At 25, Project Pumpkin unmasked
It started in a dorm room 25 years ago. Now a campus tradition and the largest student-service project, Wake Forest’s annual Halloween festival for underprivileged children began with a handful of students wanting to make a difference.
“It was literally a bunch of kids sitting around trying to decide what we could do to help other people,” recalls Libby Bell (’93), who founded Project Pumpkin in 1989. “We were a bunch of freshmen who had just met who thought we had a great idea. There was so much enthusiasm for the VSC (Volunteer Service Corps), and (vice president) Ken Zick wanted that idealism to bubble over.”
On Oct. 30 Project Pumpkin will mark its 25th anniversary — appropriately planned around a “Golden Ticket” theme with “head pumpkins,” or former chairs, invited back to campus.
The idea for Project Pumpkin grew out of the VSC, also founded in 1989. Bell, who was from Greenville, S.C., knew about Furman University’s spring carnival for children. Why wouldn’t something similar work at Wake Forest?
Bell and friends on her freshman hall — Bostwick 2B — wrote social service agencies in town to invite children to campus and lined up city buses for transportation. An older student, Dorothy Bryan Wattleworth (’90) from Bell’s hometown, recruited sororities and fraternities to escort children and organize games. Ken Zick (P ’02, ’03), University Chaplain Ed Christman (’50, JD ’53) and VSC coordinator Henry Cooper (’53) were early and enthusiastic supporters.
Founders didn’t think they were doing anything bold or creating an extravaganza built to last. It just seemed like a good idea, says Bell, who dreamed up the name Project Pumpkin on the fly. “Thinking about it as an adult now, I don’t know how we made it happen. It’s a testament to Wake; I don’t think that could have happened at very many other schools.”
About 125 local children that first year enjoyed carnival games, face-painting, a haunted house (which proved too scary and, Bell recalls, had to be toned down the following year) and, escorted by students dressed in Halloween costumes, trick-or-treating in Bostwick and Johnson residence halls. By the third year, the event expanded to all of the South Campus residence halls, with 700 children attending.
In the mid-1990s, students began visiting with children at local agencies to create decorations for the big day. In 1995 Project Pumpkin moved to Hearn Plaza, and attendance has swelled to 1,000 to 1,200 local children each year. About 1,500 students escort the children, pass out candy, host games and provide entertainment. Food Lion donates 70,000 pieces of candy a year.
“When the first busloads of children arrived, we all saw the magic of this vision,” says Katy Pugh Smith (’93), who worked with Bell that first year. “We also understood the importance of Wake’s motto and what a special place Wake Forest was that it would allow freshmen who’d been on campus only two months to launch an event that 25 years later would be a tradition.”
Carroll O’Connor (before Archie and Meathead)
Long before he was Archie Bunker, Carroll O’Connor was a Demon Deacon. Thirty years before O’Connor played his iconic role as America’s favorite loudmouth bigot on the 1970s groundbreaking television show “All in the Family,” he was a student on the Old Campus.
By his own account, he was a poor student who spent far more time in Shorty Joyner’s pool hall in downtown Wake Forest than in class. He dropped out before finishing his freshman year. But decades later he fondly recalled his time on the “old magnolia campus” in a letter to then-senior H. Walter Townshend (’73).
Townshend, who was then chair of a speaker series, invited O’Connor to speak on campus in 1972. O’Connor politely turned down the invitation, but in a personal letter to Townshend, he offered an interesting glimpse into his time at Wake Forest. (O’Connor reprinted the letter in full in his 1998 autobiography, “I Think I’m Outta Here: A Memoir of All My Families.”)
“I am delighted that some of your colleagues remember me from the days (three wars ago) of the old magnolia campus at Wake Forest, though I was seen far less on campus than in Shorty Joyner’s pool hall in the town,” he wrote.
O’Connor grew up in Queens, N.Y., and had just turned 17 when he enrolled at Wake Forest in the fall of 1941. “I came to Wake in a funny way,” he wrote. “A close friend of mine in New York was planning to go there and I wanted to go where he went, so knowing nothing about the college, I applied and was accepted. My friend then changed his mind, but my mother refused to let me follow suit a second time. Off I went in September 1941 to meet Shorty Joyner and became a truly dangerous nine-ball player. I was a wretched student — utterly disinterested in the classroom learning situation.”
Townshend, president and CEO of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce, has O’Connor’s letter framed in his office.
