In 1986, Brad Rochester, Public Information Officer at RCC, wrote a detailed history of the college. What follows is a transcription of that history along with footnotes for clarification and edits for clarity.
If ever there has been a case of an institution and an area being made for each other, it is the case of Rockingham Community College and Rockingham County.
Unlike most other large counties in North Carolina, Rockingham County had no college until Rockingham Community College opened its doors to eager students in October 1966. Rockingham Community College has proven to be exactly the kind of institution the area needed, and it came along at a time when the county needed it badly.
And oddly enough, the man who led Rockingham Community College through its early development was the man who laid the groundwork for North Carolina's entire system of 58 community and technical colleges--Dr. Gerald B. James.
The idea for the community college system began in the early 1960s when Dr. James and other educational leaders realized that the state was developing two kinds of institutions for those who wanted more than high school educations but did not aspire to four-year colleges or universities. Instead of separate systems of two-year colleges, junior colleges, and vocational-technical learning centers, they asked, why not combine both types of institutions into a system of multi-purpose community and technical colleges--each one geared to the needs of its own particular area?
Dr. James drafted the bill creating the system, and the General Assembly passed it in 1963. The first request to the state for the establishment of a community college came from Rockingham County and was initiated by three local school superintendents: John Hough (Eden), Clem Libscomb (Reidsville), and J. Allan Lewis (Rockingham County). A committee was formed of interested local citizens, led by Welsford Bishopric of Eden. Bishopric has led the Trustees of the community college since the board's first meeting in January 1964.*
Before that, however, the people of Rockingham County had to do their part by approving a bond issue of $1.25 million plus authority to levy a tax of up to $0.08 for each $100 of property. The measure passed and the bonds were sold to help build the college's first four buildings, but the tax has never been levied.
Impressed by the vision and solid planning of the local leaders, Dr. James was persuaded to leave Raleigh and become the first president of Rockingham Community College. Starting with a spare room in the back of the old county sanitarium (now headquarters for the county school system and Agricultural Extension Services), he set about finding a site, hiring staff and faculty, and planning courses.
The site on the east side of Wentworth, near the county center, was chosen for its central location at the intersection of highways from Reidsville, Madison-Mayodan, and Eden, plus the availability of land. Working closely with the architect, Leslie N. Boney of Wilmington, the Trustees, and Dr. James designed an attractive, functional campus in which vocational, technical, and college transfer programs were given equal emphasis and access to the other buildings. Unlike many other campuses across the nation, Rockingham Community College is designed to include and give access to students from all areas, not just some. The campus twenty years later looks very similar to the plan developed at the beginning, a tribute to the sound planning and foresight of the early leaders.
Since the first four buildings and a parking lot had to be built in about six months to allow classes to open in the fall of 1966, the first year of classes was expectedly chaotic. Classes were interrupted by construction workers putting the finishing touches on the buildings, and the first registration was at the old Belevedere Hotel in downtown Reidsville.
The first year produced twice as many students as the state had predicted and so did the second. The campus has been crowded ever since, and the student body has grown to 2,000 curriculum students and 5,500 non-credit students in the 1980s. The number of people served annually is almost ten percent of the county's total population--proof of the need for the college and its training.
After the laboratory, vocational, classroom, and library (Learning Resources Center) buildings were finished, RCC began adding others. A gymnasium was opened in October 1969, and the Harold W. Whitcomb Student Center--built and furnished entirely from donations from individuals and corporations--was opened in April 1971. An administration building was finished in 1975, and a second building for vocational programs, the shop building, was finished in 1979. A maintenance and receiving building was added in 1976, but was placed away from the main campus so that truck traffic would not interrupt campus life. A second classroom building is proposed for the south side of the campus, facing the gymnasium.¥
Rockingham Community College is one of the few institutions in the state system with separate buildings for both physical education and student/community events. The Whitcomb Student Center serves not only as a between-class gathering place, but as the scene for many events and meetings of a countywide nature. The campus has served to bring the diverse areas of Rockingham County together.
But RCC is known for more than just its campus. When the college was accredited in 1967 by the Southern Association, for example, that accreditation was made retroactive to the opening of RCC in 1966. To the knowledge of RCC officials, this retroactive accreditation with some twenty-two separate programs ranging from Adult Basic Education and Adult High School to college transfer, business administration, and electronic data processing. Vocational and technical programs such as auto mechanics, basic electronics, industrial maintenance, electrical installation, homebuilding, secretarial science, and business administration produce trained workers and service-people who have the skills to keep Rockingham County running.
In less than two decades, Rockingham County's only college has been founded, built, opened, and produced more than 4,100 graduates. Surely this constitutes one of the most prolific "families" in the area and ranks as one of the county's proudest educational achievements.
--Brad Rochester, Public Information Officer
Rockingham Community College
*At the time this was written [circa 1986], Welsford Bishopric was still Chairman of the Board of Trustees at RCC. Mr. Bishopric remained chair of the Board of Trustees from 1964-1987, and then continued to serve as a trustee until his retirement from the board in 1990. He also served on the Rockingham Community College Foundation's Board of Directors from 1970-2000 and was elected a Director Emeritus in July of 2002.
¥In 2021, the RCC campus has grown to include the following: Humanities building, Industrial Tech I and II, Center for Creative Arts, Science building, the Gerald B. James Library, an Administration building, the Whitcomb Student Center, the Apple Amphitheater, an Emergency Services Training Center, Agribusiness (with a greenhouse), the Maintenance building, the Robert C. Keys Gymnasium, an Advanced Technologies building (ADT), the Owens Human Services building, the Gilliland Baseball Field, and the Bishopric Lifelong Learning Center.