Innerviews: Visionary leader energizes Glenville State
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Peter Barr wanted to be a bread truck driver like his dad. Then a teacher planted a seed, the prediction of a higher calling. The seed took a long time to sprout.
"Good Time Charlie" couldn't cut it in college. In the Army, he started to realize what a fertile mind and a lot of people could accomplish.
He returned to Marshall for his undergraduate degree, earned a Ph.D. and landed in South Carolina as an academic icon at Coastal Carolina University, where he made a huge name for himself as a dynamic Pied Piper for economic development.
Today, he uses those can-do skills as president of Glenville State College.
He's particularly proud of the Hidden Promise Scholars Consortium, a mentoring program for 8th- to 12th-graders designed to groom first-generation college graduates.
At 63, he's starting to think about retiring, maybe spending more time in Myrtle Beach. But there's a problem. How could he leave the little town that has stolen his heart?
"I was born and raised in the West End of Huntington. My daddy was a bread truck driver for Heiner's. There were three boys and three girls, a big family.
"The Heiner's bread thing impacted me a good bit because dad had a really big route. On weekends and before Thanksgiving and Christmas, I would go with him on the route. I got to know my dad in ways that a lot of young men don't get to know their fathers.
"I was going to be a bread man. Dad had a good living, and the Heiners were incredible people. In the ninth grade, my civics teacher, Mrs. Grant, hugged me one day and said, 'Pete, I bet one day, you would like to be governor of West Virginia.' I didn't want to be governor then, and don't want to be governor now. But she recognized something, and it made me start thinking.
"I went to Huntington High School and developed the fine art of partying. When I went to Marshall in 1968, I did a really good job of playing cards and having a drink and didn't do a real good job of going to class. So I went to the Army for a little over three years.
"I was trained as an MP at Fort Gordon, Ga. I was sent to Fort Sill, Okla., for Officers Candidate School. In May of '70, I became a second lieutenant and spent two years at Fort Knox teaching kids how to shoot rifles.
"I was 19 and a second lieutenant and that put me in a position of responsibility I hadn't had before. I began to realize in the Army that if you have enough people and have the brainpower, you can do anything.
"I started back at Marshall as a business major and graduated in '75. In '72, I was married. She helped put me through school on the GI Bill. I started the MBA program and did that until '77. My father-in-law was Don Malcolm, and he and Fred Ashworth had Stationer's. They hired me to manage the bookstore while I finished my master's. When they sold out, I decided I had to get into something else.
"I had been teaching part time. I wanted to stay in education and went to Louisiana Tech for my doctorate. I finished all the course work and went back to Marshall. I thought I was going to be a professor at Marshall forever.
"In 1987, I had an opportunity to go to what was then the University of South Carolina at Coastal Carolina, in the Myrtle Beach-Conway area. I started as an associate professor.
"After one year, I had an opportunity to start what's called the Coastal Center for Economic and Community Development. I became dean of the Wall College of Business.
"We had the first accreditation from the American Association of Schools of College and Business.
"We wanted to start a professional golf management program, but four schools were already accredited, and the PGA put a moratorium on them.
"So we started the Cooperative Golf Management Program and formed an association with the Spanish Royal Federation of Golf who sanctioned our program. Then the PGA lifted the moratorium and we were accredited.
"We did a lot of economic development studies and put in the Carolina Bays Highway. It was a big deal.
"Horry County was perceived by the bond rating agencies as not a real stable economy because it relied so much on tourism. My job was to convince the raters that we were a stable economy.
"Grand Strand Hospital wanted to start an acute cardiac care unit. We were able to demonstrate that we had sufficient population, and we got the cardiac care unit.
"I worked so hard to see Myrtle Beach grow. Now you look at it and you wish maybe there were more tranquil parts.
"I did eight years as a dean. I have a mentor, Doug Wendell, president and CEO of Burroughs and Chapin, a big private land development company, and I worked for Doug for a couple of years as a senior VP.
"Ron Ingle, president of Coastal Carolina, hired me to come back as provost at Coastal Carolina. That's how I ended up at Glenville in 2006.
"I had never been to Glenville. Betsy and I both knew it was the right move. We fell in love with the people. All the qualities you think of in West Virginia people - hardworking, family, commitment, patriotism -- those people had that.
"When we first moved to Glenville, one of the issues was quality affordable housing for faculty and staff. Ike Morris owns Waco Oil and Gas. He said, '[We] have 22 acres behind Otterbein Church. Take it and see what you can do with it.' I had been in development, so this was exciting.
"Here's the contrast between Myrtle Beach and Glenville. With no hope of making any money, nine of us put up $25,000 apiece just to build the infrastructure to sell lots and get quality affordable housing. You could not find nine people in Myrtle Beach who would [do that]. We have about nine houses there now. The community is incredible.
"I'm a first-generation college student. About 70 percent of our kids are first-generation college students, and 65 to 70 percent are low- to moderate-income kids. They are as smart as any kids in the world, but they don't know how good they are. They haven't had an opportunity to be beyond central West Virginia.
"If you come from humble beginnings and get a college degree, it opens so many doors. I can't tell you how many times I heard, 'If it hadn't been for Glenville State, I never would have gone to college.' Glenville State is so important to central West Virginia. That can't be overstated.
"Of all the state colleges and universities, we have the highest percentage of graduates who remain in West Virginia.
"All my life I had been told that it is important for K-12 and higher education to work together. I started visiting school superintendents in the area about working together. We wanted more kids graduating from high school, higher ACT scores, more kids going to college.
"We started with 13 counties. Now we have 38 counties in West Virginia and Ohio and Connecticut as part of our Hidden Promise Consortium. We think the true promise of West Virginia lies in its people, especially its young people and their education.
"There are lots of smart kids out there who won't have the background for college. So we asked consortium members to identify five kids in their district in grades eight through 12.
"We said we would recognize those students and assign them campus passes and a mentor -- a current student at Glenville -- and just introduce them to the college culture.
"We want to get as many of them in college whether or not they go to Glenville. If you do come to Glenville, you get a $1,000 scholarship. We call them Hidden Promise Scholars.
"It started in 2006. We have about 130 now on campus. We graduated our 25th and 26th graduates the other night. I remember what they were like four or five years ago. The transformation is unbelievable.
"We have a professor who says a lot of our students don't know how to dream. They don't have the self-confidence of knowing what they can do. Kids grow up here knowing a teacher, a doctor, maybe a dentist and lawyer. If you don't want to be one of those four things, you don't have that vision of what the future is.
"The faculty and staff at Glenville care whether or not you succeed. Remember that problem I had going to class at Marshall? Here, they will come and get you.
"The one thing I would want to see happen is an institutionalization of our Hidden Promise program so that when I'm dead, there are still kids going through that program.
"I feel extremely grateful. I have had some incredible people in my life, opportunities other people haven't had, lots of mentors. I've had an opportunity to be involved in decision-making, opportunities to make things happen.
"My contract expires June 30, 2015, but I would like to stay long enough to where Glenville doesn't need a crutch, where it can grow on its own. We are the best small public liberal arts college in the country. I would like everybody to know that.
"I would like to see Gilmer County and Glenville realize the economic prosperity it is building. It still isn't where we would like it to be.
"I'm proud of what has happened in Glenville. I'm proud of my children. We have three and they are all doing well. They're all educators.
"Along with the house in North Myrtle, we have a cabin in North Carolina. When I retire, we might spend half the year in each place. But I don't know if I can leave Glenville."Reach Sandy Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5173.