First Things First
From the Class of 1893 to a prime pour, NC State’s history holds a vast collection of fabulous firsts. Illustrations by Migy.
It could have been the first walk up Harrelson’s spiraling ramp to a first math class or a first study group. Was it that first feeling of elation at an “A” on a research paper or the first sense of deflation felt on the call home to tell parents about the first “F”? Who can forget our first State date or a first kiss on campus? The first time we saw the Belltower. The first parking ticket. And, of course, the first walk across the Brickyard.
We’ve all had a bevy of firsts at NC State. The university has had plenty, too. Here are a handful, from the accomplishments of the first class to the inaugural doughnut dash and first taste of Old Tuffy. And no Wolfpack list would be complete without a significant first over the Tar Heels.
The First Win over UNC
On April 9, 1904, the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts’ baseball team captured the first recorded win over UNC-Chapel Hill in any sport, 9-2. Few records exist of the game save for the Agromeck’s list of the lineup. The college’s basketball squad defeated UNC twice in the decade between 1910 and 1920. But it would take A&M football more than two decades before it first beat Carolina, a 13-3 victory in 1920.
The First Out-of-State Student
Stephen Anthony LaCoste made the 170-mile trip from Lynchburg, S.C., to Raleigh in the fall of 1889 to enroll at A&M. He was the only member of that first freshman class to cross state lines getting to Raleigh. Our first out-of-state student did not graduate in 1893 with the college’s first graduating class, though, and he died young in 1909 in St. Charles, S.C.
The First Time Going International
The Fourth Annual Catalogue of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, for 1892–93, lists all of the freshmen who came to Raleigh that year, along with their respective home counties. There are plenty of familiar county names: Wake, Cabarrus, Union, Mecklenburg, and on and on. But one entry reads Havana, Cuba. That was the hometown of the college’s first international student, Jose Fabio Santos Trigo. Six years later, the college would see its first international graduate, Teisaku Sugishita, who came from Japan and received a degree in civil engineering. After graduating, Sugishita went back to Japan, where he worked in agriculture and the raw silk trade. Today, NC State has 6,000 international students, comprising about 17 percent of the student body.
The First Commencement Speaker
Kentuckian Henry Watterson, editor of the [Louisville] Courier-Journal, started NC State’s tradition of commencement speakers in 1893. He delivered his address, “Money and Morals,” on June 14 at Metropolitan Hall in Raleigh. That tradition has continued with governors, such as W. Kerr Scott ’17 in the late 1940s and early ’50s, and Jim Hunt ’59, ’62 MSED in the late 1970s. There was U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin in 1976, three years after he had played a prominent role in the Watergate hearings that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Acclaimed poet Maya Angelou was the first woman to deliver the commencement address, in 1990.
The First Alumnus Elected Governor
O. Max Gardner ’03 was the first alumnus elected governor of North Carolina, taking office in 1929 and bucking the trend of multiple UNC-Chapel Hill grads who filled the office. The former A&M baseball team manager served one term.
The First Legacy Student
John Henry Bonitz ’20 is the college’s first legacy on record. He was the son of Henry Emil Bonitz, one of the members of the Class of 1893 (and also the first native North Carolinian licensed to practice architecture in the state, according to his alumni bio.) He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry during World War I, and worked as an assistant director of school house planning for the state before starting his own business.
The First Colors
Sacrilege, we know, but the first colors of the athletic teams at North Carolina A&M were pink and — GASP — blue. You can blame the great minds of the day for that — the Pullen and Leazar literary societies picked the colors. The current red and white scheme certainly has aged well. Students chose it as the college’s colors in November 1895. They remain at the heart of Wolfpack athletics 128 years later.
The First Televised Wolfpack Game
With the ACC Network featuring multiple sports every day, it’s hard to imagine TV without some Wolfpack games. But that wasn’t always the case. On Oct. 21, 1950, Coach Beattie Feathers took the college’s football team to College Park, Md., to face off against Maryland. That Southern Conference contest was the first Wolfpack athletics event in any sport shown on television. Fans saw defensive lineman Elmer Costa ’52 dominate and help get a 16-13 win against the eighth-ranked Terps.
The First Four
Though NC State integrated in 1953 by admitting two Black graduate students to the engineering program, NC State did not accept Black undergraduates until 1956, when Ed Carson ’62, Manuel Crockett, Walter Holmes ’62 and Irwin Holmes ’60 were admitted. While at NC State, Walter Holmes became the first Black member of the marching band. And Irwin Holmes became the first Black student to play on a varsity sports team when he joined the tennis team in 1957. Holmes Hall now bears his name and pays tribute to his legacy as the first Black undergraduate to receive a degree from NC State.
