App State celebrates 120 years of education at Founders Day

Gianna Holiday and Moss Brennan

The annual tradition of Founders Day commemorates the day the first classes held by App State, formerly known as Watauga Academy, on Sept. 5, 1899. Thursday’s festivities celebrated 120 years of classes. 

In 2018, Chancellor Sheri Everts began this tradition with the first Founder’s Day celebration at Founders Plaza to honor B.B. Dougherty, D.D. Dougherty and Lillie Shull Dougherty.

This year’s celebration included live music and free food on Sanford Mall, presentations from the University History Committee, a panel discussion with former Chancellor John E. Thomas and prior university administrators, the dedication of a new statue, and the induction of inaugural members into the Bell Ringers Society.

“I’m honored to be with this group, honored to be a part of this university,” said Philip Byers, UNC System board of governors and Bell Ringers Society member. 

Byers graduated from App State in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. Another member of the Bell Ringers Society is former Chancellor John E. Thomas, who Byers said helped him graduate. 

“He was a like a big brother to me and was so kind,” Byers said. “He knew I was always up to mischief, but he made sure I graduated and worked with me.” 

This year, the university invited select members of the Boone community to ring the Founders Bell during the ceremony. The university’s Founders Bell was relocated from its former home outside Anne Belk Hall to a newly constructed pavilion on Founders Plaza.

“For the first time ever, there will be a Bell Ringers Society. We are going to have about 12 people come down and ring the bell 10 times each,” said App State director of communications, Megan Hayes.  “They’ve all been chosen for different reasons due to their representation of the history of the institution. They’ll ring the bell 120 times for our 120 years.” 

Chancellor Everts, in addition to the great-granddaughter of D.D. and Lillie Shull Dougherty, Doris Stam, presented a new statue in honor of Lillie Shull Dougherty. 

The artwork was donated by William H. Brown Jr., the great-grandson of D.D. and Lillie Shull Dougherty, and sculpted by local artist Suzie Hallier.

“I just really wanted to create something that showed how strong she was despite her tiny size,” Hallier said. “She was small but tall.” 

Last year’s celebration debuted a new double-sided granite sign for the university in Founders Plaza, along with additional seating areas and a more prominent location for B.B. Doughtery’s existing statue. 

Last year, Chancellor Everts also formed a University History Committee, chaired by Dr. Karl Campbell, an associate professor in the history department. According to Campbell, the committee “collects, studies and disseminates university history through events and curricula.”

“Members of the Doughtery family had been talking to some of us historians, and asking if we could do something regarding the history of the university. The chancellor responded by creating the Appalachian State History Committee,” Campbell said. 

The App State History Committee is hosting an App State history exhibition in Plemmons Student Union. The research showcase includes poster presentations on education, the evolution of student services and ghost stories.  All of the posters were created by faculty, staff and students. 

“The importance of bringing our historical identity back to our community seems like a really important goal. It seems that Appalachian has grown so fast and changed so much, there was a need for students, faculty, the community, and alums to reconnect with our identity,” Campbell said. “You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.”

A panel discussion with former Chancellor Thomas and previous App State administrators, who will share stories about App State in the 1970s and 1980s, followed  the showcase.

“We all come in and find our place at Appalachian State, but after you’re here for a while, you start to try to figure out how your piece fits into the big story,” Campbell said. “You realize that you’re part of something bigger, and you realize that you are part of a community with shared goals and I believe that really adds depth to your experience.”