimony so we could speak informally,” Britt said. “And he appeared to be just as sharp then as when I was a student. I will always cherish his memory with appreciation for the opportunity that I had to sit at his feet and learn.”






HOW HE DID BUSINESS

Orron Dixon ran one of the few “filling stations” in Buies Creek in the 40s and 50s, and because he walked everywhere he went, Burkot was a regular customer.

Carroll Leggett was editor of Creek Pebbles in the early 1960s and today is a columnist for Metro Magazine in Raleigh. He’s frequently written about his days in Buies Creek, and on more than one occasion, he’s written about Burkot. In a 2006 column called “Guys in the Kitchen,” he wrote about Burkot and Dixon’s “business relationship.”

[Burkot] and Mr. Dixon were old friends, and like many folks in Buies Creek, Dean had an account with him. But the way they did business was different, according to Ivan Strickland, Mr. Dixon’s son-in-law.

“Dean was the only person I’ve ever seen who kept his own account,” Ivan said. ”He would come in and get his groceries, pull the ledger book out from under the counter and record everything himself. Then on payday, he would come in, add everything up, count out what he owed, and put the money in the cash register. That’s the way they did business.”

Gail Goodman (’66) was a 21-year-old mother in the mid-60s who wanted to resume her education after a lengthy maternity break, and the man she turned to for advice was Dean Burkot. He counseled her personally, Goodman recalled, and encouraged her to apply for a National Defense Loan, which she received.

During her senior year, Goodman and her husband found themselves in “dire financial straits,” and Goodman was convinced she would need to drop out again.

Again, she sought her mentor.

“Dean Burkott, I know this is my last semester, but I have to drop out due to finances,” she told him. “But I will finish later. We can’t even pay the babysitter this week.”

Goodman remembers well Burkot’s response.

“Without a moment’s hesitation, he pulled $20 from his pocket and asked if this amount would tide us over,” she said. “This was the late ’60s, when this amount was equivalent to about $100 today.”

Goodman was able to pay the babysitter and get through the next few weeks. That spring, she graduated with the Class of 1966.

In 2005, Goodman returned to Campbell University with a master’s degree to teach freshman English for five years after a 32-year career teaching in North Carolina public schools.

“Indeed, there are numerous others who feel a depth of gratitude to this wonderful gentleman of ‘the old school,’” Goodman said.

One of them is Rick Allen (’71), who returned to Campbell after serving three tours of duty with the Navy in Vietnam to finish his senior year and “get on with my life.”

“Trouble was, I needed a final class in German [to graduate], and it wasn’t being offered in the spring semester,” Allen said. “I went to Dean Burkot for advice, and he personally ran a special German IV class for me alone.”

Allen went on to teach high school English in New Hampshire for 36 years, borrowing from many of the teaching techniques he learned from Burkot.

“I had taken his class on word origins, where we mastered Greek and Latin origins of English words, and in turn, I passed on what I'd learned to my seniors,” Allen said. “Invariably, when one of my former students would return to visit me, they would comment on how helpful the word origin lessons had been to them in college. That’s how one person's influence can go far beyond any classroom.”

Jerry Burkot said these stories about his dad are countless. Growing up, he said it wasn’t unusual for students and their parents to show up at his family’s front door with a country ham or some other token of thanks for Dean Burkot’s efforts.

Now retired, Jerry was co-owner of a successful school supply company, Bender-Burkot, which led him to travel throughout the state on a regular basis. Everywhere he’d go, he said, he’d run into somebody with a connection to Campbell. And ultimately, that person had nothing but praise for Jerry’s father.

“They’d say, ‘I was on the verge of dropping out, and your dad went out of his way to make sure I made it,’” Jerry said. “He did those one-on-one classes a lot, especially for those seniors who lacked a few hours to graduate on time. I don’t know how many colleges would do that or do that today, but my dad did it regularly at Campbell. And many of those people went on to do quite well.”

Robert Kautzman (’68) was one of them. Kautzman remembered the stories his uncle, Wilbert Kautzman (’38) told about Campbell in the ’30s and the new young dean everybody loved.

“Whether it was because they were both originally from Pennsylvania, the fact that Campbell was a small junior college at that time or whatever, my uncle got to know Dean Burkot very well,” Kautzman said. “My uncle always said Campbell would not be Campbell without Burkot, and that he was a man of integrity and deep commitment to his school.”

