by Elaine Tooley
photography by Ken Bennett
There is a special feeling you get when you step onto campus for the first time. A sense that you have arrived, that you belong here, that you are part of the family.
The trees surrounding the upper Quad that seem incomplete without tissue trailing from their branches signaling victory. The stately brick buildings that stand as constant reminders of the firm foundation of the University and the walkways that invite imaginations to explore avenues of possibility. The classroom in Tribble Hall — you know the one — that takes you back to a time when it seemed education was more revered and the very discussion of serious ideas elevated a person’s stature. The particular way the sun sets on Wait Chapel, confirming the good work of another day. The conversations over a meal in the Pit, the late nights studying under the cupola of the ZSR Library, the wooded stroll to Reynolda Village and the warm afternoons reading on the massive Reynolda Hall patio.
At Wake Forest, generations of young students have grown into thoughtful people creating meaningful life stories. Interestingly enough, the elements that shape that experience have tales of their own.
Two decades after the Civil War, a man from Virginia arrived at Wake Forest College, where the grounds were contained by a slight fence that kept the local farmers’ animals out and the sheep that ate the campus lawn in. “Doctor” Tom Jeffries, a freed slave, spent the better part of five decades transforming the bare campus into a sanctuary, forever changing how we would view our school. It is because of him that we have magnolia trees.
“Doctor” Tom was the curator and landscaper of the College, and planted more than 3,000 plants and trees during his employment at Wake Forest. Much like the magnolia trees that he rooted, “Doctor” Tom was respected, endeared and widely loved by the students and faculty. The campus philosopher routinely attended classes, absorbing a tremendous education in 47 years, and his witty lines earned him the honor of speaking during commencement exercises. His presence on campus was so significant that when he passed away in 1927, his funeral — likely the first integrated event at Wake Forest — was held in the campus chapel, where the entire faculty served as honorary pallbearers. He is now buried just a few yards from Samuel Wait.
When it was announced the school would move to Winston-Salem, “Doctor” Tom’s legacy was not to be left behind. While visiting her nephew, Robert Earl Williford (’51), on the Old Campus in 1947, Monnie Louise McDaniel Wiley, an avid gardener from South Carolina, collected magnolia seeds, sprouted them in buckets and wintered the seedlings in her town’s swimming pool. When the construction in Winston-Salem was nearly complete, Mrs. Wiley and her son balled approximately 20 trees, put them in the back of a large station wagon and delivered them to the new campus. Those trees now outline Manchester Plaza, originally named the Magnolia Quad.
The magnolia identifies the essence of Wake Forest in countless ways to this day. We have the Magnolia Scholars program that welcomes first-generation college students to campus. We have the Magnolia Room that invites students, faculty and staff to enjoy a meal and fellowship with one another. And we now have the Homecoming Queen, where we once had the Magnolia Queen.
The magnolia tree — a beautiful tree planted by an endearing man — has infiltrated our language and culture at Wake Forest almost as much as “Doctor” Tom did nearly 130 years ago.
The Stone Arch
In 1909, the graduating class presented Wake Forest College with an arch that stood at the entrance to the campus near the railroad station. It started the tradition of class gifts, as it was the first “manifestation of goodwill and loyalty” bestowed by an outgoing class to the school.
Due to changes on campus, the arch was moved and surrounded by stone benches and incorporated into the stone wall that wrapped around campus. The original center block of the arch was composed of two slabs — one that faced the railroad and read “Wake Forest College,” and one that faced campus and listed all 72 members of the class of 1909.
— Historian, Class of 1909
When the college moved to Winston-Salem, the arch was left behind and the center slabs were replaced. The original center blocks were stored at the heating plant. Shortly after the school relocated, the front slab appeared on the new campus. James Mackie (’60), the son of the college physician on the original campus, borrowed a truck from his uncle in Yadkinville, drove to Wake Forest, picked up the slab and hauled it to the new campus. With the help of several others, he unloaded it and placed it on the Quad, staring at massive Reynolda Hall. It was shortly removed by the University and accidently broken into a handful of pieces.
