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Couple's Love of Catawba Evolves into a Scholarship

April 22, 2008

Category: Academics, Alumni

Philip George "Pine" Cooper loves Catawba College and his wife of 49 years, Hattie, has grown to love it too. The couple has transferred their affection for the College into a new endowed scholarship which will assist deserving students from North Carolina or Virginia with the cost of tuition. The scholarship is established in memory of Pine's mother and father, Lillian Arena George Cooper, a member of Catawba's Class of 1907, and Benjamin Herbert Cooper.

Pine Cooper followed in his mother's footsteps when he attended Catawba. His mother, whose girlhood home was in Elkin, North Carolina, graduated from Old Catawba in Newton in 1907. She taught for several years after her graduation, quit teaching, and then later went back into education as a principal at Critz School in Critz, Va.

Pine grew up in Critz and says his mom, who died in 1972, was strict on him and his school work. She encouraged him to enroll at Catawba where he earned his degree in sociology in 1951.

Many of Pine's mother's friends from Old Catawba attended his graduation, including his mother's roommate, Dr. Caroline McNairy. Dr. McNairy, who practiced in Lenoir, Pine recalls, was one of the first women doctors and "was famous for delivering 7,000 babies."  She also served on Catawba's Board of Trustees almost all of her life. Mrs. Charles (Mary Heller) Jenkins, who lived on Jackson Street in Salisbury, also attended old Catawba with Pine's mother and she was there for Pine's graduation too.

It was at Catawba that Dr. Earl Ruth gave him his nickname, "Pine."  "I was thin, probably weighed 125, and Coach Ruth said I was as tall as a pine tree," he recalls. "I took phys ed under him and he was a nice fellow."

Hattie Cooper echoes her husband concerning Dr. Ruth. "Dr. Ruth stayed in touch up until his death and we went to visit him until his death. I knew him after he was elected to Congress. He used to say when he'd see us at Catawba's homecoming, ‘I saw you first.'  He liked to be with us as we did with him."

Pine, like his mother, taught school for several years after his Catawba graduation. His students were sixth and seventh graders who he says "were lumped together in a two-room school, Via School, in Patrick County, Va. His teaching career was cut short when he was drafted into Army in 1953 and stationed at Camp Carson, Colo., near Pike's Peak.

"I didn't enjoy the Army, but it was a lot easier than a lot of things," Pine explains. "I was an Army medic. I took some first-aid courses and worked in a dispensary and dispensed drugs and medicines until I was discharged in June of '55." 

Pine met wife Hattie, a graduate of Greensboro College, in February of 1959. "I was going to take grad courses at RPI and her aunt lived in Richmond and she came up to see her aunt. I met Hattie there," he recalls.

The couple married on Sept. 19, 1959 in Stantonsburg, N.C. On their wedding trip, Hattie remembers, "Philip took me to meet Dr. McNairy. We stopped by her office and we stayed so we wouldn't interfere with her work."

Pine and Hattie Cooper carved out their life together in Portsmouth, Va., where they lived for 25 years. Pine says he "got a job with the Virginia Employment Commission and worked there in Portsmouth for 25 years, interviewing applicants for jobs."  He retired in June 1986. 

Hattie taught school for 37 years, 25 of those years in Portsmouth and 12 years in N.C. (before the two were married). She usually taught English at the high school level.

Both Pine and Hattie retired on the same day and made plans to relocate their household to Stuart, Va., in December of 1986.  "We spent six months wrapping up loose ends in Portsmouth and buying our house in Stuart at 206 Pine," Hattie says. Twenty-one years later and the couple still calls Stuart, located just nine miles from Pine's hometown of Critz, "home."

Today, the Coopers stay in touch with their good friends from Catawba including Walt '49 and Hilda '50 Ramseur of Landis, Allene Haralson Graves '51 of Candor, Margaret Matze Lipe '48 of Richfield, Dorothy Rickard of Winston-Salem, Ethel Griffin of Old Fort, Joann Hamer of Garner, Geneva Barker of Randleman, and Art '49 and Maxine Claar of Burlington.

Pine nurtures fond memories of his alma mater, including those involving his former roommates and suitemates, Clyde Bostian '49 of China Grove, Elwood Maness '49 of New Bern, Dave Rickard '51 of Winston-Salem, and four who are now deceased including, Earl Graves '51, Johnny Hamer '51, Garland Barker '51 and Kenneth Griffin '50.

He remembers that the late Mary Emma Knox's rolls "were real good," and eating off campus at Blackwelder's Barbecue which is no longer in business. He recalls Betty Barbour, an English professor, as being a very fine instructor, and recalls fondly Lula "Ma" Douglas as being a very efficient campus nurse. Pine also pays tribute to "one of my best professors at Catawba, the late Commander George William Green who had served in World War I and II and who was a prisoner of war on a death march of Bataan during World War II."  

When not staying current on friends and the news from Catawba, Pine and Hattie feed the birds and enjoy their flowers.

"Catawba holds a special place in Pine and Hattie's hearts. They've made friendships through the College that have lasted for decades and they want to make sure that future students here have a chance, thanks to their scholarship, to have similar experiences and enduring relationships," said Catawba Senior Vice President Tom Childress.