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Teaching. Encouraging. Leading. Wilhelmine Tew Damon

By Staff
This is one of those back to schoolhouse exercises. Today's new word is "ebullient." The meaning is "overflowing with enthusiasm."
Evening last the Board of Trustees of Meridian Community College honored one of my colleagues who defines "ebullient." The MCC Fitness Center is now the Wilhelmine Tew Damon Fitness Center.
There is a small collection of MCC'ers who accord each other the tag, "Z-Day Crew." Mrs. Damon is the spiritual advisor and cheerleader of that collection of folk. After all, she championed the name, "Z-Day."
Meridian Community College spent most of the 1964-65 academic year housed in a cast off elementary school which was quickly tagged "Stevenson Tech." Located immediately south of the Meridian Public Schools' Central Office, the Stevenson School now serves as apartments.
Making the move
In the Spring of 1965 as the "new" college campus on Highway 19 North neared completion, the faculty decided to physically share in making the move out Eighth Street to Ivy Hall, our new digs.
The year we spent at Stevenson Elementary School was almost magic. The old building had beautiful wooden floors, high ceilings, ample windows, fairly wide halls, and a variety of spaces suitable for our purposes.
Science labs and a cafeteria-coffee shop occupied the basement, and offices, classrooms and labs consumed the first floor. The Stevenson School had a top floor assembly space or auditorium which doubled as our library. And yes, there were classrooms accessible only through the library.
Some classes were held in other places. Art, physical education, marketing, electronics and drafting were taught at Kate Griffin, Meridian High School and the "Teen Center." In spite of, or maybe because of the chaos and inconvenience, an unusual bond among faculty and students was created.
Adventure
The 1964-65 school year was, indeed, an adventure. Or in the language of that day, "a real happening." In January of 1965, it was decided that MCC should occupy the new campus as soon as possible. A reward, of sorts, for enduring the "Stevenson Tech" experience.
How does a college move? After a bit of stewing around, someone jokingly said "have each student carry their desk to the new location." A wild idea? Not at all. The Z-Day Crew "made it so."
Faculty and staff planned the move. Every stick of furniture was tagged for its new location. Students were enlisted to serve on faculty led moving teams. The question of what to call the moving day remained unanswered.
And then Wilhelmine Damon brought her considerable motivational skills to the planning process. I can still hear "Why not call it Z-Day, after all, it will be z-day we move?" That made sense. It still makes sense.
Moving day
Then Wilhelmine, the cheerleader, talked her colleagues into costuming themselves for moving day. Faculty/student teams selected names as well as appropriate garb. It was like Halloween in May. I've never been entirely sure that the "Z" was not for zany.
And the move was completed by lunch. Everything. The "junior college" grew, expanded and charged ahead. Today's Meridian Community College was built upon the experiences the "Z-day crew" shared. The bonds of the human spirit built at "Stevenson Tech" which found expression on "Z-Day" served your community college well.
The hands of the clock spin and the pages of the calendar flip and suddenly it is over a third of a century later. Flexibility, teamwork and service to community became continuing values for the college family.
Wilhelmine Damon was a pioneer of this spirit across those years. And in active retirement she remains the head cheerleader.
She brought aerobics to MCC and this community. She taught her colleagues and community about the word, "wellness," a term which has morphed into "fitness." And Wilhelmine pioneered MCC's first community-based personal development program, "adventures in attitudes."
Good teachers pass along knowledge, skills and values. Great teachers build beyond that base to touch the human spirit. Wilhelmine models joy for her colleagues, her students, her friends and her family. She is a great teacher.
The Wilhelmine Tew Damon Fitness Center. More than merited. More than deserved. Absolutely correct. Just right.
And yesterday was "Z-Day."
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at wscaggs@meridianstar.com.

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