D&E plans special event for Smith

Davis & Elkins College is planning a special evening for the community to join in the celebration of its retiring president.

A free “Notes of Thanks” community reception is slated for 8 p.m. June 7 at Harper McNeeley Auditorium to honor G.T. “Buck” Smith and his wife, Joni.

Buck Smith, who became D&E’s president in 2008, is retiring effective June 30. The college’s artist in residence, pianist Jack Gibbons, and friends will be featured at the reception in the Smiths’ honor.

“This is a free public concert and reception,” said Chancellor/President Elect Mike Mihalyo. “We think this will be a nice community reception and hope lots of folks will come out.”

Mihalyo said it is only fitting that Gibbons perform for the event.

“Buck was instrumental in bringing Jack to D&E,” Mihalyo said.

Buck Smith announced in June 2010 that the famed British concert pianist would accept a multi-year appointment. Gibbons began his tenure in August 2010. Smith noted then that Gibbons’ presence at D&E would not only benefit the students, but also the community and region.

A reception will follow the concert in the Myles Center Lobby.

Mihalyo said Buck Smith will continue as a consultant to D&E after his retirement.

“Buck has been a wonderful mentor and friend to a lot of us,” Mihalyo said. “He is a friend to everyone, whatever length of time you have known him.

“This is not just a time for saying goodbye. This will be a joyous celebration, and we want the community to have the opportunity to celebrate with us.”

When Buck Smith came to D&E he announced a six-step policy he and the board of trustees have used as a guide during his tenure.

The “six Rs” were crafted to lead the college in a positive direction and were: to reduce expenses, recruit students, retain students, raise funds, renew programs and reach for new opportunities.

Pointing to the plan’s success, Smith said recruiting increased by 50.5 percent in only one year. He attributes the increase to the Highlands Scholar Program which makes the scholarship available to students in the seven counties surrounding the college who have a 2.5 or better GPA.

D&E also became debt-free with Smith at the help. After owing more than $10 million to the bank in 2008, those debts were paid off by Nov. 7, 2012, Smith said.

“We are among a handful of colleges in the country that have no outside debt,” Smith said, noting he didn’t want to take credit for the college’s overwhelming success in the past five years, which includes more than $10 million in campus improvements.

“Serving D&E has been the highlight of my life… because of the people,” he said. “D&E is such a positive, can-do place. You don’t find that universally and throughout, (other colleges) don’t have that kind of ethos. It’s very special.”

Another high note from Smith’s tenure as president was seeing the board of trustees recommend that the new softball field be named in honor of his wife, Joni. He called it “The most touching moment of my life.”

Buck Smith has received many local awards, including being honored during Highland District Boy Scouts of America’s 21st annual Friends of Scouting Dinner in 2012. In April , he was recognized as Educator of the Year at the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet.