Rappahannock Community College was founded back in 1970 in what would later be the Chesapeake Inn at Urbanna. In those years, countless students have enrolled in courses on the numerous campuses or via dual-enrollment classes in high school. Last Thursday, RCC’s current Board of Directors, as well as several notable alumni, faculty, and local politicians from the Urbanna town council and Middlesex Board of Supervisors, arrived at the Chesapeake Inn to celebrate the community college’s 50th anniversary. Sadly, the original board members have all passed away, with the final original founder passing on just before last year’s holiday season.
Dr. Shannon Kennedy, the current President of RCC was on hand to speak before those that had gathered at the Inn, speaking of the college’s mission, its impact, and its origins.
“In 1966, Governor Mills Godwin said that ‘Knowledge is the great equalizer of our time. If there is a main route to our excesses, and the inertia which gets in our way, if there is a handmaiden to poverty and failure, then it is ignorance. Let us marshal our resources against it,’ that year, Governor Godwin created the Virginia Community College System,” Dr. Shannon explained, before continuing on.
“To establish a community college, the VCCS required that it must serve at least 100,000 residents. It took 13 counties across the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula to form what was called the Northern Neck Area Community College.”
According to Dr. Kennedy, it was in 1969 that representatives from the Board of Supervisors for each of the 13 counties met in Urbanna to create the Local Board for a community college in the region.
“The dream of a community college serving students on both sides of the river succeeded in uniting the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula,” she continued, explaining some of the initial hurdles that had to be cleared “however, the struggle to identify sites for the two campuses nearly shattered the new coalition.”
It was strong leadership from several members of the Local Board that prevented this and led to the fateful first meeting in Urbanna with the VCCS in 1970, where the Local Board learned about the state guidelines and expectations. As mentioned before, none of the original Local Board are among the living anymore, though there are many relatives still connected to the school.
Dr. Kennedy went over what RCC had accomplished after its founding, and how far it had come since then.
“In 1974 and ’73, RCC awarded 52 degrees and certificates at the Glenns Campus. Next June, 97 degrees and certificates were awarded at the campus in Warsaw. Compare that to 50 years later, with 1,813 associate degrees and awards were awarded to 1,258 students for the 2018-19 fiscal year- significant growth!
“RCC now offers five degrees, and many more short-term workhouse programs, and we have nearly 50 agreements with local college campuses across the state and region. RCC graduates form the backbone of our local economy: our healthcare providers, bankers, small business owners, and tradespeople. It’d be hard to through your day without being served in some way by an RCC alum. We look forward to providing the workforce,” she finished.
Governor Northam, though not present, made his presence felt in the form of a resolution, which was unveiled and read aloud, declaring January 9 to be Rappahannock Community College Founders’ Day. Congressman Wittman did something similar, sending a letter, congratulating RCC for celebrating its 50th anniversary and for helping to bring about President Thomas Jefferson’s dream of having colleges that would bring the opportunity for higher education within a day’s ride. It continues to be the heartbeat of RCC, and it has helped countless people change their lives through study and affordable education.
The letter posited that “Through the introduction of programs such as innovative online classes as well as dual-enrollment opportunities, I am confident that RCC will be around for another 50 years and then some. As an attendee at a Virginia public institution myself, I am always filled with pride to see such institutions achieve so much with so many.”
This previous Saturday, RCC also held an open-house at their Glenns Campus from 1 to 4, featuring tours, demonstrations, a scavenger hunt, and a short program at 1:30 with Judge McKenny as well as Author Brad Parks at 3.
Dr. Kennedy closed the meeting at Urbanna out with a toast to the college.
“For the last 50 years, RCC has been transforming lives,” she commented, “strengthening communities, and inspiring excellence. Here’s looking forward to the next 50 years!” With a raising of the glasses and a gulp, the formalities had concluded, with those in attendance staying to exchange stories with one another and sample the snacks laid out for them. As mentioned before, the sheer impact that the community college has had on the area cannot be understated, touching countless families with the promise of affordable higher education, and it is clear that these past 50 years were just the beginning.