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Building a strong foundation

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Robert B. Garrett had a 24-year career at Central Carolina Community College in Harnett County. He ... (more)

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The groundbreaking ceremony for the High Technology Building on the Harnett County Campus in Lillington ... (more)

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The Continuing Education Building, competed in 1985, was the first building on Central Carolina Community ... (more)

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Wellon's Warehouse, on Ashe Avenue in Dunn, provided space for the college's Machine Shop and other ... (more)

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The Samuel R. Mirello Administration and Classroom Building opened in 1998 on Central Carolina Community ... (more)

05.30.2012College & CommunitySpecial Events

LILLINGTON - As Central Carolina Community College celebrates its 50th Anniversary, Bob Garrett, of Broadway, looks back with great fondness on his years with the college.

In 1979, CCCC was called Central Carolina Technical College. Garrett was a young teacher at Lillington Middle School, studying to be a school counselor, when he was hired as the college's Continuing Education coordinator for Harnett County.

He went on to serve as the associate dean for Harnett County, and finally, Harnett County provost from 1995 to 2003. Garrett retired in 2003, after 24 years of service.

"I wanted to grow and expand the college in Harnett," Garrett said. "I had a simple guiding philosophy, much like a Biblical command: I always felt like the more we did for our students and citizens, the more good we were doing for our fellowman. The more you can do, the more you can help people, the more they have to choose from."

CCCC started as the Lee County Industrial Education Center, offering its first vocational extension classes in 1961 in Lee.

Harnett government, education, business and community leaders wanted adult education and extension classes offered to their county residents. In 1965, the commissioners made Maple Grove School, in Dunn, available to the LCIEC for offering classes. Educator J.P. Crumpler served as supervisor. In 1972, Jean Collins became the college's first full-time coordinator of extension programs in Harnett.

Donald Buie became the college's first coordinator of Continuing Education for Harnett County in 1975. He later served as the Lee County-based dean of Continuing Education, in charge of those college programs in Lee, Harnett and Chatham counties. Buie retired in 2002, leaving a legacy of service that helped lay the foundation for what the college has become. He passed away in 2007.

"I worked under Don at the college," Garrett said. "He was one of the best people, the best leaders - a model person. People loved and respected him."

Harnett is a large, spread-out county and, in 1979, it had only 64,000 people. When Garrett started, there was no campus, no permanent building, no full-time instructors - not even a secretary.

"I can only describe my work at that time as being an educational missionary," Garrett said. "We had to take the classes to the people. "

Garrett's job quickly expanded with the growing need for both vocational training and curriculum classes. County and community leaders worked hard to find places that would accommodate the college's growing presence.

"We were totally dependent on Harnett communities to host the classes," Garrett said. "Being able to use the Harnett County Public Schools for adult evening class was critical for providing educational opportunities throughout the county. We had training wherever we could ... in community buildings, churches, libraries, shops, etc. I remember when we had a flower arranging class that met in a funeral home!"

The college also provided specialized training for existing industries at their plants.

The county commissioners appointed a committee to pursue the goal of establishing a permanent training center. In 1982, a 16-acre site was purchased on East Cornelius Harnett Boulevard, in Lillington. That was the beginning of Central Carolina Community College's Harnett County Campus. Garrett said the empty lot was his "Field of Dreams."

"There was nothing but weeds and trees at first, but finally we got a building we owned," he said. "It quickly filled up and we just kept growing."

The first building, Continuing Education, was competed in 1985. A 7,100-square-foot expansion was added in 1987, doubling the size of the facility.

More locations were added as the college grew. The West Harnett Center opened in the former Benhaven Medical Center and the cosmetology program expanded into Dunn.

In 1986, a major step forward was accomplished when the Harnett commissioners appointed Samuel R. Miriello and William A. Shaw as the first representatives from the county on the college's board of trustees. Both men had worked hard to establish the college in Harnett.

Garrett speaks with admiration of Dr. Marvin R. Joyner, president from 1983-2004, and his support for the college in Harnett.

"Dr. Joyner had the attitude that the college had a three-county service area, not just big in Lee County with satellites in Harnett and Chatham," he said, "He was not a stranger to Harnett, not to the college, not to business."

Garrett said one of the first conversations he had with Joyner was about having a General Educational Development (GED) testing center in Harnett. At that time, all students had to travel to the Lee Campus for their GED tests. Harnett had the most students to test and Garrett felt it was a hardship and disadvantage for them to travel to Sanford.

"I said to Dr. Joyner, 'Any chance to get a GED testing center in Harnett?'" Garrett recalled. "Dr. Joyner said, 'I don't know why not.' If I had known him better, I'd have jumped across his desk and hugged him. It still brings tears to my eyes to mention it."

CCCC has always reached out to its communities in many ways. In 1987, a partnership of the college, county and Dunn Area Committee of 100 created the Triangle South Enterprise Center. The Center is a business incubator, meeting the challenge of helping small businesses succeed and contribute to the economic energy of their communities.

In 2001, a very different challenge had to be met. Erwin was called the "Denim Capital of the World" and the town and county sustained a blow when Swift Denim (formerly Erwin Mills) closed its doors. About 1,000 residents lost their jobs.

In response to the closing, the college set up programs to retrain the workers. So many needing training that Garrett concentrated on the curriculum programs and [then-Basic Education Coordinator] Alice Gilchrist spearheaded the Continuing Education training programs.

"Alice did a fantastic job," Garrett said. "as she did with all her Continuing Education programs throughout Harnett County."

He added that the college had to have buildings, programs, equipment, budgets, etc., but it was always the employees that made it great.

By the time Provost Garrett retired in 2003, the college in Harnett had 60 employees and three buildings on the Harnett Campus: Continuing Education, Bob R. Etheridge Advanced Technology Center, and the Samuel R. Miriello Administration Building.

"Bob did an excellent job," said Joyner. "When I came to the college, he was the person in Harnett County. As we developed the Harnett County Campus, Bob demonstrated excellent leadership in helping to establish it and make it a viable operation."

Garret visited the Harnett Campus recently, thinking about the changes that have taken place over the years.

"I feel like a proud grandfather," he said. "I look around and remember when we did that or added this. I never lost that love of the college over 24 years."