Growing up in a family of 11 children in Albemarle County, Virginia, a college education seemed an unimaginable dream. At one point, despite my parents’ objections, I seriously considered dropping out of high school. At best, a career in the military appeared to be my most reasonable option.
A recruitment letter from Ferrum College football coach, Hank Norton, changed my plans and subsequently impacted the rest of my life. When I visited the Ferrum campus the school appealed to me immediately. I liked the rural setting, the small enrollment and especially the congenial atmosphere. The students I met were friendly and welcoming.
Initially, becoming acclimated to college life was difficult. Living in a crowded Quonset hut for several weeks, attending classes, working three hours a day in the cafeteria and rigorous football practices — all took a toll on me. Without a car and limited spending money, there were few diversions, but despite those early doubts and challenges, I persevered because I felt fortunate to be part of the Ferrum family.
Ferrum College was far more than an educational institution; it was a large extended family. Office doors were always open, and the students were treated as family members. Faculty and staff supported all student activities and treated students as respected individuals.
Frequently, on Sunday mornings Dr. Ray Warlick invited two students to breakfast at his residence for homemade blueberry pancakes. Following church services they would visit historic Mabry’s Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Dr. Warlick attended all football games.
The Ferrum College administration genuinely cared about the welfare of the student body. On one extremely frigid morning, students registering for second-semester classes stood in a line that extended out onto the sidewalk from Beckham Hall. President Dr. Ralph Arthur, on his way to the cafeteria, stopped briefly to chat with the students; then a few minutes later trays of cups filled with steaming coffee and hot chocolate were delivered to those waiting in line.
Faculty members encouraged all students to continue their education, as Ferrum was a junior college at the time. Students were encouraged to set goals and strive to achieve those objectives. For me personally, football coach Hank Norton and AD/baseball coach Gene Evans, were instrumental in encouraging, motivating and insisting that I seek advanced degrees. Both continued their encouragement after I began my career at Louisa County High School in 1968 and have maintained contact since then — nearly 50 years later.
Ferrum College gave me an opportunity, a second chance, and for that I will always be grateful. That opportunity enabled me to continue my education at East Tennessee State University (BS) and subsequently earn a graduate degree from the University of Virginia (M.Ed.)
In reflecting on a 31-year career in public education as a teacher, coach and administrator, and currently in my third term on the Louisa County (VA) School Board, I realize that none of this would have been possible without the opportunity provided by Ferrum College. My experiences at Ferrum College inspired me to share the Ferrum spirit (“Not self, but others”) with younger generations.
The best two years of my life were spent on the Ferrum campus. Students I met there became life-long friends and many of us continue to communicate.
Thank you Ferrum College for making a difference in my life. I am extremely proud to be a member of the Ferrum family.
Sherman T. Shifflett ’64, Louisa, VA