BC building to grace Mobley name

Published 3:31 pm Monday, April 20, 2009

The official dedication of Bainbridge College (BC) Building 100 as the Edward D. Mobley Administration Building will be at 3 p.m. April 26.

The event will honor BC President Emeritus Edward D. Mobley, the college’s founding president under whose tenure the building was constructed. BC’s first of the original five main buildings completed during his presidency, it houses the president’s office among other offices.

The dedication (which, in case of rain, will be in the Charles H. Kirbo Regional Center) will include entertainment by the Tallahassee Brass Band, recognizing Dr. Mobley’s many contributions to the field of music, not least of which are his published original compositions. Punctuated by new and creative beginnings, his career started in his hometown of Rome, Ga., where he taught music in the public schools.

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“I’m very touched by having this building named for me,” Dr. Mobley said. “It is quite a thrill really.”

The University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents approved the building name change requested by BC President Tom Wilkerson, who noted that Mobley had served with great distinction from 1972 until his retirement in 1997.

Among Mobley’s accomplishments, Wilkerson enumerated that Mobley oversaw the construction of the original campus, the recruiting of the charter faculty, staff and students, and the creation of the original curriculum.

“Additionally, Dr. Mobley laid the foundations of the excellent community relations the college enjoys today,” Wilkerson said.

Initiating programs defines Mobley’s career in education.

Before coming to Bainbridge to establish the college, he served as an administrator at Dalton Junior College where he was a charter faculty member and active in the Rotary Club. In Rome he was band director at East Rome High School when the school opened.

At the University of Georgia, Mobley earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in composition and music and a master’s degree in music education. He received his doctorate in music from Florida State University in Tallahassee. His post-doctoral studies include work through a National Endowment for the Humanities at Harvard University the year he came to BC, and a fellowship to study German at the Goethe Institute in Germany.

A career punctuated by new and creative beginnings

A man who would eagerly join the Marine Corps Reserves at age 15 is the kind of man one would expect to have a career embracing new challenges. In graduate school he handled a last-minute request to arrange music for the UGA Men’s Glee Club to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show; Dr. Mobley wrote the orchestration over night on the train to New York City.

After graduating from UGA, he led the Reconnaissance Platoon of the 41st Armored Infantry Battalion in Germany. Back in the states he quickly found his way from a traveling sales job to work in the world of music, playing in a band in New York during the summer. Then he took on the challenge of graduate studies, during which he met his future bride, Martha, in the UGA music library.

After UGA the couple moved to Rome, where he taught music at the elementary schools and led the high school Girls Drum and Bugle Corps before becoming the new high school’s band director. The military veteran with seven years of service left Rome to be music director for the Dalton elementary schools, creating the elementary “Select” Band.

In addition to the elementary schools, Mobley worked with high school choral director and became co-director of the high school band. He designed the high school band’s new uniforms that featured blazers and top hats—a whole new look for 1960, Mobley said.

From Dalton the Mobleys moved to Tallahassee for doctoral work. At FSU he had a faculty appointment to run its summer music camp. They returned to Dalton for him to be executive director of the Creative Arts Guild. When the new junior college opened in 1967, he was part of the charter faculty and later was named humanities division chair then academic dean.

As he was being considered for president of the newly approved Bainbridge Junior College, Mobley was being considered for the fellowship at Harvard. He received word of both appointments the same day.

“What a dilemma!” he said as he reminisced about his long career, and his days as one of the youngest college presidents, a position he started at age 39.

He had just been offered the appointment as BC president when Dalton’s public relations director called to ask for a photo of him. Mobley thought word had leaked about his being president, but he was told that the photo was for an article about his going to Harvard. That was how he learned he had been accepted.

Mobley called for advice from the USG chancellor, who said to delay going to Bainbridge because of the invaluable experience Harvard would give, an experience Mobley greatly enjoyed.

In Cambridge, Mass., the man who “can’t accept the ordinary” and encourages others to “reach for the super-ordinary” learned not to be intimidated by numbers. Who shows up, not how many, is what is important, he learned. The idea is to provide the program, class, entertainment or whatever and keep providing those opportunities that impact people’s lives and growth.

Life in Bainbridge

At Harvard he studied art history and renaissance history and with scholars such as B.F. Skinner. From Cambridge the Mobleys moved to Bainbridge, which he described as “absolutely charming,” and “a beautiful place.” BC’s location was “a perfect site for a college,” he said, and shared an anecdote about an early tour of the land on which he saw a junk car in the borrow pit that is outside the library.

On arrival in Bainbridge in 1972, with wife, Martha, and their young daughter, Laurel, who is now an attorney in Tallahassee, Mobley was greeted enthusiastically due in no small part to this music man’s not having shoulder-length hair, as Raymond Miles said later.

