Fifty years ago today, the Board of Regents at the University System of Georgia voted to create a new junior college in Cobb.
This was only after former Cobb Commissioner Herbert McCollum and the Cobb and Marietta school boards submitted a formal application to the state for a new college.
Cobb wasn’t the first choice for a new junior college in the early 1960s, though. Then-Gov. Carl Sanders wanted it to be in Bartow County, per a campaign promise he made prior to his election.
It took a 28-man steering committee, chaired by former Marietta Daily Journal executive editor Robert D. Fowler, now deceased, to encourage the regents and advocate for this area because of Cobb’s “booming economy.”
“With Cobb growing like wildfire in the early 1960s, the need for a local liberal arts institution was obvious,” one MDJ article stated. “The county promised to donate the land and pass a bond issue to provide all the roads, equipment, landscaping and utilities.”
On Oct. 9, 1963, Cobb County was named the new location for a new junior college and about five months later the regents approved a campus site in north Cobb between Steve Frey and Frey Lake roads, which was formerly owned by Steve Frey Farms.
In April 1964, 88 percent of Cobb and Marietta voters approved a $2.35 million, 30-year bond for the college, and the 152-acre farm near Kennesaw was purchased for $100,000 less than two months later.
“There was such tremendous community support for it,” said KSU Professor Emeritus of History Tom Scott. “They were all out campaigning for Kennesaw.”
Scott released a detailed book about the school’s history, “Kennesaw State University: The First Fifty Years, 1963 – 2013.” He personally began teaching history at the school in 1968 and still gives lectures 45 years later at age 70.
The late Horace Sturgis was named the school’s first president in May 1965, and in August the school was named Kennesaw Junior College.
Original professors proud of 50-year legacy
The first classes were held on Sept. 26, 1966, at what is now Southern Polytechnic State University, because Kennesaw Junior College was still under construction. And in that first year, 1,014 students were enrolled in the two-year school.
“I enjoyed my time enormously at Kennesaw,” said John Greider, a 30-year Kennesaw professor and one of the school’s first three division chairs. “Dr. Sturgis was a fine president and he took care and concern for students and teachers.”
Greider learned about the new school after returning to Atlanta from earning his doctorate at the University of Liverpool in England. He met with Sturgis, explained he was interested in a job there and in 1966 was named the division chair of humanities.
The Marietta resident retired in 1996 and said he is proud of how much the school has grown.
“I’m very happy that I was able to make a contribution to the students at Kennesaw,” he said.
Rosemary Beggs, whose husband is the late George Beggs, was another first-time Kennesaw professor.
She said their family moved to Marietta in 1966 from Mobile, Ala., and he was chair of the division of Social Sciences.
“We are originally from south Georgia and he graduated from Emory University, so this was something we looked forward to — the opportunity to be near the Atlanta area again,” Beggs said.
She recalled the first few years at the school and her husband’s nearly 30-year career at Kennesaw being a “wonderful experience.” He died in 2009.
“You don’t get many opportunities to start a college,” she said. “And I just remember the closeness that the faculty had … we had faculty parties and get-togethers and everybody knew everybody.”
Professor J.B. Tate, who now lives in Cartersville, joined the school’s staff and taught American history.
“Kennesaw was my life for years,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and I wasn’t burned out when I retired … I reached my magic point.”
The now-76-year-old retired in 1993 but on occasion has been asked to come back and lecture.
“I got lost when I was there (Monday),” Tate said in talking about the school’s growth. “It’s like I have never been there, but anywhere you look on that campus, there are lots of things that weren’t there, like student housing.”
KSU nearing 25,000 student mark
The school is approaching 25,000 students and is the third largest college in Georgia. It also has 3,500 units for on-campus student living.
Tate’s colleague, Scott, started teaching at Kennesaw in 1968 at just 25 years old. He moved there from his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn.
“There was a spirit at Kennesaw that was very attractive because there was a great deal of pride in what we did,” Scott said.
Scott said from the beginning, students had a sense that they belonged.
“There was a philosophy,” Scott recalled. “We’re going to be the best junior college that there is in the state of Georgia if not the whole South.”
Scott also said the Cobb community nurtured and helped mold the school into what it is today.
“There’s just a lot that I’ve been very proud of over the last 45 years,” he said. “I just think it’s a fascinating story and I’m proud of being part of it all those years.”
Scott began writing his book shortly after his retirement in 2011 and helped the staff at the Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books on the Kennesaw campus create the exhibit, “Kennesaw State Spirit: KSU at 50,” which is about the school’s history.
The exhibition is free and open to the public, and viewable during library hours, which are as follows: Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 – 10 p.m.