The First Building to Honor a Person of Color
Holmes Hall was dedicated in 2018, but it was not the first building on campus to salute the legacy of an African American. That honor belongs to Witherspoon Student Center, named after Augustus “Gus” Witherspoon ’69 MS, ’71 PHD, who was the first African American to join the faculty after receiving a Ph.D. (in botany) from NC State. Dedicated in 1995, Witherspoon Student Center houses student media, the African American Cultural Center and the office of Jeffrey Wright Military and Veteran Services.
The First Baskets in Reynolds
Vic Bubas ’51 gets the honor for scoring the first bucket in Reynolds Coliseum in 1949. Fast forward to 1974 and the first women’s game held in Reynolds, and Genie Jordan Ussery ’75 became the first woman to score in the sacred Old Barn. Being a noted first was apparently in her blood. Twenty years after sinking that first shot, she became the first female president of the Alumni Association.
The First Sliced Net
In 1947, when the basketball team won the Southern Conference championship, Everett Case got on the shoulders of his players and cut down the net. The act had been a tradition in high schools in Indiana, where Case had coached. But his scissor-wielding that day started a long tradition of net-cutting at the collegiate level.
The First African American Female Scholarship Recipient
A few years after women’s basketball became a varsity sport in 1974, Trudi Lacey ’82, ’90 MSED became the first Black women’s player to be offered a four-year scholarship at NC State. And once she was part of the Wolfpack, her name became synonymous with firsts. She was part of the first ACC championship for women’s basketball. She was the first player in league history to garner all-ACC tournament honors four straight years. “Somebody once said that ‘if better is even possible, then good is not enough’; that’s how I feel,” Lacey said in a Technician issue previewing her senior season. “At times I’ve done some things well. I don’t feel I’ve played to my potential. I don’t want to ever settle for where I am. I want to become the best I can become.” That’s just the attitude to get you on a list of NC State’s firsts.
The First Wolfpack Olympic Gold Medal
Former Wolfpack swimmer and nine-time ACC champion Steve Rerych ’69 is still one of NC State’s and the ACC’s most decorated athletes. In Mexico City in 1968, he captured the first Olympic gold medal ever won by a Wolfpacker. He took home gold in the 4×100-meter and 4×200-meter relays. That would not be the last time gold came home to Raleigh. Cullen Jones ’18 won gold as part of two Olympic relay teams, in 2008 and 2012, and Ryan Held ’18 won a gold as part of the 4×100-meter relay team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The First LGBTQ Club on Campus
The Triangle Gay Alliance formed in Raleigh in early 1972 to give voice to the issues with which the Raleigh gay community was concerned. But it took almost seven more years for such a club to appear on campus. That was the Gay and Lesbian Christian Alliance, which received recognition as an officially chartered organization on Dec. 14, 1978. “Let’s face it,” Willie White, the group’s adviser and a campus minister, said in a Technician article, “we’re a minority. We’re not the most well-liked either. But this organization started out as a dream, and this dream has become a reality.” Today, NC State’s LGBTQ Pride Center hosts a symposium, puts together programming for LGBTQ+ History Month and helps to organize Lavender Graduation, an annual ceremony to honor LGBTQ+ graduates.
The First Asian American Student Body President
Student government reached a new mark in 1982 when Jim Yocum ’84 was elected student body president, the first time an Asian American student had been elected to that office. Yocum went on to get an MBA at UCLA and have a successful career in the digital health care industry.
The First Finish to the Krispy Kreme Challenge
Ben Gaddy ’07, ’13 PHD set the standard for the Krispy Kreme Challenge in December 2004. In the inaugural race, Gaddy finished the five-mile round trip from campus to the Krispy Kreme on North Person Street, as well as the dozen glazed doughnuts, and crossed the finish line first with a time of 34 minutes and 27 seconds. Though he was the first to ever finish the race, which just celebrated its 19th year, Gaddy no longer holds the record. Stephen Rathbun set the Raleigh course record in 2020 with a time of 28 minutes and 29 seconds.
The First Pour
Old Tuffy Premium Lager, the result of a partnership between NC State and New Belgium Brewing Company, has been available since 2019. The beer’s first pour in Raleigh happened on Aug. 12 at the Players’ Retreat. The ceremonial pourers? Former student body president and Players’ Retreat owner Gus Gusler ’78, ’80 MA was on one handle, and on the other was Alumni Association Emeritus Executive Director Benny Suggs ’69. NC State is the first and only university in North Carolina to have its own beer. Drink up!
