By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When the Bluefield State College Presidential Selection Committee announced the selection of Dr. Marsha Krotseng to serve as BSC president, Dr. Thomas Blevins slipped off the local radar screen for a while. At the time, Blevins was serving his second hitch as interim president at BSC, but he was also one of three candidates in the running for the presidency.
“We’re always really lucky to be here,” Blevins, 63, said of his 41-year relationship with his college alma mater. “It isn’t like the college doesn’t have detractors at the state level.”
Indeed, BSC has never really had an easy row to hoe from 1895 when it was founded to meet the educational needs of African-American students from the southern West Virginia coalfields. BSC’s first President Hamilton Hatter, had to deal with extreme economic hardships during the Jim Crow era, when the state enjoyed tax revenues from the coalfields, but very little of that trickled back to help the families of the coal miners.
Through the years, BSC has survived economic hard times, efforts to close the college and efforts to merge BSC with Concord University. The college also endured the challenges of integration that boiled over in the fall of 1968 when the physical education building was bombed. Blevins was a sophomore at the time. Like all institutions, BSC has seen its share of presidents. It can be a demanding position, even as an interim president.
“I saw the letters,” Blevins said of some letters to the search committee that questioned the integrity of the search process and challenged Blevins’ involvement in it. “I chose the high road and decided not to respond. I still choose the high road.”
Blevins had been a member of the BSC administration when he accepted the interim position. He was Dean of the School of Education, Dean of the Virtual College and Technology; and professor of education and English. After contemplating his next step, Blevins decided to remain as a part of the school as an online teacher for an Ethnic & Regional Literature course, to stay active in the teacher education accreditation process, to continue serving through the Shott Center for Extended Learning, and to assist with the BSC archives.
Blevins grew up in Maybeury, just a few houses away from McDowell County educators, Georgiana and Betty Robinson. Blevins’ father was pastor of the Church of God in Maybeury. He graduated from Northfork High School in 1967, and went to BSC.
“I was a nerd,” he said. “I was a good student in high school and was accepted to West Virginia University and Concord University, but I went to BSC.” He earned his undergraduate degree in 1971. “Arch Moore was our commencement speaker that year,” he said. “The person I loved the most was Betty Robertson. Her claim to fame was that she studied with Robert Frost when she was attending Amherst University. Jerry Beasley and I both knew Betty. I always told him we were each a handshake away from Robert Frost.”
Blevins earned his degree in English. He returned home and taught in the McDowell County public schools for six years, and earned his master’s degree from Marshall University in 1974. In December of 1976, former BSC President Wade Gilley hired Blevins to catalogue BSC’s audio-visual library and repair the equipment. On Aug. 1, 1977, he got the job full time. With the exception of an 11-year period when he worked for the state Higher Education Policy Commission, bringing the state’s antiquated online services in step with modern high-tech standards.
The world was changing, and Blevins was on the vanguard of that change in terms of bringing technological savvy to the state and then, brought it back to BSC. He helped his alma mater make the transition into the computer age, and made personal computer workstations available to students in the Wendell G. Hardaway Library at BSC.
Blevins worked with Dr. Krotseng during his time with the Policy Commission. “I know she’ll do a good job for the college,” he said. “In the next five years, there will be so much change at the college that you won’t recognize it from what it is now,” he predicted. “Many people who held leadership roles for many years will be retiring, and new people will take their place.”
Blevins’ colleagues at BSC hosted a retirement reception for him in the Hebert Gallery on Friday that proved to be a heartwarming experience. “It was very validating,” he said.
“After the way this all ended, there was a void there,” he said. “Seeing the staff at the reception was a validating experience. As I go, I leave a team here at the library technology center that is prepared to meet future challenges. We have a good faculty in teacher education. I’ll stay involved. They have my email and phone number.
“I have enjoyed Rotary and I have enjoyed serving on the city board of directors,” he said. “I will remain on the board. I like to finish what I start. I told Greg Shrewsbury that the city needs to weather this economic storm. Linda (Mayor Linda Whalen) has done a great job in cleaning up the city, but we don’t have a whole lot of money to work with. I told Greg that he has to continue working to promote the city and the city needs to weather this economic storm.”
Although Blevins did a great deal to modernize BSC’s technology, he still says his greatest joy comes from the students he has taught through the years.
“I have spent so much of my life here,” he said. “This place means so much to me. I think people find a niche in life. I think I found my calling when I came here to Bluefield State.
“I have always enjoyed the technology, but when I see the faces of the kids I have taught all of these years, that’s still what means the most to me,” he said. “I can’t always remember their names, but I know their faces and I know exactly where they sat in class. That’s what’s most important to me,” he said.
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org