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Catawba College's Oldest Living Alumna Has Fond Memories of Alma Mater

February 15, 2006

Category: Alumni, Students


Ninety-eight year old Julia Albright Freeland Slate of Salisbury is a pretty woman with bright blue eyes, carefully coiffed hair, fashionable clothing put together with aplomb and a ready smile.   In 1929 when this Spencer native graduated from Catawba College, she was likely considered a real knock-out.

The institution's oldest living graduate has vivid memories of her time at Catawba.   She was one of the first students to enroll at the college in Salisbury in 1925, the first year it reopened after its relocation from Newton.   The campus was small, and confined to just one side of West Innes Street.   Mrs. Slate recalls that it consisted of the main administration building, Hedrick Hall; the home economics building, now Stanback Hall; a residence hall, Zartman Hall; and a gymnasium, Hoke Hall.   She says planks were laid down in front of the administration building to prevent students from walking through the red mud in front of it.

Although her family lived just up the road in Spencer, Mrs. Slate resided on campus in the home economics building.   Her suite mates included Elizabeth Warlick of Hickory, Catherine Whitener of Salisbury and Ruth Holshouser of Rockwell.   Dr. Elmer Hoke was president of the college then and Ms. Augusta Lantz was the dean of women.   It was actually Ms. Lantz who recruited her to come to Catawba, visiting her at her parents' home while she was still in high school.   Dr. Raymond Jenkins, an English professor, was among her favorites.   And she recalls that Dr. Shuford Peeler, then dean of students, once borrowed her Buick to drive into town. Dr. Cora Gray was the head of the home economics department, assisted by Ms. Katherine French.

"We cooked and served meals for the other home ec students," Mrs. Slate explains, recalling with a laugh one incident when she was practicing what she had been taught without great success.   "I had cooked spinach for dinner for the students and I thought I was doing such a lovely job, when Dr. Gray looked at me and said, ‘My mother always taught me to serve the spinach without the sand.' "

In 1933, Mrs. Slate married her childhood sweetheart Lester Hillard Slate of Spencer, who had graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   Their daughter, Judy Slate Patton, was born in 1936.   Little did Mrs. Slate suspect then, but her daughter would also follow in her footsteps and graduate from Catawba 29 years later.

Her Daughter's Story
It was music rather than home economics that brought Judy Patton '58 to Catawba College and it was Marion M. "Chub" Richards, then director of admissions, not Mrs. Augusta Lantz, who visited her home to recruit her.

Mrs. Slate recalls, "One grandmother wanted her to go to Greensboro College and another grandmother wanted her to go to Meredith."

"But I never wanted to go anywhere but Catawba," Ms. Patton interjects before sharing her own memories of the institution where she majored in music and minored in religion.   She spoke of the close relationships she and other students had with their professors.    

She recalls visits to music faculty member Lucille Epperson's apartment and how she "treasured" Lionel Whisnant and visits to his apartment along with other music majors where they discussed currentEvents and religious issues.   Ms. Patton also participated in choir tours to the Northeast, visiting and performing in United Church of Christ Churches, staying with area families there, and recruiting other students to attend the college.   John Fesperman and Bob Weaver led those tours.

Ms. Patton sang in the choir and played the organ, and even her stint as a page turner for fellow students Sam Cope accompanying soloist Haskell Duncan is one she remembers as "thrilling."   Another highlight was performing two piano recitals with Sam Cope.

Ms. Patton, like her mother before her, enjoyed a unique relationship with English professor, Dr. Jenkins.   He gave her one of his books of Shakespearean sonnets, a volume she still treasures.

And while, Mrs. Slate had lived in the home ec building during her years on campus, Ms. Patton lived in Zartman Hall during her time at Catawba.   She met her former husband, Richard "Dick" Patton ‘59, while a student on campus.

Life after Catawba
Their Catawba educations well prepared both mother and daughter to live rich and productive lives.   Mrs. Slate used her home economics degree and taught for 35 years at Spencer and North Rowan High Schools until her retirement in 1972.   Ms. Patton combined her music major and religion minor into a career teaching piano lessons and playing the organ at various local churches, including Second Presbyterian and Spencer's Central Methodist.   She was also employed in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools as a teacher of exceptional children, ultimately retiring as an assistant principal of East Rowan High School in 2003.

Ms. Patton counts among her blessings the fact that she has been in three situations which have allowed her to see the purchase and installation of three different pipe organs.   She was a student when the Robert Noehren organ was installed in Catawba's Brodbeck Music Building (now the Williams Music Building on campus).   She was serving as organist at Second Presbyterian Church and Spencer's Central Methodist Church when each installed a new Schantz pipe organ.

Since her retirement, Mrs. Slate has kept busy, reading novels, and designing and making unique Christmas ornaments and decorations.   Her decorations, lovingly handmade of felt and other materials, and her decorated Christmas tree were featured in Southern Living Magazine in December 1999.   She also takes pride in the fact that she handmade her Christmas gifts each year until 2004.

While Ms. Patton still serves as organist at Spencer's Central Methodist, she is also her mother's companion.   Since 1991, two years after Mr. Slate's death, the two have shared the family home, a farm in the northern part of the county, and both say they feel blessed for their good fortune, their health, and for each other.

And the family has grown a little larger through successive generations.   Mrs. Slate enjoys being the grandmother of Jennifer Patton Crawford of Spencer and Robert Patton of Nampa, Idaho, and great-grandmother to three.