WF’s Tribble Years:
Retiring College Chief Had His Share of Trouble, Starting With ‘Big Move’
Journal-Sentinel, October 16, 1966
The following story is about
some of the highlights of the administration of Wake Forest College President
Harold W. Tribble, who announced his retirement Friday. It was prepared
by Russel Brantley, director of communications at the college. It deals
primarily with events on the old and new campus and does not take into
account changes at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine during Tribble’s
There must have been times
during the past 16 years when Dr. Harold W. Tribble felt like the general
at Custer’s last stand, but he always managed to escape with scalp and
And he always returned to
An apostle of change, Tribble
was thrust into a changing situation when he became president of Wake
Forest College in 1950. The college had a commitment dating back to 1946
to move to Winston-Salem, but there were many people offering odds that
the college would never make it.
The trustees who selected
Tribble had one task in mind. He was to make the move a reality. He did
so, but only after the cost of the campus climbed from an estimated $6
million in 1950 to $19½ million when the move was made in 1956.
The college, particularly after the move, also made some impressive academic
Yet, during most of this time,
Tribble was beset by varying groups of enemies.
It probably is accurate to
say that most of his problems stemmed from opposition to the move, fears
that he favored de-emphasis of athletics, and concern among some members
of the Baptist State Convention that the college was losing touch with
the denomination that founded it.
His enemies would add one
further point – his personality. They often claimed he was a dictator,
that he disrupted faculty morale.
Alumni opposition to Tribble
centered on the months immediately before and after the move. Convention
opposition came mostly after the college was firmly established in its
The college newspaper, Old
Gold and Black, spoke prophetically about Tribble in September 1950.
The editors had just heard
his first address to the student body, and in an editorial they said,
in part: "Somehow, the Winston challenge seems a little less formidable
now with him to point the way…An yet we knew from what he said that here
was a man of conviction, who would take a stand whenever the occasion
demanded, even though it might lose him some of the friends he can now
claim. We knew that sooner or later he would have to lose some of them."
That same issue spoke of Tribble’s
"seemingly boundless energy and vitality."
Tribble spoke of making Wake
Forest a university during his inaugural address Nov. 28, 1950. He said
it was "inescapably implicit in the removal and enlargement program."
There was one ironic note
about the inauguration. A special issue of the college newspaper carried
ads paid for by alumni in Wilson and Wake Counties, Greensboro and Durham.
They hailed Tribble.
In March 1951 some of those
same alumni would be indignant because football coach D. C. "Peahead"
Walker had resigned over a salary dispute.
Tribble said he opposed a
raise for Walker because the college was unable to give the faculty a
raise. That marked the first open breach between Tribble and alumni.
Tribble stumped the state
those months, pleading for money and moral support.
On Oct. 15, 1951, groundbreaking
exercises were held at the site of the new campus in Winston-Salem. President
Harry Truman was the speaker.
Construction on the new campus
began in the spring of 1952, although the college was a long way from
raising the $7½ million then though needed for new buildings. Tribble,
a Baptist minister as well as college president, called it "an act
There were underground rumblings
during the next 3½ years, but this may have been the period when
Tribble worked hardest.
Even his enemies have never
denied his enthusiasm, his capacity for work, or his willingness to fight.
In October 1953 buildings
were taking shape, and a cornerstone laying ceremony was held. The student
body was bussed to Winston-Salem.
A number of educators, officials
of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation which made the move possible by offering
the college an annual grant, and leaders in the convention participated.
In January 1954 there was
a major financial breakthrough when Tribble announced that the college
had $3 million to meet a $2 million challenge gift proposal made by the
late William Neal Reynolds and his niece, Mrs. Gilbert Verney.
In November 1955 Col. George
Foster Hanks of Lexington willed the college more than $1 million to be
used for scholarships.
Dec. 3, 1955, marked the beginning,
as far as the public was concerned, of a battle that was to bring Tribble
Football Coach Tom Rogers
and Athletic Director Pat Preston resigned. A wire service reported there
were rumors of de-emphasis among alumni, and three nights later a howling
mob of students went to Tribble’s home and burned him in effigy.
On Dec. 8, Basil Watkins of
Durham, then president of the trustees, announced that the board at a
November meeting had voted to probe the college administration.
He said the investigation
was not prompted by the athletic furor, but by reports of "low faculty
morale and general discontent among the alumni regarding the future of
A committee of trustees did
meet and talk to both faculty members and administrative personnel. Tribble
declined to talk with them saying he would answer questions in writing
if they submitted them in writing.
On Dec. 22, the board voted
18-12 to halt the probe. And on Feb. 2, 1956, the trustees said no change
was warranted in the administration "at this time."
