Ground was broken on the Tusculum College Greeneville campus at the site for the Ronald H. and Verna June Meen Center for Science and Math on Friday, Sept. 27. More than 200 people turned out for the occasion.
“This is a day that marks hard work, determination and persistence,” said Kenneth A. Bowman, chair of the Board of Trustees and 1970 graduate of Tusculum College. “Thanks to so many, this building will be another structural representation of all that is Tusculum College. Inside these walls will be the work of education, of teaching and learning and growing. The impact of the bricks that will stand here are immeasurable when you consider the impact of what will occur here for the next 200 years.”
Held in conjunction with Homecoming 2013, the event celebrated the planned construction of the 88,000 square-foot building to house classrooms, lab space and research facilities for the science and mathematics programs at Tusculum, as well as general classroom space and a large auditorium-style classroom.
“As we break ground today on the future Ronald H. and Verna June Meen Center for Science and Math, I think of everyone who was involved, all the hours of planning, all the support and community partnerships that developed,” said Dr. Nancy B. Moody, president of Tusculum College.
Special recognition was given to Verna June Meen, whose $3.875 million gift towards funding the facility in memory of her husband, Dr. Ronald H. Meen, allowed the leadership of the college to move forward with plans for the facility.
“I wanted to do this for Ron, as a way to honor him, to remember him,” she said of her gift to Tusculum College.
Dr. Ronald Meen worked for Eastman Chemical Company for many years and held numerous patents for chemical compounds developed during the course of his work for the company. He was a respected, published author in the field of organic chemistry who enjoyed riding his bike, reading, fishing, building and flying model airplanes and visiting his second home in Canada.
“Mrs. Verna June Meen has always known the value of education. With her gift to Tusculum College, she honored not only the memory of her beloved husband, but also that value that has always been dear to her,” said Dr. Moody. Dr. Moody talked about how education had played a strong role in Mrs. Meen’s life. “Mrs. Verna June Meen was born in Indiana with a strong sense of how education could change a person’s life. At a time when few women attended college, she set her sights on an accounting degree at Indiana University.
“With $80 and a merit scholarship, she set out to finance her education. Mrs. Meen worked her way through school, earning top marks. She worked hard, eventually graduating in two and two-thirds year. She was a pioneer in her own education and now has paved the way for thousands more to achieve that same dream.”
Representatives of the USDA were also recognized, as a $39 million Community Facilities direct loan from USDA Rural Development put the institution in a financial position to fund the construction. The low-interest loan helped to significantly lower what the college pays in debt service, making the new construction and renovation possible while also improving the college’s overall finances, said Bowman.
“USDA Rural Development is proud of the relationship being formed with Tusculum College,” said Joe Woody, area director for Knoxville/Greeneville, Rural Development, United States Department of Agriculture. “From the onset we established with Dr. Moody and the Board of Trustees what our role would be – more than a lender, but a partner. I believe that is coming to fruition with our involvement in activities such as Nettie Day and Penny Wars. Open communication has been the key to success thus far.”
Addie Hancock, a senior pre-med student from Rogersville, spoke on behalf of the student body. She talked about the excitement over the new space and what it will mean for undergraduate research and collaborative projects with professors, adding that the Meen Center will be a unifying campus icon for science and math students.
“The building and all that it represents in terms of educational advancement gives the student body, specifically the math and science students, a sense of pride and accomplishment,” she said.
Dr. Bob Davis, professor emeritus and a former professor of biology who taught for 42 years at the college, talked about how different the new facility would be for teaching and learning.
“This is a landmark day. It really is,” said Dr. Davis. “It would not have happened without the alignment of the planets and the stars. Some of those stars are here sitting on the stage.”
He thanked everyone who had helped to make this project a reality, a dream he did not expect to see in his lifetime.