In the early 1990s, members of the administration were interested in retrieving the arch that was left behind in Wake Forest. Feeling that it was a large part of the University’s tradition, Wake Forest struck a deal with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the new occupant of the Old Campus. While members of the facilities crew began dismantling the arch, community members protested vehemently. As legend has it, several local townspeople, threatening to chain themselves to the arch, had gone to the hardware store and acquired chain and padlocks to ensure the arch would stay.
In 2006, nearly a century after the arch was originally presented to the University and 50 years after the campus moved to Winston-Salem, a replica was constructed on Hearn Plaza. Three dates are etched in the stone: 1834, for the year of the University’s founding; 1956, for the year of the relocation to Winston-Salem; and 2006, the year the replica arch was installed. Today, it still serves as an entrance to the heart of campus.
The landscape of the University is changing with the recent additions of Farrell Hall and two new residence halls, but the Georgian architecture and the way Wake Forest constructs buildings remains the same.
Captain John Berry was an expert mason called to build the structures on the Wake Forest campus in 1835. He became very fond of Wake Forest and the people, and years after he constructed the first buildings, Berry became a member of the Board of Trustees.
Berry ensured the buildings he constructed were made from local materials. The bricks were made from the clay of the area and the lumber cut in the immediate vicinity of Wake Forest, N.C.
— Captain John Berry
When Wake Forest College relocated to Winston-Salem, it again made the intentional decision to build with local materials. A family-owned business in Pine Hall was used to provide the brick necessary to construct the new campus. The company even made a special stain for the brick just for Wake Forest. The “Deacon Blend” is only used on Wake Forest’s campus and is not sold to anyone but the University.
Construction is a keen indicator of growth, and in Wake Forest’s case, a strong continuation of the tradition of excellence in education. “The Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Center — these things were built during the Depression when people didn’t think they were achievable. When people are confused and scared and concerned about direction, you need to send a strong message that we can’t stop thinking about the future.” That’s what the late Mike Farrell (P ’10), University Trustee and lead donor of Farrell Hall, recognized as the role that facilities play for our school and our times. They keep us thinking about the future and all that is possible with determination and a dream.
It was the late 1940s, or perhaps the early 1950s, and Wake Forest’s football team had just outplayed the Blue Devils from Duke. According to lore, the Duke students threatened to storm Wake Forest’s campus and vandalize the trees in order to get even. Upon hearing the threat, the Deacons beat the Devils to it and rolled the trees themselves. For the second time that night, Wake Forest had defeated Duke. Ever since, we have taken it upon ourselves to roll the quad for athletic victories.
The spirit of celebration did not start with our trees but with a bell. On the Old Campus, the bell in Wait Hall was readily accessible to all. It was used to signal the beginning and end of classes, but in the event of a Wake Forest victory, students would line up and take turns ringing the bell, making it peal long into the night.
It was truly the voice of the campus. The laughter, happy shouts and noisy bell ringing announced to the town that Wake Forest had been victorious. The silence of the bell after competition was just as loud. It spoke of disappointment and failure, but screamed of the determination to try again.
When the migration to Winston-Salem occurred, the Wait Hall bell was stilled, but the sense of celebration in the midst of triumph could not be. A new campus offered an opportunity for enterprising young people to revive folklore and create our style of revelry.
A community is made up of people, spaces, common purpose, history, legends and shared experiences. Behind your Wake Forest story are the people who challenged and believed in you. Connected to your time on campus are thousands of others who also call themselves Demon Deacons. Woven through your experience are the places where you spent your time — the study carrel in the corner of the library, the lounge in your residence hall, the student section of the Joel Coliseum, the food court in the Benson Center and the chairs of the Green Room in Reynolda Hall.
It is our community that inspires that familiar feeling when you are on campus — the one that says
“You are home.”