“I can almost remember the day I went to the post office and there was the letter from Carroll O’Connor,” he said. “I was disappointed that he couldn’t come, but because of who Carroll O’Connor was and more importantly the warmth and elements that he placed in the letter — talking about Shorty’s pool hall and not being fond of ‘Tarheels’ — it’s an interesting part of Wake Forest history and television history.”
O’Connor also wrote about the “few girls at the old men’s college” and the “sheer futility” of falling in love with the daughter of a faculty member. He took to the road, “via thumb,” to visit Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro. Decades before he played Archie Bunker and later the more tolerant Southern police chief Bill Gillespie in “In the Heat of the Night,” he learned some things about racial attitudes in the South.
“Believe it or not, one heard many, many whites even then expressing a certainty — yes, and an anxious wish — that the segregationist culture would soon wither away. … I knew a number of racists of the bird-brained wind-bag type but my larger impression of Carolinians (forgive me, but I am not fond of ‘Tarheels’) was not at all of a hard people, but of a very sweet people — probably trapped and confused, as James Baldwin believes, in their own incomprehensible American history.”
O’Connor dropped out of Wake Forest in the spring of 1942. He later attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and served briefly aboard a freighter during World War II and then as a civilian seaman. He returned to college at the University of Montana and graduated in 1951. He last visited the Old Campus in 1945, he wrote Townshend.
“I was a merchant seaman then — a fireman on an oil tanker, and we were lying useless in Miami with a broken boiler when Truman dropped his persuaders on the Japanese. I quit my ship and found a fellow who was driving to New York, and when we came through Wake Forest we stopped at Mrs. Wootten’s (sic) guesthouse on Route One. I roamed around the town that evening saying hello here and there, and I was touched and surprised almost to the point of disbelief that so many people remembered me — and not only remembered me, but welcomed me back, welcomed me home with love.”
For three weeks 50 years ago, four smart, clean-cut Wake Forest students captured the attention of the campus — and a large national following — on the popular CBS General Electric “College Bowl” quiz show.
Before an estimated national television audience of 22 million viewers on three Sunday afternoons in March 1963, the team — senior Diana Gilliland (’63), junior Frank Wood (’64, MA ’71) and sophomores Jim Shertzer (’65, MA ’71) and Florence Wisman (’65) — won two rounds on the show, broadcast live from New York City, before losing to Kenyon College in the third round.
They had to overcome an unlikely foe to even make it to New York: Bullwinkle the Moose. “One of the big problems is finding a TV set on campus for the College Bowlers to watch the competition,” psychology professor and College Bowl Coach David Hills told the Old Gold and Black during practice sessions in early 1963. “There simply aren’t many TVs available. The few that are available are tied up with Bullwinkle the Moose, which is telecast at the same time on another network.”
Before the trip to New York City for the first round, team members practiced feverishly. For the final practice session, they faced off against the alternate team of sophomore Charles Myers (’65) and seniors Doug McCorkindale (’63), Bill Wallace (’63) and Judy Wrinkle (’63) during the weekly chapel service. (The alternate team won.) Local television station WSJS taped the competition to make it as realistic as possible.
On March 3, 1963, in a live broadcast on CBS, the team came from behind in the final two minutes to defeat the University of Kansas City, 275-215. A week later — bolstered by a good-luck telegram from actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, whom they met at a Broadway play the night before — they cruised to a 315-80 victory over an Emory University team coached by alumnus Dan Fagg (’52).
Between trips to New York every weekend, team members tried to resume their lives as normal college students while continuing to practice and answering fan mail. Writers from around the country praised the team for their good humor, cooperation and sportsmanship. But some of the letters were downright strange. A writer from Michigan admonished Wood to “keep his hands off those gals.” A letter from a “Greenwich Village personality, beard and all,” asked Gilliland for a date, the OG&B reported. (She declined.) A Northern college student asked if Southern girls wore shoes.
The team’s run came to an end on March 17, 1963, in a 275-245 loss to Kenyon College. It was a “miracle,” a Kenyon team member said afterward. Along with good will from around the country, the team won $3,500 from General Electric for the Wake Forest scholarship fund and $200 from Winston-Salem radio station WTOB. North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford, the North Carolina Legislature and the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen sent their congratulations.
The team competed “with charm, with spirit and with a solid store of knowledge,” noted the Winston-Salem Journal. Gilliland told the OG&B afterward: “I wouldn’t change the experience for anything in the world, and I wouldn’t go through it again either. We showed what we could do and enjoyed it.”
