Wineka column: A month to remember for Bumgardners

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 14, 2011

SALISBURY — In the personal history books of Kimberly and Philip Bumgardner, May 2011 will deserve its own chapter.
Married 28 years, the Bumgardners graduated Saturday magna cum laude from Catawba College — each with a degree in business administration. Family members, including their children, 26-year-old Adam and 25-year-old Julianna, filled the good portion of a row at Keppel Auditorium.
But Saturday was just a prelude to an even bigger event for Kimberly and Phil this coming Saturday.
Julianna is getting married.
Did we mention it’s a big month.
Over the past three years, the Bumgardners spent close to four hours on Monday and Thursday nights and Saturday mornings attending Catawba College’s evening undergraduate classes.
On the 25-minute ride from Kannapolis, they often ate their dinners in the car, hurrying from their jobs with Castle & Cooke North Carolina, where Kim is an assistant to President Lynne Scott Safrit and Phil is a property manager, working mostly out of the research campus’ Core Lab.
Then there was the homework outside of class, with various projects due or big tests on the horizon. Though they often took many of the same courses, the Bumgardners discovered their study habits were quite different.
Phil, 50, needed space and quiet. Kim, 48, liked to review her material by saying everything out loud.
“He hates that,” Kim says.
But the couple found Catawba College’s program practical and doable, as each block had nine classroom sessions devoted to one subject.
“The accelerated program is so good because you just focus on that one class,” Kim says. The couple learned to schedule their time and “once you get in a groove,” Phil says, they were able to manage full-time jobs and full-time school.
Catawba College’s fall and spring semesters each consisted of four blocks, with each block four weeks long. The summer also offered two blocks, meaning the Bumgardners could attend 10 blocks a year, as well as participate in bi-weekly or online courses.
During each block there were nine class meetings, four each on Monday and Thursday evenings (6-9:45 p.m.) and one Saturday session (8-11:45 a.m.).
To be considered a full-time student, Kim and Phil each had to take 12 hours per semester.
As with other bachelor degree graduates, both Kim and Phil also had to complete a minimum of 120 semester hours. By taking 30 hours per year, most evening undergraduate students complete the program in four years.
But by transferring some credits they previously had — Kim had taken some accounting courses, and Phil already had an associate degree in network management — the Bumgardners finished in three years.
“We tried to take as many classes together as possible,” Kim says, adding later, “it was great competition when we had the same class.“
Safrit, a Catawba College graduate and member of its board of trustees, encouraged Kim to get her degree — something that Kim had never made a priority. A 1981 graduate of South Rowan High School, she married Phil when she was 19 and raising their family soon took over.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Kim says. “It’s a big accomplishment.”
After her first semester of going it alone, Kim told Phil, “You need to do this.”
“He caught up because he had some credits,” she adds. Phil’s work experience through the years has led him through engineering and network administration jobs, mainly in manufacturing.
“It will open more doors,” Phil says of having a four-year degree.
Kim says her toughest course was management finance — “I cried through that class,” she says. Phil smiles when he adds, “I didn’t think any of them were particularly difficult.”
It probably should be mentioned that Kim has been in a wheelchair since 1989, the result of complications from lupus. The college’s Administration Building, the oldest on campus, was sometimes tough to maneuver. “There’s only so much you can do with a building like that,” she says.
Otherwise, the wheelchair was never an issue standing in the way of her education. She and Phil even served as junior marshals at last year’s graduation.
“What I loved was that the professors didn’t treat me any differently,” Kim says.
Phil hears this and disagrees.
“They all liked you more than they did me,” he complains.
The Bumgardners consider themselves on an educational roll and are looking at possibly pursuing master’s degrees through night classes at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte or online classes through East Carolina University.
Now that they are Catawba College graduates, the couple hope to be involved in the school as alumni.
But first there’s a wedding to attend.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or