In 1963, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Community College Act creating a system of comprehensive community colleges and technical institutes. In September 1964, the people of Wilkes County approved the establishment of a community college through a bond vote for construction of facilities and a tax authorization for the operation of the college. Wilkes Community College was approved by the State Board of Education on October 1, 1964.
The first board of trustees was sworn into office on January 15, 1965, and the name “Wilkes Community College” was officially adopted on that date. Dr. Howard E. Thompson, the college’s first president, served from March 5, 1965 to June 30, 1977. He was followed by Dr. David E. Daniel, July 1, 1977 to April 2, 1989; Dr. H. Edwin Beam, interim president, April 3, 1989 to July 16, 1989; Dr. James R. Randolph, July 17, 1989 to July 7, 1995; Dr. Swanson Richards, interim president, July 8, 1995 to February 29, 1996; Dr. Gordon G. Burns, Jr., March 3, 1996 to June 1, 2014; Morgan Francis, acting president, June 2, 2014 to June 30, 2014; and Dr. Jeffrey Alan Cox, the college’s current president who assumed duties on July 1, 2014. In 1990, the Board of Trustees was expanded to include two trustees from each of Alleghany (1974) and Ashe (1975) counties; making a total of 16 trustees plus the Student Government Association president, who serves in an ex-officio capacity.
Wilkes Community College first offered apprenticeship training courses in September 1965. Part-time business technology programs began in December 1965. The first one-year diploma program, Practical Nurse Education, began March 7, 1966. On September 15, 1966, students were admitted to full-time status in the Associate in Arts and Associate in Applied Science Degree programs. The college now offers more than 35-degree programs along with a range of continuing education and basic skills courses.
Thompson, Hayes, and Lovette Halls, the first buildings on the Wilkes County campus on Collegiate Drive in Wilkesboro, were occupied on April 1, 1969. Since then, the college has expanded with more buildings for classrooms and offices. These include the Power Mechanics building, Randolph Hall/Bumgarner Gymnasium and Building 7 in 1978; the Industrial Classroom building in 1980; the Workforce Development and Community Education building, formerly Continuing Education building in 1981; and the John A. Walker Community Center, a convention and cultural arts complex, in 1984. Daniel Hall was added in 1989; the Doc and Merle Watson Theatre in 1990; the Beacon Building, purchased in 1994; WCC Alumni Hall, completed in 1998; the Horticulture Complex in 2005; and Lowe’s Hall, which was occupied in spring of 2007. An Automotive Technology Complex comprising two buildings, the McNeill Automotive Center and the Collision Repair Center, was dedicated in January 2014. The Tyson Foods Sustainable Animal Science Lab was dedicated in 2018. These facilities make up the current 18 buildings and 151.7 acres of the Wilkes campus. The Wilkes Early College, located in Randolph Hall, started in 2009. Herring Hall, located on Oakwoods Road, houses the health sciences programs and was dedicated in 2015.
Mrs. Hilda Kendrick and Mrs. Nancy Church made a gift to Wilkes Community College to support the purchase and renovation of the Beacon Building. At the time of their donation, the building housed Allied Health programs, Dental Clinic, Early Childhood Education and the WCC childcare facility. The building now houses workforce development and criminal justice programs. At the time of their donation, these ladies did not want attention, they wanted to work behind the scenes. It was after their passing that the college was able to honor them. A dedication ceremony for the Kendrick/Church Hall was held on March 12, 2019.
The new Stone Culinary Center was dedicated on August 27, 2018. The facility includes a hot lab, cold lab, bake lab, library, office space, and a dining room that gives students restaurant-style practical experience in setup, preparation, and service of meals.
The college also has a center in Alleghany County, which began offering continuing education courses in 1974 from its downtown Sparta location. The center began offering curriculum classes in 1983. Alleghany County remodeled the former Bassett Walker plant to co-house the Blue Ridge Business Development Center and the Alleghany Center of Wilkes Community College in 2003.
The Ashe Campus in Jefferson originally started offering CE classes in 1975, and curriculum courses in the late seventies through the local high schools. In 1985 a new facility was opened. The Ashe Campus was elevated to multi-campus status in 2008. The facility underwent renovations and additions in 1996 and 2005. The Ashe County Early College High School opened on the Ashe Campus in 2018.
Wilkes Community College continues to provide an affordable, quality education. Serving our constituents in a variety of ways. Our priorities are to enhance lives through training and education building stronger communities for future generations.