Where they are today: Florence Wisman Mills of Washington, D.C., is a retired community planner with the Federal Highway Administration. Jim Shertzer of Winston-Salem is a retired art critic and reporter for the Palm Beach Post and the Winston-Salem Journal. Diana Gilliland Wright of Seattle, Wash., earned a Ph.D. in Byzantine history and has taught and written extensively. Frank Wood is Professor Emeritus of Clinical and Forensic Neuropsychology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine and has a private practice in Winston-Salem.
For an expanded version of this story, with comments from the College Bowl team members, click here.
It’s been nearly six decades since Ed Wilson, E.E. Folk, Broadus Jones and scores of other students and faculty members roamed the halls of the Alumni Building on the Old Campus.
Although the building is no longer standing, Wilson (’43), provost emeritus and professor emeritus of English, has fond memories of it. The three-story classroom building was small and unpretentious, but it served its purpose well from the early 1900s until the 1950s, he says. “I would hasten to say that the students worked hard and the teachers were good.”
To honor that legacy, this year a building on the Reynolda Campus has been renamed Alumni Hall. Previously known as the University Services Building, Alumni Hall recognizes the contributions of alumni and serves students, as its namesake did a century ago. The two-story building is home to the Alumni and Advancement offices and the Residence Life and Housing office.
The building sits on the northeastern edge of campus, behind the Worrell Professional Center for Law and Management and near Farrell Hall, now under construction. Built in 1998 for the Information Systems department, its first name was the IS Building. After Information Systems relocated several years ago, other departments moved into the building, which became known as the University Services Building.
Alumni Hall joins the ranks of other Old Campus buildings — including Wait, Johnson and Bostwick — with names carried over to the new campus.
Alumni backed establishing the original Alumni Building in the early 1900s. With only a handful of buildings on campus, the growing college needed more classroom space, especially for the medical school, which opened in 1902. Professor of Latin John B. Carlyle (MA 1887) took on the daunting task of raising money for the building. His plan to ask for donations at an alumni banquet at Commencement in 1903 was thwarted by “long-winded speakers,” he later reported, leaving no time to make his pitch. He tried again the next day and raised nearly $7,000.
Carlyle’s enthusiasm and persistence rallied alumni to the cause, Greek professor and College historian G.W. Paschal (1892) wrote in the “History of Wake Forest, Volume 3.” “Professor Carlyle, I will give you 50 dollars if you will say something nice about me,” one alumnus, R.E. Sentelle (1901), told Carlyle. “I can do it,” replied Carlyle, and he did.
With enough pledges in hand, construction began in 1904. After Alumni Building’s completion in 1906, Carlyle reported to the Board of Trustees that he had raised $16,066.78 to pay for the building, plus another $2,500 to pay for equipment. Alumni Building sat on the edge of campus, between Hunter Dormitory (no longer standing) and Wake Forest Baptist Church. At first it housed classrooms and laboratories for biological sciences and the two-year medical school. After the medical school relocated to Johnson Hall in 1933, the building hosted mathematics, physics and English classes. During World War II, the U.S. Army’s finance school used it.
Wilson remembers taking journalism classes taught by E.E. Folk (’21) and English classes taught by Broadus Jones (1910) on the building’s third floor, and physics classes taught by Bill Speas (’34, MD ’37) on the first floor. He remembers sharing classrooms with Lewis Aycock (’26), Justus Drake (’36) and D.A. Brown when he joined the faculty. Most faculty members didn’t have offices; they shared long tables in one room. One classroom on the third floor had a raised platform at one end where students performed plays. The campus lacked a theatre.
The Alumni Building was torn down after Wake Forest moved to Winston-Salem. Its cornerstone is on display at the Wake Forest College Birthplace Museum, near the Old Campus. A replica of the cornerstone is on display in the new Alumni Hall.
Soon after Wake Forest’s founding, two literary societies unfurled their banners for the first time at a grand celebration on July 4, 1835. For much of the 1800s, the Philomathesian and Euzelian societies challenged young farmers and ministerial students to study and debate historical, political and philosophical questions of the day.
With formal education at Wake Forest still in its infancy, the societies emerged to meet “a thirst for intellectualism unquenched in the classroom,” Timothy Joseph Williams (’03) wrote in his history honors thesis on the literary societies in 2002. With no other student organizations at the time, the societies also provided a sense of camaraderie. Almost every student was a Phi or Eu. Competition for new members and the coveted Society Day and Founders’ Day trophies was fierce and often bitter.
For a century, the societies guided students’ intellectual, moral and social development and heavily influenced campus life, from governing student behavior to selecting Commencement speakers. The societies met weekly in separate but equally ornate halls that had expensive carpets and draperies and portraits of distinguished alumni members covering the walls. Chairs custom-made in 1872 featured carvings of the distinctive symbols of each society — the Greek letter Phi for the Philomathesians and the fountain of knowledge symbol for the Euzelians.
