In 1849, Robert Reedy Bryan and four other men gathered under an oak tree and discussed a desire to establish a Baptist college in East Tennessee. The meeting laid the groundwork for the future, and this group of men is forever etched in Carson-Newman lore as “The Oak Tree Five.” When Mossy Creek Missionary Baptist Seminary opened its doors in 1851, R.R. Bryan served as primary professor at the fledgling school, even designing its curriculum.
However, within mere months, Bryan became the school’s second president following the untimely passing of President William Rogers. In 1852, he oversaw construction of the Seminary’s first building, located on the banks of Mossy Creek. The following year, he returned to teaching, specializing in natural sciences, a role he fulfilled for the next 13 years. Like many places, the College suffered in the years during and following the Civil War. In 1866, Bryan once again answered the call to serve as president. Now closed due to the war’s aftereffects, his second term required extensive fundraising and bold leadership to position the school for a future of possibilities waiting on the horizon. He stands as an example of one who devoted so much to the health and well-being of the College, regardless of the role and weight of the responsibility in which he was challenged.
Emblematic of the characteristics and example set by Bryan in his willingness to “stand in the gap” and invest his career in the service to and advancement of what is now Carson-Newman University, the Robert Reedy Bryan Society has been created. Each year, starting with this illustrious group, Carson-Newman will induct into the society retired faculty, staff and others whose dedicated and selfless service to Carson-Newman is exceptional, inspirational and meritorious. It is designed to honor those who have honored this University by answering the call to go above and beyond and through their actions and attitudes have raised the bar for us all.
A 1976 graduate, Vickie Butler returned to her alma mater in 1989 to join Carson-Newman’s staff, becoming the first woman in the University’s development office, directing Alumni Relations. In her nine years as director, she expanded the alumni program, building a support core around those willing to give their time to Carson-Newman. She worked with all areas of the Advancement Division. Shortly after she was tapped as director of development, President Cordell Maddox asked her to lead the group on an interim basis in the summer of 1998. At various times in her Carson-Newman career Vickie served as assistant vice president for Advancement, associate vice president and even interim vice president twice. She was tasked with leading “For Such a Time as This,” capital campaign. She served as Advancement’s vice president and executive director of Alumni Relations and was co-founder of C-N’s Women of Vision organization. Over the course of 28 years, each time the institution looked to her for leadership, she responded. It was Vickie’s gift of connecting with constituents that brought her both joy and lasting relationships for C-N. She recalls how God’s perfect timing would take place while on donor visits.
“I found that often I would meet someone during a visit and see that it was a meaningful time for me to know them, and in a meaningful way, I would lead them to Carson-Newman in some fashion.”
Vickie easily traces her ability to cultivate relationships to her upbringing- particularly her grandparents. “It was seven words I learned to live by: People remember how you make them feel.”
Her approach to friendship-building continues to prove fruitful for the University. From Blye-Poteat Hall to Ted Russell Hall, from the completion of the fourth floor of Henderson Building to Greer House and The Chitwood Center at Hale Place, Butler’s fingerprints are on many of the University’s facilities due to relationships she fostered. Credited for being a tireless worker, she earned the R.R. Turner Spirit of the College Award in 2008.
“I enjoyed helping empower people to realize what they could do,” she said. “People might first have a preconceived notion that ‘I know I won’t be able to do anything of significance.’” But I like to think that after a visit from me that there was a door opened that showed them the possibilities of how they could be a philanthropist, and they could feel good about it.”
Butler says she wants to see Carson-Newman continue to build on the foundations others laid. She desires for the University to continue to educate students with excellence and have a presence in Jefferson City and the academic world. “I want us to continue to make history,” Vickie said. “That’s why I want to do my part in whatever way to help us thrive.”
Dr. Mark Heinrich joined Carson-Newman in 1980 as assistant in the counseling center and director of the career planning office. Those would be the first of what would be numerous roles he would fill during the next 21 years at the University. He served the institution in myriad capacities, all while rising through the faculty ranks. In fact, when first reading the list of his various posts, one might assume it describes a full team of University employees. These include, but are not limited to, professor of psychology, director of Career Planning and Job Assistance, co-director of College Wide Assessment Program, Sneedville and Jellico College Extension coordinator, men’s tennis coach, director of New Student Orientation, chair of the psychology department, vice president for Academic Affairs, dean of instruction, dean of social sciences, dean of education, and associate provost.
