Smiddy Hall is rededicated

The newly renovated Smiddy Hall welcomes visitors to The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, just as its namesake Joseph C. Smiddy did during his three decades of service to the College.

“It greets you, just like Joe did,” said Smiddy’s longtime friend and colleague George Culbertson as the College rededicated Smiddy Hall on Tuesday, June 11.

Culbertson joined University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan and UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry and others in a ceremony that honored Smiddy, the College’s first chancellor, and his tireless and often unique efforts to nurture a young two-year school into a thriving four-year institution.  

“He became the face of this institution,” Culbertson, a member of the College’s Class of 1957 said. “Everyone knew and trusted Joe, and they trusted that he was going to do the right thing.”

The genius of Smiddy was and still remains his ability to work with people and to cultivate those relationships in ways that benefitted the College, Culbertson said. Smiddy’s priority was academics, and he made sure that those without financial resources had a way to attend college.

“Throughout the history of the institution, you see the genius of Joe,” Culbertson said.

 Culbertson reminded the crowd that Smiddy defied Virginia segregation laws and admitted the first black student when it was illegal to do so. He recalled how Smiddy and powerful Virginia Delegate Orby Cantrell worked in Richmond on a bill that allowed the College to become a four-year institution.

“I think the stars were in alignment when Joe was convinced to come here,” Culbertson said.

Chancellor Henry called Smiddy an illustrious man who provided extraordinary service to UVa-Wise.

Smiddy rededication“As chancellor, he knew well the sacrifice that families made to give their children access to higher education,” Henry said. “He espoused and modeled the ‘can do’ attitude, passionate engagement and total perseverance that made students successful here.”

Chancellor Henry said UVa-Wise would “rededicate” itself to the principles Smiddy established.

President Sullivan said the words Virginia uses to market southwestern Virginia apply to Smiddy as well.

“Authentic, distinctive and alive,” she said. “You are certainly authentic. You are certainly distinctive. You worked for decades to serve and lead this College so students could become distinguished leaders.”

Smiddy’s “aliveness” refers to his “great human vibrancy” and “aliveness” that worked its way into every aspect of the College, she said.

“This is a great day for my family and my friends and for all those people who helped me be here on this day,” Smiddy said.

Smiddy recalled how the entire College worked as a team to serve the region, even if that included the chancellor grabbing a mop to clean up after a roof leak.

“You didn’t have anyone to call in those days,” he said. “You just grabbed a mop.”

Completed in 1972 as the administration building, Smiddy Hall was officially named in 1985 on the occasion of Smiddy’s retirement after 30 years of leadership and service to the College. Smiddy Hall was renovated in 2011 to house faculty and administrative offices as well as classrooms. A new Information Technology wing was added to the building during the renovation.

Smiddy, a native of Jellico, Tenn., helped establish Clinch Valley College, now known as UVa-Wise. After his service in World War II, the educator, storyteller and traditional Appalachian musician, began his career as a high school teacher, band director and principal in the Lee County Public Schools. He was hired as the College’s first biology professor in 1954 and later served as dean and director of the College prior to being named its first chancellor.

He cultivated the fledgling College from a two-year institution to a four-year college. Under his leadership, CVC was the first state college or university founded in Virginia without a policy of racial exclusion and was the first to recruit actively among all races.  He stayed true to the College’s mission of making higher education available to all regardless of financial circumstances.


Photo: Tim Cox