Dr. Dallas Herring: A Lifetime of Service

Dallas Herring is acknowledged as
the “father” of the
North Carolina Community
College System.

“The only valid philosophy for North Carolina is the philosophy of total education; a belief in the incomparable worth of all human beings, whose claims upon the state are equal before the law and equal before the bar of public opinion; whose talents (however great or however limited or however different from the traditional) the state needs and must develop to the fullest possible degree. That is why the doors to the institutions of North Carolina’s system of community colleges must never be closed to anyone of suitable age who can learn what they teach. We must take people where they are and carry them as far as they can go within the assigned functions of the system.” – Dr. W. Dallas Herring

Dr. Dallas Herring wanted all North Carolinians to have the opportunity to obtain an education. In many ways, he achieved that dream. Because of Herring, over 800,000 people attended a community college in the state last year. Herring, acknowledged as the father of the North Carolina Community College System, died January 5, 2007 in Burgaw at the age of 90. Since then, community college and political leaders have remembered Herring’s contributions to higher education in North Carolina.

Herring was born in the Duplin County town of Rose Hill on March 5, 1916. After graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Davidson College in 1938, Herring returned to Rose Hill to run the family business, the Atlantic Coffin and Casket Company and Heritage Design Service. Herring began his public service career at 23 when the people of Rose Hill named him the youngest mayor in the country. During his tenure as mayor (from 1939 to 1951), streets were paved, water and sewer systems were provided and a town hall and fire department were established. From 1951 to 1955, Herring served as chair of the Duplin County Board of Education. Under his leadership, an evaluation of county schools led to the consolidation of 15 schools. His enthusiasm caused Governor Luther Hodges to appoint him to the State Board of Education in 1955.

During his 20-year tenure as board chair (1957-1977), Herring led innovations and improvements in curriculum improvement, class size, pay increases, teacher aides and kindergartens. While many in the South encouraged leaders to close public schools rather than integrate after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Herring was instrumental in keeping the public schools open in North Carolina during that turbulent era. In the 1950’s, state officials recognized the need for education beyond high school.

When Herring joined the State Board of Education, Governor Luther Hodges asked him to develop a plan for industrial education. In 1957, the General Assembly adopted Herring’s plan and initiated a statewide system of industrial education centers. That same year, the General Assembly adopted the first Community College Act, which developed a system of junior colleges. By 1961, there were five public junior colleges emphasizing arts and sciences and seven industrial education centers focusing on technical and vocational education.

The need to coordinate the two systems was apparent to Herring and to Governor Terry Sanford. Their efforts succeeded on May 17, 1963, when the General Assembly established the North Carolina Community College System.

After retirement, Herring continued to advise community college leaders. He served as a trustee of James Sprunt Community College from 1971 to 1986. Community college presidents and administrators frequently visited Herring at his home in Rose Hill to consult with him.

A classical scholar, Herring devoted his home to the preservation of historical and cultural resources of Duplin County and the surrounding area. He received numerous awards including The North Carolina Award, the highest civilian award in North Carolina, and honorary doctorates from Davidson College, Pfeiffer College and North Carolina State University. James Sprunt Community College has a building, a lecture series and a scholarship named in his honor. North Carolina State University has the W. Dallas Herring Distinguished Professorship.

In 1983, in recognition of the System’s 20th anniversary, the State Board of Community Colleges recognized Herring as an individual who made a significant contribution to the establishment, development and enhancement of the North Carolina Community College System. Two years later, this award became the I.E. Ready Award, the highest honor given by the State Board of Community Colleges.

Herring was modest about his accomplishments. However, in 2004, he told writer Micki Cottle a story about an elderly minister who had never learned to read or write until his later years when he attended his local community college. The minister approached Herring with a smile on his face and a firm handshake. “Now, I can read the word of God. And I learned how at your college.”

Dallas Herring