Catawba College Alumnus Ray Oxendine '61 of Maxton has established a scholarship at Catawba College which will keep the Oxendine family name alive at the institution for perpetuity. Preference for the Oxendine Brothers Endowed Scholarship will be given to a deserving Native American student, especially a Lumbee or Catawba Indian.
Ray Oxendine and his twin sister were the youngest of eight children born to Tom and Georgia Oxendine. He grew up among a large extended family in a small farming community near Pembroke, N.C. When he decided to attend Catawba College and play athletics, he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Dr. Joseph Oxendine '52, the former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
"Joe set the tone. He was my hero," Oxendine recalled. "When he (Joe) graduated from high school, I was in the fourth grade. I thought he was great and he told me I should be honored to be his brother. He was named the Best All-Around Athlete in high school – that was an honor he got when he graduated. When I was in ninth grade, I told other athletes in my school not to even think about winning that award that I was going to be the Best All-Around Athlete just like my brother and I ended up being that."
Ironically, Oxendine, whose high school did not offer football as a sport, played four years of football at Catawba in almost every position. He saw the most action at fullback, center and defensive end. He made the All-Carolinas Conference team as a senior in 1961 and was selected Catawba's best defensive player. He even captained the 1961 team. He was also a catcher on the baseball team and a member of the track team at Catawba.
"I had never had on a football uniform, but Joe played at Catawba so I thought I could play," Oxendine said. "The first time I put on shoulder pads was at Catawba and I put them on backwards.
"When I got to Catawba, I was Joe Oxendine's little brother, but it wasn't long before I was the 'Big Ox.' Joe always knew that I would come to Catawba. I wanted to go up there and show them that 'Hey I could do the same things he did.' Joe was working on his doctorate at that time and he came about one time a year to Catawba to see me play."
Although Oxendine was brought up in a complete Indian environment, a three-year stint in the U.S. Army, serving with the 82nd and 11th Airborne Division, helped him realize that he could do things as well as other people "and sometimes a little better."
"My parents always gave us advice by way of experience. My dad was a teacher in the Indians Schools of Robeson County for about 45 years and my mother, who only had a fourth or fifth grade education, may have been the best speller in our family," Oxendine remembered. "Their examples to us were that you can do anything that anyone else could do.
"My oldest brother, Tom, was the first Native American fighter pilot in the Navy during WWII. He was seven years older than Joe and he was Joe's hero. Joe is seven years older than I am and he was my hero."
When Oxendine arrived at Catawba, he discovered that he "was treated like everybody else." He found a nurturing campus as he majored in physical education and minored in biology, "especially for an individual who had not been exposed to very much."
He remembered his Spanish professor, Dr. Nita Andrews, and how he climbed a magnolia tree daily while enrolled in her class to provide her with a fresh bloom. He also remembered his English professor, Dr. Nell Hardin.
"I hate to say this, but Nell Hardin taught me English. I couldn't spell and I couldn't write. When she called me, in with tears in her eyes, to inform me that I had failed her class, I told her that 'You didn't fail me, I failed myself.' I went back in there and signed up for her again and she was so surprised that I would go back in there and sign up again. I passed that second time.
"I felt the professors looked over and nurtured me," he continued. "They wanted to make sure I was successful."
Others who took a special interest in Oxendine included Louise Tucker, Mary Emma Knox, Dr. Earl Ruth, Coach M. M. "Chub" Richards, Coach Harvey Stratton, Coach Clyde Biggers and Coach Pres Mull.
After Oxendine graduated from Catawba, he made plans to attend graduate school at Appalachian State University. Coach Sam Moir asked Oxendine what he was going to major in there and Oxendine told him physical education. "Coach Moir told me to major in public school administration, so I majored in public school administration and ended up being a high school principal for 27 years."
Oxendine spent his career in education, serving as a teacher, a football, baseball, wrestling, and track coach, an assistant principal, and as a principal at various high schools across North Carolina. These schools included Mt. Airy Senior High, Greensboro's Grimsely High, Hallsboro High, Acme-Delco High, East Montgomery High, West Montgomery High, Purnell Swett High, South Robeson High, Scotland High and East Laurinburg Academy. Today, although he is officially retired, he still works three days a week mentoring first-year principals.
Oxendine also coached at Catawba, serving as assistant football and head baseball coach for almost a decade. He completed post-graduate work as an educational specialist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
His awards and honors are numerous. He was inducted in to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2002 and is also a member of the Catawba College Sports Hall of Fame and the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame. He was named Principal of the Year in 1992-1993 by the N.C. High School Association of Administrators, and was Principal of the Year for the Montgomery County Schools in 1985. In 2005, he was one of four individuals selected by Catawba's Alumni Association Board of Directors to receive a Distinguished Alumnus Award.
"Ray Oxendine is a remarkable man," noted Catawba Senior Vice President Tom Childress. "He and his brother Joe overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to have very successful careers and lives. We are so proud that Ray has chosen to establish this scholarship as a way to remember both of their accomplishments at Catawba and beyond."
Oxendine is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Maxton and the father of two daughters, seven grandsons, and one granddaughter.