Highlights: 1960s—Everyday People…
Blue Ridge Community College began its existence in an unpretentious ceremony involving only a dozen participants in late August. The Daily News-Record reported, “Gathered on the eastern knoll of the tree-fringed campus—with Interstate 81 in the background—to inaugurate the $1,500,000 educational building project were members of the College board of visitors, president, architects, contractors, and a few friends.”
Dr. Douglas M. Montgomery was the first president of the College, 1966-1969. Dr. Montgomery was a 20-year veteran of the United States Air Force, serving as a fighter pilot in WWII and Korea. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School, and also received degrees from Florida State University. He would later move to the presidency of Tidewater Community College when it opened in 1969.
BRCC, briefly known as Shenandoah Technical College, started its service in the Shenandoah Valley primarily as a technical school to train individuals for employment in area businesses. Before the first buildings were completed, there was a need to house newly hired faculty and staff, so the College rented a vacated elementary school in Mount Sidney, which was affectionately called “Fort Sidney” by the occupants.
October 2, 1967—At 8 a.m., the first day of classes had arrived. Students came in surprising numbers. By the end of the first week, over 500 students were enrolled. By the end of the first academic year, over 900 students were enrolled. The Daily News-Record again recorded the event: “Blue Ridge is enormously important in the Valley’s educational system. Its graduates should play important roles in the region’s progressive economy.” An open house in November drew 1,000 attendees to tour the new facility. Twelve, two-year Associate degree programs were offered.
The year 1967 had a number of other significant “firsts”:
- The world’s first heart transplant operation was performed in South Africa by Dr. Christiaan N Barnard.
- Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as the first African-American Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
- Super Bowl I was played.
As a further step toward full accreditation, BRCC hosted a committee from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Dr. James A. Armstrong became president, serving until 1985.
The first commencement was held on the main campus with 133 degrees conferred.
John Chiles, a dentist from Staunton, became the first African-American to serve on the College Board.
The student newspaper, The Spokesman, covered school dances, reviewed the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and ran editorials against the war in Vietnam.