The official vote was not
reported, but unofficially it stood at 14-10 with six abstentions. The
"at this time" phrase was reported inserted in the motion as
a gesture to anti-Tribble forces, and, whether the reported vote was accurate
or not, obviously Tribble stood on shaky ground.
During this time, though,
he was concerned with getting the college ready to move.
On Feb. 13 he announced a
$515,000 Ford Foundation grant which was used for faculty salary endowment.
He noted that the faculty would get a salary increase the following July
and said this would put their pay 50 per cent higher than when he came
to the college.
In March an alumni group formed
a "Committee for Better Administration at Wake Forest College."
The executive committee of the trustees, now headed by Odus Mull of Shelby,
called for an end to the agitation.
On May 21, the college held
an early commencement. The trustees forgot their feuding long enough to
approve a $15 million program, $7 million for buildings and $8 million
The next day the college began
moving to Winston-Salem, and on June 18 started a summer school session,
which was called a "shakedown cruise" for the regular fall term.
Tribble’s troubles came to
a head June 29 when the board voted 20-13 "not to fire" him.
It was the first board meeting on the new campus. Mrs. Tribble had wondered
aloud whether she should unpack.
There were other alumni rumblings
after that but they never reached the intensity of those months just before
and after the move.
In September there was a then-record
enrollment of 2,176, and on Oct.12 the new campus was dedicated.
In January 1957 Tribble issued
his annual report and said the college already needed more buildings.
In November of that year an
alumni group distributed pamphlet saying that the vast majority of alumni
were against the president. Tribble replied that they represented a small
number of agitators.
That same month the convention
gave Tribble an overwhelming vote of confidence and then turned down an
alternated slate of proposed trustees known to be against him.
It was that same convention
which re-affirmed a no-dancing edict at the college and then authorized
a Committee of 17 to look into the "spiritual atmosphere" of
all seven Baptist colleges.
Both moves probably focused
on growing differences between the institution and its parent body, although
the committee said a year later that the colleges, in general, were doing
a good job.
In April 1958 the budget had
climbed to a record $4.9 million, and in the following April the college
celebrated its 125th anniversary.
June 1959 saw the completion
of a drive in Winston-Salem for a new science building, The goal of $1,225,000
was over-subscribed by about $100,000. In December the Reynolds Foundation
gave the college $750,000 for a new dormitory for girls.
In 1960, the budget was up
to $7,236,605, enrollment topped 2,500 and an Asian studies program was
The trustees voted to resume
graduate work in January 1961, and in April they dropped racial bars in
graduate and professional schools.
April 1962 saw the lowering
of racial bars in the undergraduate school.
The trustees also votes to
take no action against the college’s communications director, Russell
Brantley, for a novel he wrote satirizing certain segments of Baptists.
The book remained a point
of dissatisfaction, though, for many Baptists. Later that year a group
of ministers drew up a series of charges against Wake Forest and proposed,
as had alumni opponents of Tribble in an earlier year, an alternate slate
of new trustees.
The charges listed the book,
the decreasing percentage of Baptist students at the college and "cynical
and antagonistic attitudes on the part of the members of the faculty."
A compromise was reached, and the convention decided to study "points
of tension" between it and the college.
In April 1963 the trustees
suggested that some members of the board should be non-Baptist or from
out of state, or perhaps both. They also approved a $69 million program
which Tribble said was necessary to move the college to university status.
In November, the convention
defeated the trustee proposal. A modified version of what the trustees
had originally suggested majority vote, but it needed two thirds of the
votes. Tribble, however, returned to the campus to receive a hero’s welcome
from the students. It may have been his finest hour.
In June 1964 the college awarded
a diploma to its first Negro graduate.
November found another trustee
proposal before the convention. It would have affected all seven Baptist
colleges, not just Wake Forest, but it too was defeated, as was a proposal
that the colleges be allowed to accept federal funds under certain conditions.
A minister moved that Tribble be fired, but the convention overwhelmingly
voted him down.
The Mary Reynolds Babcock
Foundation gave the college $3.5 million for the sole use of the library
in May 1955 and in October gave Reynolda Village, estimated as worth a
half a million dollars.
That same month the Reynolds
Foundation offered the college $3 million if it could raise $13 million,
and in February of this year the college officially began a campaign to
build a $2 ½ million football stadium.
This fiscal year the college
has a record budget of over $13 million, and enrollment is also a record,
Tribble was asked the other
day by a school photographer to pose for a picture depicting his retirement.
The photographer wanted to shoot Tribble walking away from the campus.
"No sir," Tribble
said, "You'll shoot me headed into the picture."
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