When opportunities arose and visionary leadership was needed, the University often looked to Mark for insight. “I felt that wearing multiple hats kept the job fresh,” he said, in describing his approach. “In fact, I actively pursued additional opportunities that I was more than happy to take on. I liked the energy that I felt in myself that came with all of those roles. I wouldn’t do it any differently.”
From teaching and advising, to working in administration, Mark says he is thankful for each opportunity. It wasn’t just the quantity of work and positions he willingly took on, but it was the quality of leadership he demonstrated in each instance.
“I liked the challenges,” he admitted. “And fortunately I worked under people who trusted in me and [were] willing to let me run with things, which I really appreciated.”
Mark credits his time at Carson-Newman with reinforcing his understanding of characteristics that make one successful. “The best managers are those who not only have good managerial skills, but those who are concerned about others and not so focused on themselves. They have good character and a level of integrity that’s beyond reproach.”
Mark put this ethos into practice when collaborating with colleagues and teaching in the classroom.
“His attentiveness to each individual is remarkable, particularly considering the constraints on his time,” said one of his former students. “The most amazing thing about Dr. Heinrich is that he doesn’t set the standard, he continually goes beyond it.”
“I hope they viewed me as someone who cared deeply for them and for their future and that I wasn’t just there for a paycheck,” said Mark, who earned the University’s Distinguished Faculty Award in 2004. “It was really important for me to see my students do well in the future. I would do anything necessary to help them along that journey.”
Though retired, he continues to add to his list of Carson-Newman roles, most recently serving on the school’s Innovative Initiatives Committee and advising for the University’s new College of Professional Studies.
“I want to see Carson-Newman succeed,” he said. “I think the world needs Carson-Newman more now than I have ever seen before.”
Mary Phipps and her siblings learned the virtue of hard work from their parents. Growing up on Carson-Newman’s campus in the 1940s, they watched their mother and father do their part in the day-to-day operations of the school. At a time when segregation was the norm, Mary recalls life on campus as a young girl.
“Although Carson-Newman wasn’t integrated and Blacks couldn’t go, I don’t ever remember being mistreated while on campus,” she said. “I wasn’t called any names. Students loved us and Carson-Newman loved my daddy.”
Her father served as the meatcutter on campus. With a wagon and a team of mules, he would also help female students transport their luggage from Swann Hall to the train station downtown. Her mother was a member of C-N’s housekeeping department. Having seen the example set before her, Mary followed in her mother’s footsteps, joining C-N’s staff at the age of 17. She worked for Kathleen Manley in the school’s infirmary before eventually moving to help maintain the school’s residence halls.
Generations of students have characterized Carson-Newman as feeling like “home.” Achieving such an atmosphere doesn’t just happen. It requires hard work, a sense of community, efforts behind the scenes, and a love for students who are away from their families. Mary did just that. She made sure that Carson-Newman was a place where students were taken care of well. She cleaned hallways, bathrooms and other areas of Swann, Burnett and Butler Halls. But for Mary, making students feel at home went beyond that. It wasn’t about color; it was about people.
She became a second mother to many, offering students advice and guidance. “I loved the girls because they were leaving their mothers for the first time,” she said. “Some didn’t know how to iron, or do nothing. I would be their mother. I would take their clothes home and iron them. If they wanted to talk to me about their troubles, they would come to me,” she said. “I would protect them because I had a daughter. I would take care of them.” It was a role she reflects on with great fondness.
Mary went on to serve in the President’s Home for 19 of her 41 years. With President and Mrs. Maddox, she developed a special relationship and a lasting friendship. From tending to the home, to being entrusted to help care for the Maddoxs’ children, she became one of the family. “They were truly good to me,” she recalled. “Dr. Maddox was a kind, good man, and I miss him.”
For Mary, time would prove sweet. Before her retirement in 1995, Mary saw her niece, Pat Crippins, become the first African American to graduate from Carson-Newman. She also saw her sister, Gladys Clay, become the first full-time African American professor at the University.
Though she has long since retired, Mary’s dedication to Carson-Newman, it’s students, her love of family, and a heart for people helped the school be more than a collection of classrooms and offices – but truly a home for many.
Dr. Frank Pinkerton’s presence in the classroom began with his own crash course at William Carey University. He had plenty of research experience, but when it came to teaching, the new educator possibly had as much to learn as his students.
“When I went to William Carey, I had never stood before a class and taught,” said Frank, adding that he had also never seen a college physics book or a biochemistry book. “You talk about green,” he laughed. “I was green – really green.”
