Regents Designate Mary Roark as Eastern's 2nd President

Roark portrait

As its acting president 1909-10, Mary C. Roark led what was then Eastern Kentucky State Normal School at a time when women couldn’t even vote in state or federal elections.

Because of her trailblazing achievements, the Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents voted at its regular meeting today to remove the word “acting” from her title and officially designate her as the institution’s second president.

Mrs. Roark succeeded her husband and Eastern’s first president, Ruric Nevel Roark (1906-09), when he became ill in February 1909. After he died two months later, she continued to serve in the position until April 1910, when John Grant Crabbe was named president. She was the first female to serve as president, albeit acting, of a public higher education institution in Kentucky history.

Retired EKU Archivist Charles Hay and senior Damir Siahkoohi addressed the Board about Mrs. Roark’s contributions.

“The Roarks worked tirelessly as a collaborative team to promote educational and social reform throughout Kentucky,” Hay said.

Hay recalled a conversation he enjoyed with Eastern’s first graduate, Leslie Anderson, who earned a degree in 1909. “I asked him about Mrs. Roark, and he said he always considered her as president.”

When she left the presidency, students and faculty honored her with a painting and silver loving cup. The men sang, “You know, I know, speak up loud. We know, they know, all the crowd. Thank her, thank her, this is meant, for our woman president.” The women then chimed: “There’s a lady we know; for a year she has led us. And full was the table of learning she spread us. From mountains and bluegrass she called us and fed us. And we’re proud of the work she has done.”

Mrs. Roark continued to serve as dean of women until the 1914-15 school year.

Siahkoohi said enrollment increased 25 percent during Mrs. Roark’s tenure, adding that she helped Appalachian students attend the fledgling college and established the first all-female residence hall.

“Students would chant her name when she walked across campus,” he noted.

Mrs. Roark’s portrait will be hung alongside her presidential cohorts in a ceremony this spring in the Keen Johnson Building. Descendants of the Roarks are expected to be in attendance. “Their entire family was very dedicated to making everything they touched better,” Siahkoohi said.

In other business, the Board:

·         reappointed Craig Turner as chair.

·         presented Dr. Sandra Moore, retiring this year, with a framed resolution of appreciation, recognizing her 25 years of service to the University and especially her contributions in raising diversity awareness. Moore was similarly honored at the University’s recent Martin Luther King Awards Banquet, at which she also received the MLK Lifetime Achievement Award.

·         approved up to $97,000 for the acquisition of 80 acres of land known as the Ledford-Craig property adjacent to the EKU-owned-and-managed Lilley Cornett Woods in Letcher County as a buffer to protect a section of the old-growth forest as well as open the area to conduct research and offer educational and service programs.

In his remarks, Turner predicted that 2015 would be a “transformational” year for EKU. “It’s time we separate ourselves from the pack,” he said. “It is my goal that we create our own destiny.”

Benson, now the University’s 13th president, added: “No one’s got it better than Eastern Kentucky University. It’s a great time to be a Colonel.”

Published on February 02, 2015

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