“I came to town armed with a briefcase and a portable typewriter along with my dream of building a first class institution,” Mobley wrote in his reminiscences for the Bainbridge College 35th Anniversary Cookbook. “I rented an office in the Conger Building, near the courthouse, furnished it with cardboard desks and opened the world to what was known as Bainbridge Junior College.”

“We even went to surrounding towns on weekends, gave out Cokes and peanuts (courtesy of the late Bill Knight and the late Andrew Avery) and tried to talk up our idea of a college education. Remember, that was an unknown idea at the time.”

“It is interesting to found a college. One can pick and choose almost everything about it. …We recruited a fine faculty, and some of them have succeeded rather well.”

Being president was “a blast,” he said. “I loved doing the job. I associated with a really nice group of people, really first class people.” They included the faculty, students and staff, among them the Plant Operations team.

“Our plant operations staff worked hard to get us open on time. The night before classes started they worked way into the night putting chairs and desks together so we could open the next morning at 8 a.m.”

The college opened Oct. 1, 1973, with 220 eager students, he said.

Another first

By the 1973-74 academic year, Mobley marked another first, adding the Technical Studies Division—called the Vocational/Technical Education Division—and making BC one of four USG institutions to offer technical studies. That year the college also added the Developmental Studies Department, now called Learning Support.

BC opened with four of the original five buildings built, Mobley said, and the Continuing Education Building—then the Physical Education Building—still unfinished.

“No matter,” he said. “We pushed aside the storage boxes and used it.”

“The Bainbridge unit of the National Guard helped us considerably in clearing our grounds—so much so that they left their large bulldozer on campus. Cecil Griffin, our plant staff boss, spent each day on the dozer clearing ground. That was fine until higher brass came to town on an inspection trip. Sure enough, there was Cecil out on campus bulldozing away. We should have supplied him with a uniform so he would have looked like a member of the guard.”

That early construction Mobley oversaw cost $2 million for the buildings and the grounds. That price “was incredible even then,” he said.

The late Kermit Bates handled the construction, Mobley said, praising his work. He noted that through the years the community has been an invaluable support to the college. For example, he cited the “real source of support” instrumental in the college’s growth that has come from The Post-Searchlight and support such as First Port City Bank’s building the swimming pool.

Planning for future enhancements for the community to enjoy the natural beauty at the college, Mobley worked with biology professor Dr. Bob Lane to lay out the nature trail and plan the gazebos that were built as funds became available.

Later Mobley had the four wooden buildings added “because we were running out of room.” He told his Plant Operations team how he wanted them to look and was very pleased with the results.

“We’ve always had a talented plant crew,” Dr. Mobley said, noting that projects could be built less expensively because they could finish any project.

He is especially proud of the Dogwood Center built to his specifications to house Southwest Georgia Youth Science and Technology Center, which he was instrumental in establishing as part of the state-wide educational network. One part of the building provides space for his office.

With crowded conditions, a growing student enrollment, and no gymnasium, Mobley and his faculty did some creative thinking for courses such as physical education, even creating a class on “sauntering.” In addition to teaching Music Appreciation, which involved him with the computer and led to writing programs for music courses and an article that was published in a professional journal, Mobley taught the sauntering course several years.

“It was very popular,” he said with a smile as he reminisced in his retirement office with its three walls of windows providing beautiful vistas of the campus he loves. Among the highlights he recalled of his career were the Board of Regents meeting two days in Bainbridge; BC hosting the annual meeting of the Georgia Association of Two-Year Colleges the year Mobley was its president; his collaboration with faculty member Mariella Hartsfield to create “Cracker Barrel Tales,” a children’s musical for which he composed the music, and the Ruben’s Exhibition that showed photos of Ruben’s art. The exhibit came from Belgium and was given to the college with the instruction to destroy the photos when they deteriorated. The lighted display boards were eventually donated to the Firehouse Gallery, where they are still used.

Mobley remains very involved in the community as an active Rotarian, having served as club president, and with Bainbridge Little Theatre, which he helped establish and for which he initiated the process that funded its present facility. He has played 18 musicals since Little Theatre’s opening season. In 1988 he founded the Bainbridge British Brass Band, which he conducted until his retirement.

Founder of a local Audubon Society, he has a lifetime list of 160 species of birds, including some he saw in Brazil and Guatemala. In addition to reading history and fiction, Mobley enjoys black and white photography and has had shows at BC, Chattanooga, Tenn., and in Dalton.

In addition to the honor bestowed by the USG, Mobley has been recognized as Bainbridge’s 1988 Man of the Year, was the subject of the 1989 Pilot Club Roast, a Rotary Will Watt Fellow and Paul Harris Fellow, and as a member of the National Association for Music Educators. He served on the YMCA board and consistently won the BC Student Government Association’s Turkey Shoot.

The official dedication of Bainbridge College Building 100 as the Edward D. Mobley Administration Building will be at 3 p.m., Sunday April 26.