He joined the chemistry faculty at Carson-Newman in 1978, attracted by a burgeoning science division. The green had faded, and a common thread developed. Whether as the school’s chemistry professor or as the women’s tennis coach, Frank wanted his Carson-Newman students to be prepared for the future – a goal more easily achievable through hard work.
As Lady Eagles tennis coach for nine seasons, Pinkerton’s teams compiled a 134-57 win-loss record and an outstanding .701 winning percentage. His teams captured eight straight NAIA District 24 titles, and he earned the NAIA District Coach of the Year in women’s tennis every year between 1982-86.
Each year the goal was to travel to Kansas City, Missouri, home to the NAIA National Women’s Tournament. To sweeten the trip, the team made it a point to stop at Tippin’s Restaurant while there for one of its famous cream or fruit pies. It was a trip they made eight times.
“It became our war cry as a team,” Frank recalled. “We’d say, ‘you can’t play like that and eat pie at the end of the year.’ It helped instead of browbeating them to use motivation through the stomach,” he laughed.
As delicious as Tippin’s pies were, the chemistry professor made sure that academics came first. Frank’s teams produced at least one Academic All-American each year he coached. The coach was known to even let players skip a practice if they needed to attend a lab or study for an important exam. He credits his student-athletes’ self-discipline for much of their success.
In the classroom, he challenged his students every day – particularly within the Health Professions Program, a curriculum he took over in 1990, the same year he earned the Distinguished Faculty Award. While cream pie was not involved in the motivation, the same level of intensity was there.
“I wanted that same kind of preparation academically, and just as competitive of a process, to gain admission to a health professions school,” said Frank, who, along with his colleagues, ensured their health professions students were fully prepared for medical schools and graduate programs.
He continues to relish the time he worked with his students, particularly in organic chemistry and watching what he called “their lightbulb coming on.”
But some of his most gratifying moments connected to his 33 years at C-N are hearing from those same students he challenged years earlier. “It means a lot when I’m talking to my students years later and hearing them say they were satisfied and fulfilled in their jobs and for making the right career choice.”
Joe Bill Sloan
The son of 1932 Carson-Newman graduates, Joe Bill Sloan grew up three blocks from campus. His dad, Albert Sloan, worked at the University for 40 years as professor of mathematics and CFO, so Mossy Creek not only served as a backdrop to Sloan’s childhood, but a centerpiece.
“That’s where I grew up. It’s in my DNA,” Joe Bill shared. “The seeds were sown by virtually living on campus as a child.”
He attended Jefferson Elementary School when it was located in C-N’s former Pedersen Nursing Building and later worked at Tallent’s Drug Store where The Creek restaurant is now housed in downtown Jefferson City. It was a job he held from age 13 until graduating from college. Joe Bill was truly a son of the community and a child of Carson-Newman.
It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a bit of a work ethic, although I never viewed it as work,” he said. “It was just fun.”
Like his two sisters, brother, mother, aunt, and wife, Brenda, Joe Bill graduated from Carson-Newman. The 1967 alumnus joined the faculty ranks soon after. In his years of teaching in the History and Political Science Department, he served as chair and later dean of the Social Sciences Division. He ensured that whatever role in which he served was done with excellence. Such excellence is hard to go unnoticed. The University awarded him the R.R. Turner Spirit of the College Award. For his work in the classroom, he earned the Distinguished Faculty Award, and is the only two-time recipient of the Outstanding Student Advisor Award.
In 2004, Joe Bill was asked to serve on Carson-Newman’s senior staff as associate provost. Three years later, just like R.R. Bryan, his alma mater looked to him again for leadership as he was selected to serve as interim president, a role he fulfilled before returning to do what he loved most – teaching. “I missed the daily contact with collegues and students,” he recalled. Though he appreciates the administrative opportunities, it was not where his heart was. “I did not want to retire as an administrator. I wanted to retire as a teacher.
“It was when I was teaching that I was the happiest,” he said. “It was when I felt the most productive. I enjoyed working with students, advising students and helping them get accepted to good jobs, law schools and graduate programs. I enjoyed seeing them develop from the beginning of their college career to the completion of it. That was very rewarding.”
Though he retired in 2010 after 40 years, he still reflects fondly on his past students. “I want my former students to remember me as someone who was challenging, approachable, knew the subject matter, and supported them and the goals they were setting for their lives,” he said. “I was extremely fortunate to spend my career at Carson-Newman. I was given opportunities there that were remarkable. I didn’t seek them, but they just occurred.
“The school is recognizing me, but in a turnabout way – I feel I’m the fortunate one.”