Maryville is lucky. Lucky like when you buy a house and find a treasure buried in the garden. Only many Blount Countians still don’t know about the treasure. Maybe because they haven’t visited enough small towns to realize what we have in ours.
The mountains are pretty, but they are not mountains. Many cities have them. It’s not even the big schools. Many have them too. The same goes for the low crime rate and the cost of living.
This is Maryville College. Honest before God. This is our pearl of great price.
Maryville College is one of the top ten liberal arts colleges in the south. And it’s right here. In fact, it’s been here as long as there’s been one here to be. You could almost say, no college, no Maryville. At least not the Maryville we know and love.
For two hundred years, Maryville College has sent its graduates around the world to make it a better place. Thousands and thousands of them. And luckily for us, a disproportionate number of them have stayed here. People like Sonny Lambert, the Proffitts, the Calloways, Tutt Bradford, Mary Kay Sullivan, Steve West, Adriel McCord, Joe Costner, Penny Feguson and Don Story. Maryville College has trained our mayors, legislators, doctors, lawyers, judges, soldiers, and teachers. Our poets, painters and pianists. Our preachers and priests. And that’s not even taking into account the hundreds and hundreds of faculty members from Isaac Anderson and Art Bushing to Terry Bunde and Peggy Cowan to Lori Schmied and John Gallagher. These incredible human beings moved here, served here, and raised their families here largely for a reason. Maryville College. Even the new football coach – Ben Fox – who I’ve known since he was in high school – is one of the greatest people you could wish for in your town.
And the students! What would we do without the students? They keep us young, smart and learning.
But like anyone or anything that achieves greatness, our college has its detractors. Mostly newcomers to Maryville who claim the college is “liberal”. Ha! Well, sure, that’s liberal. Proudly liberal I imagine. It was, after all, a pro-Union, anti-slavery Presbyterian institution. And, with its Quaker neighbors in nearby Friendsville, a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves.
In other words, Maryville College was on the right side of history. And, if I may say so, on God’s side.
Ours was also the first college in the state to admit African Americans. And the first to award a bachelor’s degree to a woman in 1875.
The college has been equally “liberal” with its facilities, concerts, lectures, sporting events, and miles of pristine woods and hiking trails. The performing arts center alone is worth millions to our community.
But those who really know her realize that Maryville College has also been stubbornly “conservative” about the things that matter most. Strongly push back the secularization of society. Against tribalism and incivilities. To help each student discover his or her own vocation. (Thanks, Bill Meyer!) And students learn to give back. To volunteer. So they appear everywhere. From the Boys and Girls Club to the church pantries to the animal shelter.
What could be more conservative than upholding traditional values such as honesty, integrity, hard work, scholarship and respect? These are not just values engraved on the rock that stands in the middle of campus. They are painstakingly engraved in the hearts and minds of students by faculty members who care more about their students than themselves. Who shape not only the academic but also the civic habits of the heart that make exemplary citizens for our city and our world.
Compare Maryville faculty salaries to those of other high performing colleges and universities and you will better understand why I admire these faculty so much. They should be praised. Honored. Just talk to their students. Not the relative handful of those who are easily offended and perhaps don’t understand that college is a time to question their thinking and who see a socialist (or a fascist) under every rock. But talk with the large number of students and you’ll soon conclude that the city of Maryville would be well advised to ignore the naysayers and do everything in its power to ensure the college’s future prosperity.
Oak Ridge is a great little town. Franklin too. So are Greeneville, Athens and Kingsport.
But they don’t have what we have. Treasure in the yard.
Buzz Thomas is a retired American Baptist Church minister, lawyer, school superintendent, and longtime resident of Blount County and frequent columnist for the Daily Times.