category: Faculty Emeriti - In Memory Of

James Orville ‘J.O.’ Terrell

Dean Emeritus

James Orville “J.O.” Terrell

James Orville “J.O.” Terrell (1900-1988), university professor of history, dean and vice president of Gardner-Webb, was born in Whittier in Jackson County, N.C., the son of Joel K. and Viola Cooper Terrell. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history with a minor in English from Western Carolina University (then Western Carolina Teacher’s College) in 1932. He continued his education at Vanderbilt University (then George Peabody College for Teachers) and obtained the Master in Arts degree in social studies and administration in 1946. He completed additional graduate work there and also studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1957, Terrell was awarded the Distinguished Service Award of Western Carolina University.

Terrell taught 21 years in public schools. His first teaching experience was at Oakley High School in Biltmore, N.C. He taught there for seven years. He then took his first principalship at Oakley High School from 1932–1935. He moved on to Woodfin High School in Asheville, N.C. He served there as principal from 1935-1946. Both Jackson and Buncombe counties provided the environment for Terrell’s 21 years of public instruction. Terrell’s 27 years of service to Gardner-Webb began in 1945. He was dean of instruction at Gardner-Webb from 1945-1962 and served as a professor of history from 1945-1971. Terrell stated that he loved teaching. In his earlier years he thought about preaching, but he finally decided it was teaching where he could best serve. His dedication went much further. He was director of summer schools at Gardner-Webb from 1949–1962, and he also facilitated support for the GW library.

Terrell’s desire to serve others spread far beyond the boundaries of Gardner-Webb. His Christian love for everyone was easily noticed. Although he was a Sunday school teacher in Boiling Springs Baptist Church for many years, he was instrumental in organizing Boiling Springs Methodist Church and was a charter member when the church was founded in 1957. The original members held their first meetings on the Gardner-Webb campus. He loyally served as church treasurer for 14 years, was chairman of the administrative board, member of the trustees, a Sunday school teacher of young people and adults, secretary of a Christian fellowship class and communion steward. He once said, “I’ll attend church every time I can and then if I get to where I can’t go, I won’t have regrets.” In September of 1968, Terrell assisted with Grady Wilson’s Evangelistic Crusade.

Terrell’s hard work and dedication brought forth many deserved positions and awards, both in the education field and in the community. Some of these recognitions include “Who’s Who in American Education (1959–1962),” “Who’s Who in the South and the Southwest (1963–1964),” member of the National Education Association (NEA) and North Carolina Education Association (NCEA) along with being president of the Southwestern group of the higher education division of the NCAE district in Hickory (1959), member of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association for several years, member of the Shelby Kiwanis Club beginning in 1945, and a member of the Heritage Club at Gardner-Webb.

Terrell was married to Rubye Reynolds, daughter of Robert M. and Maude Reeves Reynolds, of Leicester, N.C., in Buncombe County.

Retirement in May 1971 only marked a beginning of deserved recognition for Terrell. More than 150 members of faculty, staff, administration, and close friends gathered for his testimonial dinner. Dean and Mrs. Terrell were presented several pieces of silver and a large globe and stand for his study at home. In 1974, in recognition of his service to Gardner-Webb, J.O. Terrell was presented the Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. He was also named dean emeritus. In May 1977, Terrell witnessed and shared in a ceremony in his honor when Gardner-Webb dedicated a classroom in his name.

Until his death on April 4, 1988, the Terrells enjoyed their home life. Their love for each other, with God foremost in their hearts, provided comfort and enjoyment. In 1993, Mrs. Terrell established the Dr. James Orville (Dean) Terrell and Rubye Reynolds Terrell Endowed Scholarship Fund at Gardner Webb. This is designed to assist needy and deserving students preparing for full-time teaching careers. A quote from one of Dean Terrell’s colleagues during the ceremony in which he received his Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree stated: “His life is education…Time has not bent his back nor slackened his pace…He always set an example in word and in deed…His positive Christian influence permeates his conversations.” Although Terrell doesn’t walk the Gardner-Webb University campus now, his love for people and his dedication to teaching, to his wife, and to God, will continue to influence all who knew him and all who will learn of his service.

Source: Interview with Mrs. J.O. Terrell

– Bob Grigg

– Updated: Noel T. Manning II, December 2022

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