Grand achievements come from the seed of an inspirational idea, but it takes the nurturing touch of a dedicated individual to ensure the fruition of that idea. For Cecil College, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, it was the fortitude and devotion of Mary T. Johnson that has enabled the institution to become a shining star in the crown of Cecil County.
“It seemed like every time we needed someone to do something, I had the opportunity to do it as requested. I was not only hired as the Director of Admissions and Registration but also to teach freshman English,” said Mrs. Johnson, whose hats included institutional research, public relations, and marketing. In 1968, Mrs. Johnson was the third person hired at the College on the heels of the appointment of Robert L. Nash, Ph.D., as president and Edmund G. Ramsaur, Jr. as the librarian.
Those were lean times as Mrs. Johnson diligently worked to promote and develop Cecil College as a reputable institution within a community in the shadows of the universities of Delaware and Maryland. Moreover, the College was running classes out of a single classroom at Elkton High School. The budget for the first year of the institution was $36,000 provided by the county, which covered salaries and supplies. To stretch the budget, the staff worked with area school districts to acquire under-utilized equipment on a loan basis. Mrs. Johnson’s recruiting efforts attracted 107 part-time students for afternoon and evening courses. The following semester students became full-time.
“It was like a one-room schoolhouse. Everything was in that one room. My office and Dr. Nash’s office was in there. We had two typewriters. We had a closet across the hall where we put our few supplies and it also served as our bookstore,” said Mrs. Johnson, with a fond reflective smile. “I laugh every time I think about when Dr. Nash said to me, ‘I have a chair for you, but no desk. You’ll have to use a corner of mine.’ This was the first day I was there. I just smiled and said, ‘I think I’ll bring my own desk from home.’ That night my husband moved my desk from the house to the high school.”
“We didn’t own a punch bowl or anything. Everything we did there, I had to come to my house, take it out and have my husband take it to Elkton HS, North East, and to the college campus. I finally gave one punch bowl and the cups to the college. When I left there, I was still taking things,” she added. Mrs. Johnson remained as a prominent member of the Cecil College community until her retirement in 1992.
Under the guidance and persistence of Mrs. Johnson during those early years, the College dispelled the disparaging comments of ‘13th grade’ from the naysayers of the world. She took every opportunity to meet with organizations throughout the county to speak on the benefits a community college and discovered people became friendlier toward the college upon being informed.
“We had several high school students take afternoon and evening courses at the college and ended up graduating from the college before they graduated from high school. They would graduate from the college in May and the high school in June. That was one of the things that turned students around. They could say now that I have two years I can go to a four-year college and be a junior,” said Mrs. Johnson.
This accomplishment strengthened the benefits of a community college in Cecil County as many of the high school guidance counselors only supported students attending four-year institutions. Mrs. Johnson assisted these graduates in their transfer efforts to four-year institutions by gathering course catalogs from the colleges in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania in order to align transferable credits.
“I’m still very excited to see the college grow from its meager beginnings to what it is today with small classes, a caring, and well-prepared faculty. That students still live at home and are with their family I think has proven to be very successful from the standpoint that our students who transferred to four-year universities do better academically than the students who graduate from high school and go to a big university,” said Mrs. Johnson.
Mrs. Johnson was one of the founding members of the Cecil College Foundation and remains active in its support. A native of North Carolina, she earned a baccalaureate degree from Radford College, Women’s Division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and post-baccalaureate studies at the University of Delaware and University of Maryland. Prior to her arrival at Cecil College, she spent 22 years teaching English and Social Studies at Chesapeake City High School and Bohemia Manor High School, where she was also a guidance counselor.
“I almost consider the college my home. Every time I step on the campus, I feel like I have gone home again. Thomas Wolfe said, ‘You can never go home again,’ but I still feel that I do.”