By: Charles C. Moore
Special to The Lancaster News
Enrollment from when the University of South Carolina Lancaster began classes in fall of 1959 through this semester has grown from 51 to 1900.
Community leaders, professors, deans, students and their families, have had a hand in this ongoing higher education success story, including many behind the scenes.
One member of this joint effort was Barbara Watkins Croxton. Watkins was a fixture in the admissions office from 1970 until her retirement in 1995.
She was the one person at USCL with whom practically every student and faculty member came into contact.
In 1970 she was working at the old Bank of Lancaster.
“Starr Hall had just been finished,” she said. “The university was advertising for a part time job, so I went over there. I told them that wouldn’t work, that I needed a full time job. So, later that afternoon, the university called and said, ‘You got the job.’”
The “job” became a profession that lasted until her retirement.
First, Watkins was a secretary in the admissions department, then admissions officer and registrar. Then, she was director of admissions and records. When Watkins retired 17 years ago, she was associate dean for admissions and administration.
Along the way, she found time to indulge one of her life’s goals: teaching, qualifications met while married to a high-profile husband, rearing three children and working in one of USCL’s most demanding positions.
She had earned an associate degree in the late 1940s from Mars Hill College. While at USCL she earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from Winthrop University.
For the 1978-79 term, Watkins shared the school’s “Teacher of the Year” with former psychology professor Dr. Bob Rice, an honor she still cherishes.
She was also among the most loved and respected members of the USCL faculty and staff by the students with whom she came into daily contact. And they kept pouring in.
Starr Hall, the second building on campus, had just been completed in 1968 and during Mrs. Watkins’ first year, some 250 students registered for classes. Twenty-five years later, student enrollment was numbered at 1,152.
“I liked USCL so much,” she said. “The bank was a little too regimented for me. The pace at the university was a little slower. But there were some similarities. Customers at the bank had to be made to feel comfortable. It was the same thing with students.”
USCL Dean Dr. John Catalano said Watkins deserves much of the credit for the university’s growth.
“Barbara Watkins was an administrator who always put students first,” Catalano said. “She had the best knowledge of university policies and procedures I’ve ever seen and then used that knowledge to help our students. There are countless people in this community who were able to attend USCL and finish degrees in large part due to Barbara Watkins.”
This writer is one of those “countless ones.”
In September 1972, I had entered school on the GI Bill.
October, no money from the government. First of November, no money.
I went to see Watkins in Starr Hall.
She patiently listened to my story, as I told her if the money did not come in I wouldn’t return in January. I remember exactly what she said.
“Just hold on, let me see what can be done,” she said.
That’s what a did and about two weeks later, she sent for me.
“You should have your money within a couple of weeks,” she said.
She was right; I got all $632. A couple weeks later, I got $316 for November. I returned to classes in January.
Stories like mine, Catalano said, are countless.
Today, Watkins’ eyes brighten at the mention of USCL’s success.
She was born in Lancaster and, as a youngster, lived all over the Northeast while her father worked construction jobs. She and her mother returned home when she was in the 10th grade so she could graduate from Lancaster High School. After high school, it was college near Asheville, N.C., marriage to legendary Lancaster High School band director and Charlotte Symphony member, the late Ben Watkins. And the births of children, Ben, Buddy and Laura, all of whom are college graduates.
Her impact on students, particularly those who got to know her well, is immeasurable. Karen Faile is an example. She worked as a student assistant in Mrs Watkins’ office.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Barbara Watkins kept me in school through sheer will and determination,” said Faile, who now serves as director of enrollment management for USCL. That, by the way, is the same position held by Watkins when the two met back in 1980.
“Without her, I would very likely have been a college dropout. I try very hard to apply what I learned from her in my daily interactions with our students. If I can make anywhere near the difference in their lives as she made in mine, then I will have succeeded in paying forward the gift that Barbara Watkins so generously gave to me all those years ago,” Faile said.
“She (Watkins) is an extraordinary person,” said Dr. John R. “Pete” Arnold, former USCL dean and history professor. “She is intelligent, insightful, efficient and personable. She was a very able administrator, student advisor and mentor to several student assistants.”
One of those student assistants, in addition to Faile, was Sherry Hinson Baucom, who worked in the admissions office in the 1970s.
“Our relationship began in the admissions office where I worked for her as a student assistant,” Baucom said. “That immediately led to her role as my academic counselor as we planned my first semester schedule. With an undecided major she made sure that my courses would fit into any course of study and give me the maximum benefit toward earning my degree. As we worked together she became a mentor, modeling secretarial skills and efficiency dealing with people as you get the job done. Working with her was the most beneficial course of my college career.”
Baucom said the lessons learned from Watkins have endured.
“I’m thankful that God placed Barbara Watkins in my life because I know that he allowed her guidance to prepare me for my 33-year career in education. I’m sure that countless other students were led in a positive direction as a result of her dedication to counseling students,” Baucom said.
Ben Watkins, Barbara Watkins’ son, shares Baucom’s sentiments – about the role his mother and USCL played in lives of his family.
“Recently, some of us were reminiscing, USCL came up and it became clear what a big part the school had played in our family’s life,” Ben Watkins said. “My brother, sister, wife, sister-in-law and I had all gone to school there. My father taught there and my mom worked and taught there for many years.
“We all gained from the experience, but it was clear that my mom was most deeply invested. She always felt that the school, the community and the students formed a mutually beneficial partnership. With that as a basis, she was always trying to improve the school to attract new students and to recruit and encourage students for the benefit of the school.”
Barbara Watkins’ greatest memory of USCL during her 25-year career is no surprise. For her, a school’s foremost responsibility is always to its students.
“My greatest memory was that I was really able to help a lot of children get into school. For many, it was their first experience with college. A first job. A lot of them really did not want to be there. It was our job to make sure they got in and that they liked it. It was a self-fulfilling kind of job for me, and I liked the students a lot.
“I got along with all the faculty and got along with all my bosses. They let me go to school while I was working. They were good to me. My children all went there and they enjoyed it. I was very happy there.”
Arnold called her a “major asset” to USCL when it needed someone like her.
Catalano, Faile and Baucum would agree. Along with hundreds of others, including writer me.
– Charles C. “Buck” Moore is a life-long Lancaster County resident. He is a retired reporter and editor of The Lancaster News.
About Barbara Watkins Croxton and Her Service To USC Lancaster
By: Charles C. Moore