BY SARAH GREGORY
Tusculum College officially broke ground for the construction of the Ronald H. and Verna June Meen Center for Science and Mathematics during a ceremony Friday morning held in conjunction with homecoming 2013.
More than 200 people turned out for the occasion to learn about plans for the new 88,000 square-foot building with classrooms, lab space, and research facilities for science and mathematics programs, according to a news release from Tusculum College.
The new center will also house general classroom space and a large auditorium-style classroom.
"This is a day that marks hard work, determination and persistence," said Dr. Kenneth A. Bowman, chair of the Board of Trustees and a 1970 graduate of Tusculum College.
"Thanks to so many, this building will be another structural representation of all that is Tusculum College. Inside these walls will be the work of education, of teaching and learning and growing.
"The impact of the bricks that will stand here are immeasurable when you consider the impact of what will occur here for the next 200 years," Bowman said.
Dr. Nancy B. Moody, president of Tusculum College said, "as we break ground today on the future Ronald H. and Verna June Meen Center for Science and Math, I think of everyone who was involved, all the hours of planning, all the support and community partnerships that developed."
IN HUSBAND'S MEMORY
Special recognition was given to Verna June Meen, whose $3.875 million gift toward funding the facility in memory of her husband, Dr. Ronald H. Meen, allowed the leadership of the college to move forward with plans for the facility.
"I wanted to do this for Ron, as a way to honor him, to remember him," she said of her gift to Tusculum College.
Dr. Ronald Meen worked for Eastman Chemical Company for many years and held numerous patents for chemical compounds developed during the course of his work for the company.
He was a respected, published author in the field of organic chemistry who enjoyed riding his bike, reading, fishing, building and flying model airplanes and visiting his second home in Canada.
"Mrs. Verna June Meen has always known the value of education. With her gift to Tusculum College, she honored not only the memory of her beloved husband, but also that value that has always been dear to her," Moody said.
ABOUT THE BENEFACTOR
During the Friday morning event, Moody talked about how education had played a strong role in Verna June Meen's life.
"Mrs. Verna June Meen was born in Indiana with a strong sense of how education could change a person's life. At a time when few women attended college, she set her sights on an accounting degree at Indiana University.
"With $80 and a merit scholarship, she set out to finance her education. Mrs. Meen worked her way through school, earning top marks.
"She worked hard, eventually graduating in two and two-thirds year. She was a pioneer in her own education and now has paved the way for thousands more to achieve that same dream," Moody said.
$39 MILLION USDA LOAN
Representatives of the USDA were also recognized Friday, as a $39 million Community Facilities direct loan from USDA Rural Development put the college in a financial position to fund the construction.
The low-interest loan helped to significantly lower what the college pays in debt service, making the new construction and renovation possible while also improving the college's overall finances, Bowman said.
"USDA Rural Development is proud of the relationship being formed with Tusculum College," said Joe Woody, area director for Knoxville/Greeneville, Rural Development, United States Department of Agriculture.
"From the onset we established with Dr. Moody and the Board of Trustees what our role would be -- more than a lender, but a partner. I believe that is coming to fruition with our involvement in activities such as Nettie Day and Penny Wars. Open communication has been the key to success thus far."
Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, a member of the Tusculum College Board of Trustees, also addressed the crowd.
Niswonger spoke on behalf of architect John Fisher, who designed the Meen Center. Fisher was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, Niswonger said.
"John [Fisher] has been actively engaged for the last two-and-a-half or three years with our faculty on getting this building exactly right for the needs of the college and the students going forward," Niswonger said.
Niswonger also took the opportunity to personally thank Verna June Meen for being the lead benefactor of the project.
"This is going to be a 200-year-old building," Niswonger said. "We waited until we had the right answers and the right solutions to build a building that will be a project for the next 200 years to serve the students of Tusculum College," Niswonger said.
'SENSE OF PRIDE'
Addie Hancock, a senior pre-medical student from Rogersville, spoke on behalf of the student body.
She talked about excitement over the new space and what it will mean for undergraduate research and collaborative projects with professors, emphasizing that the Meen Center will be a unifying campus icon for science and math students.
"The building and all that it represents in terms of educational advancement gives the student body, specifically the math and science students, a sense of pride and accomplishment," she said.
Dr. Bob Davis, professor emeritus and a former professor of biology who taught for 42 years at the college, also spoke Friday.
Davis talked about how different the new facility would be for teaching and learning.
"This is a landmark day. It really is," Davis said.
"It would not have happened without the alignment of the planets and the stars. Some of those stars are here sitting on the stage," he said, thanking everyone who had helped to make the project a reality.