UVa-Wise is officially 60 years old. From the ever-watchful caretaker to a family of pigs interrupting the first convocation, this campus has stories to tell that even its students may not know.
Originally called Clinch Valley College, and before that a poor farm, the facility in 1954 welcomed the first class of students, which was primarily composed of Korean War veterans attending the college courtesy of the G.I. Bill. At the time, the college was a two-year institution.
“It was a lot of fun. It was like a large family,” said Clara Lipps, the college’s second enrolled student, and wife of James Lipps, who was the first enrolled student.
James Lipps worked at the college for 42 years, starting out as custodian and rising to the position of director of buildings and grounds, where he remained until his retirement in the late 1990s.
The college developed under the watch of Jim Lipps; he and his wife were such important parts of campus that all the students and employees knew them.
“The students used to say, ‘If you need something, call Jim Lipps,’” Clara Lipps said.
The three men credited with getting the college going are Kenneth Asbury, Fred Greear and William Thompson, all of whom are recognized in the names of buildings across campus. Through the years the college has developed the land beyond the poor farm, added buildings and parking lots, and, after many polls questioning a name change, become The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
In 1966, a group of representatives moved to have the institution kept out of the community college program and granted the status of a four year university. The final decision, made after numerous court dates, lead to the college’s first third-year class.
1968 was the first opportunity to have three years of attendance towards one major at CVC and 1969 was the first fourth year, which lead to the first four-year graduating class in 1970.
According to Brian Wills in his book “No Ordinary College: A History of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise,” an anonymous resident once said, “Well, I don’t know if y’all know anything about building a college or not, but you certainly ruined the best damn farm in Wise County,” indicating that the college hasn’t always had total support.
Assistant Professor of French, Michael O’Donnell, disagreed with this particular sentiment.
“Any time people pile two bricks on top of each other, the way I look at it, it’s called growth and I think it’s all good,” said O’D, who has seen a lot of this in his 47 years with the college.
The college has grown in its 60 years and has taken in students from farther regions than it started with, even seeing exchange students come from as far as Siberia.
Although much has changed, there is one thing that hasn’t: the Lipps family’s devotion.
The Lipps family has always watched over campus with hearts full of care. According to his wife, Jim Lipps even took time out of his busy life to ride through campus every Christmas morning to make sure everything was okay, a tradition that his son has now adopted for his father’s sake.