Oxendine receives Catawba's Shuford award for distinguished service

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2012

SALISBURY — “The most important thing this college did for me was let me become a student here,” Dr. Joseph B. Oxendine recently as he accepted Catawba College’s prestigious Adrian L. Shuford, Jr. Award for Distinguished Service.
Oxendine, a 1952 alumnus of Catawba and chancellor emeritus of UNC Pembroke, was tapped to serve as interim president of his alma mater last March while a national search was launched for Catawba’s next president.
Catawba College Chairman of the Board of Trustees Paul Fisher made the award presentation after musical entertainment provided by cast members of the upcoming production of “Huck Finn.”
The Adrian L. Shuford, Jr. Award is given each year by Catawba to the individual or individuals who have played a major role in supporting the college and its programs and the broader community through their time, talent and resources. It was established in 1983 in honor of trustee emeritus Adrian L. Shuford, Jr. of Conover, who died in 2000.
Describing Oxendine as “a man who has had Catawba figure in his life for more than six decades,” Fisher said Oxendine was “cut from the same timber” as the late Adrian L. Shuford, Jr.
“I don’t know if you knew Adrian, but he stood tall in stature and stood even taller in character,” Fisher shared, comparing Oxendine to Adrian Shuford.
Fisher told the Catawba donors gathered at the event that they were investors in the lives of the young people who attend Catawba College. “When you add up what Joe Oxendine has done with his life,” Fisher said, “those investors who made it possible for him to attend Catawba would be very proud.”
In accepting his award, Oxendine quipped that he was torn between two emotions, pride and humility, “and my pride today has overwhelmed my humility.”
“Folks, this college over four years taught me, nurtured me and molded me to become all that I could become,” he explained, adding that he left Catawba for Boston University and was able to compete there successfully with students from all over the country and the world. “Catawba still does it today — we mold students. We take good students and make them excellent.”
Noting the arrival of the new Catawba President Brien Lewis, who attended the President’s Circle event and whose first day on the job was April 16, Oxendine encouraged those gathered, “to rally around the new leadership and to rally around this college.”
Paraphrasing a biblical passage from Ecclesiastes 3, Oxendine concluded, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to be president of Catawba College and a time to retire as president of Catawba College.”
Oxendine came to Catawba as a student in 1948, a Lumbee Indian who had lived his life to that point in a sheltered community in Pembroke, N.C. He came prepared to fund his own education after spending a year working in a Detroit, Michigan automobile factory. As a student, he played baseball and football and was amazed, he shared during his award acceptance remarks, that people on campus treated him just as if they would have treated anybody else, even though he was a Lumbee Indian.
After he graduated from Catawba, he played baseball for a year in the minor leagues for the Pittsburg Pirates, while earning his master’s of education degree from Boston University.
He served in the U.S. Army in Korea and Hawaii from 1953 to 1955, before taking a job as a teacher and athletic coach in the Lynchburg Public Schools in Virginia from 1955 to 1957. Between 1957 and 1959, he was a Teaching Fellow at Boston University while earning his doctorate of education from there.
For 30 years, between 1959 and 1989, Oxendine served as dean and professor at Temple University in Phila-delphia. There, he conducted research, published scholarly papers, won teaching awards and research grants, and even wrote two books. He and wife Adrienne made their home in Philadelphia and raised their two children.
When a career opportunity became available to him back in his native North Carolina, as chancellor at UNC Pembroke, he took it, and served 10 years, from 1989 until 1999, as chancellor there. Under his leadership, the University changed its name from Pembroke State University, its Carnegie Foundation classification to Comprehensive I, and its athletic conference from NAIA to NCAA II.
Oxendine oversaw the addition of new degree programs at the University, including a RN-BSN nursing program, an MBA program, MA degrees in Agency Counseling and School Counseling, and the addition of a half dozen new bachelors degree offerings.
In March 2011, after he had been retired for almost 12 years as chancellor emeritus from UNC Pembroke, Catawba trustees asked Joe to return to Catawba as interim president. He said, “Yes,” and has spent the last year at the helm of the college, reaching out to students, faculty and alumni, while being “the face” of Catawba.
Catawba has honored Oxendine several times through the years. He has been awarded the college’s O. B. Michael Award, the Distinguished Alumnus Award and been given an honorary degree. He has been inducted into Catawba’s Sports Hall of Fame and was tapped to serve on the Board of Trustees.