The First Frat
Greek life’s imprint at NC State dates back to 1895, when the college’s first fraternity, Sigma Nu, was chartered. It would take another seven-plus decades for the first African-American fraternity to form on campus, when Alpha Phi Alpha was chartered in 1971. And Sigma Kappa was the first sorority started on campus, in 1959.
The First Native American Sorority
The 1990s brought to NC State greater emphasis on Native American culture. The first-ever Pow Wow was held in 1990 and highlighted Native American customs through food and dance. There were cultural awareness days, festivals and, in 1992, a proclamation signed by then-chancellor Larry Monteith to recognize November as Native American Heritage Month. The decade would end seeing Alpha Pi Omega, NC State’s first Native American sorority, formed. The sorority is the nation’s oldest Native American Greek organization, with 700 members from 20 chapters representing more than 100 tribes across the U.S.
The First Building
Students in the first class in 1889 called it Main Building. We now call it Holladay Hall in honor of the university’s first president, Alexander Quarles Holladay. Call it what you will, but it will always be the first structure built on NC State’s campus. And it was the spot where the first brick was laid on campus in 1888, when the building’s construction began. For a time, it was the only building on campus, containing student housing, professors’ offices, classrooms and a library. Today it’s the home base for Chancellor Randy Woodson.
The First Dorm (Literally)
In the early 1890s, North Carolina A&M simply went, well, simple with its first dorms. Even with the name. During 1892 and 1893, the first three dorms went up to replace Main Building as a home for students, and they were aptly called First Dorm, Second Dorm and (we know the suspense is killing you) Third Dorm. According to Alice Elizabeth Reagan’s North Carolina State University: A Narrative History, each had eight to 10 rooms with a fourth dorm (any guesses on what it was called?) going up on campus in 1894. But no toilets. “Until the construction of Watauga Hall in 1895,” Reagan writes, “students used an outhouse located behind the Main Building.”
The First Centennial Building
One hundred years after construction of Main Building started, NC State’s newly named Centennial Campus, across Western Boulevard, saw its first building go up in 1988. It was Research I, and the first facility to open in the new building was the Precision Engineering Center. Today, the building is known as Partners Building I, across from the Wilson College of Textiles, and houses partnerships with Freese and Nichols Inc. and HanesBrands Inc. It also hosts the Entrepreneurship Garage, where technology start-ups can form.
The First From-Start-to-Finish
The 1930 Agromeck features several female faces in the senior class among headshots of the mostly male class. (It’s a far cry from 2019, when, for the first time, NC State saw more women than men in the freshman class.) But only one woman — Ada Curtis Spencer ’30 — listed in that yearbook completed her degree (in journalism) at NC State. The editors reduced Spencer’s accomplishments to increasing “the attractive force of the college” and possessing “a brightness of intellect combined with a feminine charm which has made her equally popular among the faculty and on the ball room floor.” Spencer was the first female student to enroll at and complete her degree at NC State.
The First Round
Harrelson Hall was perhaps the most unpopular building ever built on NC State’s campus. However, prestige accompanied the discontent. When Harrelson opened in 1962, it was the first cylindrical building to be constructed on a college campus. Haters can hate, but Harrelson will always be round. Just not around. The building was demolished in 2016.
The First Nuke
We don’t just do round buildings at NC State. We do nuclear reactors, too. NC State has housed four nuclear reactors on campus, in fact. The first one, the R-1 reactor, was the first reactor in the world to be constructed and run on a college campus. That was in 1950, and it operated until 1955. The PULSTAR reactor began operation in 1972 and still runs today.
The First Nobel
Rajendra Pachauri ’72 MSE, ’74 PHD won the Nobel Prize in 2007. He was chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the prize with former Vice President Al Gore. Technically, he’s the only alum to receive the coveted honor, but we think NC State will rack up another soon.
The Firsts Keep on Coming
The great thing about NC State is that it isn’t done netting significant firsts. As recently as 2020, it was making significant steps forward to mark in its history when Melanie Flowers ’21 became the first Black woman to be elected student body president. And three years before that, in 2017, Jackie Gonzalez ’18 was the first Latinx person to be elected to the same position. In fact, along with Mia Connell ’19, who was elected vice president that year, Gonzalez was part of the first team of women of color to simultaneously hold the two highest student government offices at NC State.
NC State University Special Collections has compiled some 23 customized timelines, from academics and campus speakers to buildings and student life, of many achievements and happenings throughout NC State’s history. Those timelines are now hosted on the NCSU Libraries website, and they were the main sources the author used to identify the milestones listed in the article. Additionally, he researched each milestone further using various sources including the Agromeck, Technician articles, alumni records and Alice B. Reagan’s North Carolina State University: A Narrative History. Visit the timelines at http://historicalstate.lib.ncsu.edu/timelines