A Presidential Exhibit
In February 1925, H.B. Heidelberg, chairman of the committee to select a president for Delta State Teachers College, announced the unanimous nomination of James Wesley Broom as the first president of Delta State. Broom accepted the honor and the challenge set before him with enthusiasm and determination. Broom had previously taught at Mississippi Normal School (now the University of Southern Mississippi) and had served as assistant superintendent of education. During his short tenure in office, Broom succeeded in obtaining appropriations for Delta State from the legislature. He secured a $175,000 appropriation for a girl’s dormitory, which was named Cleveland Hall, as well as a framed gymnasium, Laundromat and residences for the dean and president. Sadly, President Broom passed away in May 1926, just before the end of Delta State’s first academic year.
As the youngest college president in the state, Dr. Kethley assumed the reins at Delta State Teachers College with determination and enthusiasm. Holding the respect and admiration of both students and educators alike, he dispensed his authority in a quiet and humble manner. During Dr. Kethley’s years as president, the Delta Council was organized at Delta State. The college became a member of both the American Association of Teachers Colleges and the Southern Associtation of Colleges and Schools. Dr. Kethley oversaw widespread campus constuction. His appreciation for nature is evident today, as it is to his credit that Delta State can boast the oaks, the cypress, dogwood and mimosas on campus. The Department of Music, along with the university’s other departments, educated many fine musicians during this time, including composer Ruth Fischer in 1930.
Striving to increase and improve Delta State’s credibility as a reputable institution of higher learning, one of Dr. Lucas’ goals was to improve academic programs. He worked closely with the National Council Accreditation for Teacher Education. In 1973, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools reaccredited Delta State. In 1974, Delta State College became known as Delta State University. During Dr. Lucas’ tenure, there were two major gifts made to the Delta State University Foundation–the Nellie Nugent Somerville Lecture Series on Government and Public Affairs and for the West Carillon. Also, the women’s basketball program was revived. The Lady statesmen won their first national championship in 1975. Dr. Lucas returned to the University of Southern Mississippi to become their new president that same year, where he remained until his retirement in 1996.
Kent Wyatt began his tenure as the fifth president of Delta State University during the university’s fiftieth anniversary. Before he served as an assistant to the president under Presidents Ewing and Lucas, he was the university’s alumni director. During Dr. Wyatt’s presidency, he led a well-rounded university. The Lady Statesmen Basketball Team won their second and third consecutive national championships. Members of the Division of Languages and Literature faculty initiated the Delta Area Writing Project to assist English teachers and students in Delta schools. Dr. Wyatt would deliver the first doctoral degree awarded by the university in May of 1984. The cheerleaders won the 1992 Division II national championship, which they would win four more times during his tenure. Both men and women students won the Gulf South Conference Commissioner’s Trophy, marking the first time that the recipients were students at the same university. In 1999, the Delta State University Alumni Foundation exceeded their five million-dollar fundraising goal set three years earlier when the campaign reached the ten million dollar mark. Dr. Wyatt announced his retirement in January of 1999.
Stepping into a seventy-five year tradition, Dr. Potter appeared eager and ready to test his years of experience and knowledge. Coming to Delta State from George Mason University where he served as provost, Dr. Potter was named the sixth president of Delta State University on 7 May 1999. Dr. Potter realized the ‘daunting possibilities’ he faced in continuing the twenty-four year legacy he assumed from Dr. Kent Wyatt. Dr. Potter was extremely involved in a wide range of university functions, which included sports events, art exhibit openings and improvements by establishing a sculpture garden in the area around the Bologna Performing Arts Center.
With bold ambitions for the school’s future, Dr. Hilpert took office as President of Delta State University on September 1, 2003. Coming off of a very successful tenure as President of Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Dr. Hilpert saw great promise not only in Delta State, but in the Delta as a region. With this in mind, he set as the agenda for the University the goal of becoming “the best regional university in America.” Under the leadership of Dr. Hilpert, Delta State has seen an expansion of its facilities, academic opportunities, and dreams for itself.