Often we are asked the question, “What will the next building be at North Greenville?” Already architects are at work on preliminary plans for a new building to house the Hester Memorial Library. This is a building that is desperately needed, and must come in the near future if we are to retain accreditation. It seems fitting at this time that we take a backward look at the nine years that Mr. H. C. Hester served as principal of North Greenville Academy. It is in his honor that the trustees named the library many years ago.
Mr. Hester and his young wife studied at Southern Seminary at Louisville in preparation to answer God’s call as foreign missionaries. Their graduation from Louisville came at a time when the Foreign Mission Board was in financial straits, with a heavy debt, and it was not a heavy debt, and it was not possible for them to receive appointment for them to receive appointment. As a consequence he took two pastorates in the Edisto Association, Bethcar, and Rocky Springs churches.
After serving these churches for 13 months, Mr. Hester was extended the invitation to become principal of North Greenville Academy, of which his wife was an alumna. In 1919, he took his position, and served for the next nine years.
These were critical years for the young institution, following World War I, when financing an academy was virtually impossible. Many of the students that came to North Greenville had little or no money, and Baptist organizations were slow help. Recently we asked Mrs. Hester, “What was one of the most critical times that you remember?” She recalled her husband coming in one day from a meeting in Columbia with some of the state leaders. She stated that although her husband never showed emotion to any degree, on this occasion he wept bitterly. She learned from him that he had been told by the Executive Secretary that North Greenville would receive no more aid from the State Convention. His answer to this group of men was, “I accept the challenge. The school will stay open without your help.”
Soon after this Mr. Hester took nearby pastorates, and for over four years did not receive any pay whatsoever from the school. Not only that, he used much of the money that he earned in these pastorates to pay teachers’ salaries.
During these years after the war, when the country was moving toward a financial crisis, many academies were being sold. Some suggested that the same thing ought to be done with North Greenville. However, Mr. Hester determined that it would not end its life in this way. As a result, he resorted to some things which may have been misunderstood. At one time three members of this own family were teaching. This was not done in an effort to favor his own kin people, but rather because although they were fully equipped for the jobs they held, they saw his vision and would work for less money than they could receive at other institutions.
The largest undertaking under Mr. Hester’s administration was the building of a men’s dormitory. For that day and time, but as a consequence Taylor Hall was erected, and was an adequate men’s dormitory until recent years. These were done mainly by the students themselves and his own labors. One of these was a log cabin and two were frame buildings. The frame buildings still stand on campus land, and were remodeled in recent years and are still in use by married students.
From many alumni we have learned that the school enjoyed a deep religious life under this man’s leadership. This in itself speaks of his consecration to God and of his desire for such fires to burn in the hearts of those students that passed through these halls. He began a Saturday night preaching service, using the ministerial students as preachers. He was so insistent on the importance of this, although he had never heard of a school doing such a thing, that all of the faculty families felt it their obligation never to miss. He felt so strongly that the ministerial students needed such practice that when a boy refused to take his turn, his tuition reduction as a ministerial student was withdrawn. Out of this came a growing feeling that a church was needed nearby or on the campus. Up to this time the students attended Tyger Church, which was a mile away, and many had to walk both ways. A church was organized in the chapel of the school, and the Rev. C. E. Puett was called the first pastor. This church was constituted under the name “North Greenville Baptist Church,” however, the name in later years was changed to Tigerville Baptist Church. Across many years students attended this church in the chapel at the college. At a later time a site was purchased adjacent to the campus and a separate building was constructed.
Recently, in talking with Mr. J. T. Wood, he recalled the time when his father, Mr. John Wood, served the school as treasurer, and the many hours he gave to this work. He remembered studying Latin under Mr. Hester’s brother, B. B. Hester, whom the students called “B2.” Mr. Wood, who is a teacher himself, stated that the Hesters were the best teachers he ever knew. He said, “Mr. H. C. Hester was a great man.”
Perhaps the final thing that caused Mr. Hester to resign and return to the pastorate was the death of Mr. John T. Wood. During Mr. Hester’s entire administration Mr. Wood had served as treasurer for the school, and Mr. Hester always knew that he could count on him to help him through any financial crisis. Upon the death of this dedication man, Mr. Hester, according to his wife’s own statement, felt that he had lost his “right hand.” He resigned in 1928 and accepted the pastorate of the Baptist Church at Wagener, South Carolina. This position he held for 18 years, until he was offered a job with the Sunday School Board in Columbia. One year later he died of a fatal heart attack.
Mr. and Mrs. Hester are examples of the dedicated Christian leadership that North Greenville has enjoyed across the years. It is people such as these who have kept this institution one that grows in its influence upon the lives of people and in its usefulness in the Kingdom of God.
Written by Dr. T. L. Neely for the Summer 1967 North Greenville Junior College Alumni Magazine.
Photo: H. C. Hester