Debate and oration were at the heart of the societies. In the pre-Civil War and Reconstruction eras, members debated divisive issues facing the country: Should women be educated? Should executions be public or private? Should Indians be forcibly removed from their lands? Questions of religion were off limits, unless they applied to Mormons or Catholics: Should Catholics be allowed to vote? Should Mormons be expelled from the country? As the Civil War approached, young men who would soon leave for the war debated whether slavery was evil and whether states had the right to secede from the union.
The societies also provided training in writing, with members critiquing each other’s dissertations, long before the College offered writing classes. Each society stocked its bookshelves with periodicals and history and reference books; the society libraries merged to form the College library in the 1880s. The Euzelian Society, later joined by the Philomathesians, first published the Wake Forest Student magazine in 1882 under the editorship of Thomas Dixon (1883), who later gained infamy for his novel that decried Reconstruction and equality for African-Americans and formed the basis for the film “The Birth of a Nation.”
By the early 1900s, the golden age of the societies ended. Membership fell significantly after the arrival of social fraternities in 1922. The move to the new campus in 1956 settled the societies’ fate. As their influence continued to fade, the Old Gold and Black sounded the death knell in 1959: “They serve no other purpose than to take up room on the second floor of Reynolda Hall. At one time they did serve a purpose, but that was when they constituted the bulk of extracurricular activities at Wake Forest.”
Offices for Student Government and other student organizations eventually claimed the societies’ meeting spaces on the second floor of Reynolda Hall, on what was then Pub Row. The societies’ distinctive chairs were sold; many can be found around campus.
For a time, the Philomathesians lived again after Joy Goodwin (’95) and Phil Archer (’03, MBA ’05) resurrected the name in the mid-1990s to bring students together to discuss books, music, art and literature. Members published a literary journal, The Philomathesian, until 2011. The Student magazine lives on as the literary journal Three to Four Ounces. WakeStudent.com, a news, sports and entertainment website, also pays homage to The Student of yore.
It’s been 36 years since the curtain dropped on a part of Wake Forest history. From 1956 until 1976, students staged 85 plays in two makeshift theatres on the upper floors of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.
Following the last curtain call for Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” on April 24, 1976, some 200 veterans of the campus stage gathered in Studio 8 East on the eighth floor of the library for two final acts. (An adjoining oval theatre was called Studio 7 West.)
Theatre alumna and minister Sandy Ellis-Killian (’72) “exorcised” the “theater ghost” — a mischievous spirit blamed for any problems that happen during a play — and coaxed it into a blue bottle.
Then students and alumni removed the stage’s maroon curtain — brought over from the Old Campus by the late Professor Franklin Shirley — so that “it would never open on any other actors,” recalls Professor Emeritus of Theatre Harold Tedford (P ’85, ’91). Tedford directed “Comedy of Errors” and numerous other plays in what he still fondly calls “our little magic shop.” Six months later, he directed the fi rst play, “Look Homeward, Angel,” to open the theatre’s new home in the Scales Fine Arts Center.
At 2 a.m., thespians young and old carried the curtain and bottle across campus to Scales. They hung the curtain in the rehearsal room, where it remained for many years, and freed the theatre ghost in the new theatre where it continues, occasionally, to wreak havoc on theatre productions.
During a visit to the Oval Office in July 1951, Wake Forest President Harold W. Tribble (second from left) formally invites President Harry S. Truman to speak at the groundbreaking for the new campus.
After rejecting plans to schedule the groundbreaking around a Wake Forest-North Carolina football game, Tribble sought the assistance of Gordon Gray, son of Bowman Gray and formerly Secretary of the Army, to approach Truman.
That led to a White House visit by (from left) Gray; Tribble; Charles Babcock; Egbert L. Davis;Charlotte Ann Olive, daughter of Judge Hubert Olive; and Olive, president of the Wake Forest Board of Trustees.
According to Tribble, Truman reviewed architectural plans for the new campus and suggested changes to Wait Chapel: “He placed his hand over the lower part of the picture, and studied it for a few seconds,” Tribble later wrote. “Then he said, ‘The steeple is out of proportion to the rest of the building.’ I assured him that I would report his suggestion to our architect.”
Truman delivered a major foreign policy address at the groundbreaking on Oct. 15, 1951. Soon afterwards construction began on Wait Chapel, according to the original plans.