Kautzman wasn’t the best student in high school and didn’t have any prospects for college until his uncle called Burkot one day and put in a good word about his character.

“Dean Burkot said, ‘Send him down to summer school, and we’ll see what we can do,’” said Kautzman, who went on to earn a degree in geology, went to graduate school and worked 30-plus years in the petro-chemical industry in Texas before retiring to teach geology at LeTourneau University. “I have both my uncle and Dean Burkot to thank for opening a door to what has turned out to be a fantastic career. For that, I will never forget either of them.”

Marie Mason (’41) was Campbell’s first registered nurse in the early ’40s, a title she held while a student seeking a liberal arts degree. She shared a suite in Layton Dorm with the Burkot family at the time, and often babysat his oldest son.

Mason, now 97, said in addition to Burkot’s many official titles, his most important “non-official” title was Mr. Fix-It.

“I don’t care what happened on campus, you called Dean Burkot,” she said from her home in Raleigh. “If something was on fire, you called him right after the fire department. If something was leaking, you called him.”

Jerry Burkot said his father responded to all cries for help, no matter how trivial.

“The guys would plan panty raids on occasion, and to make it easier for them, the girls in Treat Hall would just throw their underwear out of the window so the guys wouldn’t go through their things, I guess,” Jerry said. “Of course, there’s my dad out there climbing the trees and taking it all down. He was a fast little fella then … and his job was to put a stop to all of that nonsense. You couldn’t do that in Buies Creek.”











A GENTLEMAN OF THE 'OLD SCHOOL' & HIS LEGACY

One of the few tangible legacies of Alexander Roman Burkot at Campbell University is Burkot Hall, a three-story dormitory built in the 1970s that houses female students today.

But his real impact lives on in his students, many of whom jump at the chance to talk about their memories of “Dean Burkot.”

“When I think of those who have most influenced me and my life, Dean Burkot is near the top of my list,” said Catherine Hodges (’68), a former French major who also benefited from a one-student summer class in 1968 in order to graduate a semester early.

“Strong, yet compassionate,” wrote Burkot's friend, the late Glen R. Rasmussen, “Dean Burkot loved and remembered his students, and they loved and remembered him. Indeed, he had a deep appreciation and respect for all people in all walks of life. And they admired and respected him.”

Former Major League pitcher and Cy Young Award winner Jim Perry (’59) called Burkot a mentor and one of the men responsible for his success. Gilbert credits Burkot with setting her on the path to become a teacher. And Shearin said he’s convinced that were it not for Burkot, “Campbell would have folded during the Depression years.”

“When the sap rises, the saps rise.”

A.R. Burkot, in 1974 Creek Pebbles article about that spring's increased number of campus streakers

Sure, Burkot had chances to go elsewhere. He was once offered an academic dean position at UNC-Chapel Hill, according to Jerry Burkot.

“My sister Betty actually made more money the first year she taught middle school in Raleigh than Dad made as a vice president at Campbell,” he said. “So he certainly didn’t stay at Campbell for the money. He stayed because he loved it. He loved what he did.”

Burkot fought pancreatic cancer for almost a year before he died on Nov. 8, 1984. According to his son, he hid his diagnosis from the general population at Campbell and worked all the way up to a few months before his death. The 1984 Pine Burr yearbook, published six months before his passing, wrote of his tenure: “At 73, Dr. Burkot is still going on strong. He views teaching as being good for his health, keeping his faculties alert. He says, ‘In the absence of the routine I have had, I very easily would fall into idelness.’”

Now 72, Jerry Burkot still has a shed full of articles about his father and books, files and other artifacts from his father’s nearly 50-year career at Campbell. Little of it has been organized, Jerry Burkot admits, but that’s fitting, because A.R. Burkot was never a very organized person.

When asked about his father’s legacy and what he meant to Campbell and its students, he immediately recalls a time when he was a child, still living in the dorms, and his father became a father to hundreds of young men.

“The cafeteria back then closed on Sunday evenings so employees could go to church,” Jerry Burkot said, “which meant students often had to fend for themselves. Dad’s students at Layton Hall were a bunch of growing boys with great appetites, so every weekend, he’d go to Mr. Dixon’s store and get what he needed to make a big pot of stew. Dad cooked for that whole dorm. And that made an impression on those boys — he treated them like family. Those who worked with dad or were his students, they didn’t see him as just a professor or just a dean — he was family. And my mother, too … everybody loved her.

“That was their legacy at Campbell. That’s what people remember all these years later.”