PCC Dedicates Charles E. Russell Building
WINTERVILLE—Pitt Community College dedicated its most recent addition to the campus landscape Sept. 7 with a ceremony that featured school administrators and state and local leaders paying tribute to the building’s namesake – former PCC President Charles E. Russell.
Speakers included current PCC President G. Dennis Massey, Pitt County Commissioner Beth Ward, N.C. Rep. Marian McLawhorn and attorney Phil Dixon, who recounted in a videotaped interview his work with Russell as former chairman of the PCC Board of Trustees. J. Paul Davenport, who is the current trustees chairman, also spoke during the event and thanked Russell for serving as the college's president for nearly 20 years with “dedication, vision and passion.”
Massey, who took over as president when Russell retired in 2003, thanked his predecessor for establishing a foundation for growth at PCC and for his continued devotion and service to the college, even after his retirement.
“It’s no surprise that at the groundbreaking ceremony in December 2010 for three new buildings on the Bowen Farm, Dr. Charles E. Russell was right there with shovel in hand,” Massey said. “He has been right there for much of the history of Pitt Community College.”
Completed in time for the start of classes Aug. 15, the Charles E. Russell Building cost $9.3 million to build, with funding coming from a quarter-cent sales tax increase Pitt County voters approved in 2007. The building was designed by Greenville’s JKF Architecture, which has also served as architect for the construction of PCC’s Craig F. Goess Student Center and Herman Simon Building and the renovation of its Robert Lee Humber Building.
In addition to study areas, two conference rooms and a secondary campus data facility, the 54,000-square-foot Russell Building features 24 general purpose classrooms and computer labs and 26 offices for faculty and staff.
“The building is serving up to 1,175 students at any given time,” Massey said, adding that PCC will benefit greatly from the additional teaching space the facility provides. Already North Carolina’s most crowded community college, he said PCC is currently serving its largest curriculum enrollment ever – 9,047 students.
That’s quite a change from the 2,500 students who were enrolled in November 1982, when Russell took over as acting president after then-President William E. Fulford’s health declined.
A Jamesville native, Russell began working at the college in 1971 as director of Adult Basic Education and public relations. He created an indelible legacy, though, as president of the college from 1984 until his retirement 19 years later, combining a work ethic he developed on the family farm as a youngster with keen foresight to help Pitt grow into one of the state’s largest community colleges.
Under Russell’s guidance, PCC added 32 curriculum degree programs and seven new buildings. He helped bring intercollegiate baseball to campus and also led the charge for three major bond referenda to provide continued funding for construction of classroom and lab facilities.
Perhaps his greatest achievement, though, was the decision he made in 1991 to encourage college trustees to spend $2 million in bond revenue, which Pitt County voters approved two years earlier, to purchase 105 acres from the H.L. Bowen heirs. That choice has proven to be the foundation for much of the growth now taking place at the college.
“In the 1980s, we gave up [construction of] a new building to get land,” Russell recently recalled. “… We’d done a study on projected enrollment and knew we needed land. That was a smart decision back in those days.”
The Russell Building is one of three facilities to have been constructed on the former Bowen property in recent years. With funding from the local sales tax increase, the college has also built a new facilities services complex and a new Construction and Industrial Technology Building on the land, which is also home to the Ed and Joan Warren Building and Minges-Overton Baseball Complex.
Though he played a pivotal role in helping PCC grow during his 32 years with the college, Russell said he never assumed his contributions would be recognized by means of a building named in his honor.
During this month’s dedication ceremony, Russell laughed as he recalled some of the good times he had as PCC president, when ‘land surveying’ meant golfing and building relationships with key members of the community. He nearly wept, though, when speaking about his parents and family and the many blessings he says God has bestowed upon him throughout his life.
Russell said PCC could trace its own history of success back to its commitment to serving the community. He credited Pitt County commissioners, state legislators and community leaders for their financial and moral support over the years and lauded faculty, staff and college trustees for their efforts by saying, “Without their dedication and competence, I don’t think this college would be what it is today.”
While he said PCC would never be the biggest community college in North Carolina due to the area’s population, Russell proudly noted that the school serves one of the highest percentages of citizens within a service area among the state’s 58 community colleges.
Russell, who now serves as minister of Hugo Original Free Will Baptist Church, concluded his remarks by saying that it is fitting members of his congregation purchased a painting of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse by Greenville native and North Carolina artist Jeff Pittman to hang on the second floor of the building named in his honor.
“PCC is a lot like a lighthouse,” he said, “helping people avoid the rocks and sandbars of life.”