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RCC remembers former president Dr. Jerry Owens

Sep 27, 2019

Dr. N. Jerry Owens Jr., who served as second president of Rockingham Community College from 1983-1996, died on Thursday, Sept. 26 while under the care of Hospice of Rockingham County.

When he accepted the presidency at RCC, Owens pledged to see that the needs of the people of the Rockingham County area were met, and that business and industry would play a key role in helping RCC provide students with up-to-date skills to meet the job market.

In 1990, Owens told News & Record, “I like to provide an opportunity for people to achieve as high an education as they want to achieve. Often times, this provides them an opportunity for better jobs and a better quality of life.”

Under his leadership, RCC experienced growth in enrollment, gifts to the RCC Foundation, program offerings, outreach initiatives, and the number of facilities on campus. The college developed 15 new education programs during his tenure, including practical nursing, travel and tourism, trade and technology, and received a federal Title 3 grant of $1.7 million over five years.

He considered one of his greatest accomplishments providing leadership for passage of a $4 million bond referendum for Rockingham Community College in 1984. But community leaders considered the creation of the RCC Foundation – the college’s fund-raising arm – to be Owens’ biggest contribution.

His vision to unite all corners of Rockingham County was realized in 1990, when RCC hosted the first Rockingham County Folk Festival. He served as the event’s executive director until his retirement.

A strong believer in historic preservation, Owens was also instrumental in the development of the college’s historical village, which was opened for the first time during the 1995 Folk Festival.

In 1998, Owens hired Tony Gunn as RCC’s community relations coordinator.

“He was very supportive and kept you on your toes. You wanted to make sure you were doing good work,” said Gunn, who is now associate vice president for Facilities and External Affairs at RCC. “He supported me getting my doctorate, and was very encouraging to everyone – faculty and staff – to get more education and to advance their careers. He did a lot to build the value of education in the minds of Rockingham County citizens.”

Gunn said Dr. Owens “remained very supportive of me and the college after he retired.”

Gunn also said he did a great job leading the college.

Gaye Clifton, former director of development at RCC and former executive director of the RCC Foundation, agreed.

“Working with Dr. Owens was an opportunity to work with a man of integrity with a deep belief in the community college mission, and a mentor who knew when to direct and when to let me fly solo,” she said. “While he had his own ideas and visions, he would always let other share their vision and he would give it close examination. It was always a team approach, with no ego involved. That’s what distinguishes a great leader – working for the greater good and not the personal good.”

Clifton said Owens being man of his word and having integrity were valuable assets.

“That is one of the reasons RCC flourished the way it did. He recognized the potential for Rockingham County perhaps before Rockingham County realized its own potential for growth and quality of life,” she said. “That led him to become county commissioner and trustee of the college. He loved Rockingham Community College. That was very evident in all that he did.”

Just weeks before his retirement, the college paid homage to its president with the dedication of the new N. Jerry Owens Jr. Human Services Building, which is now known as the N. Jerry Owens Jr. Health Science Building.

“He’s been a guiding light in reaching out to the whole community and getting a really diverse group working together,” said Julius Gwyn, a Reidsville attorney and former long-time college trustee, when Owens retired.

Owens came to RCC after three years as director of staff development at the N.C. Department of Community Colleges, where he coordinated six regional professional development institutes that served the state’s 58 community colleges.

Prior to that, he was self-employed as an educational consultant, was president of Kings College in Raleigh for two years, and he spent 10 years at Guilford Technical Community College where he was interim president and executive vice president. Earlier, he served as director of extension and evening programs for two years at Randolph Technical College in Asheboro.

Owens has also spent time as a sheet metal fitter, in the U.S. Army serving in Japan, working for worked with Douglas Aircraft, Collins & Aikman Textiles, and Cone Mills.

A native of Wilmington, he holds an associate of arts degree from Charlotte Junior College. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial management, master’s degree in industrial education, and doctorate in vocational technical education, all from N.C. State University.

After his retirement, Owens stayed in the Bethany community, where he and his wife Mary had built a home on 20 acres of farm land.

Funeral arrangements

Dr. N. Jerry Owens, 84, passed away peacefully on Thursday, September 26, 2019 surrounded by his family.

A memorial service will be held at 2:00 pm, Monday September 30, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church in Eden with Rev. Peter Smith and Rev. Tony Davis officiating. The family will receive friends one hour prior to the service.

Jerry was born to the late Nap and Rosalie Owens in Wilmington, NC.

He retired from RCC after 13 years as President. He served our community in numerous roles including; Chair of Rockingham County Board of Commissioners; Chair of Reidsville Rotary Board; Chair of Hospice Board; Vice-Chair of RCC Center for Active Retirement; Board Member of Chinqua-Penn Foundation; President of NC Association of Community College Presidents; Charter member of Rockingham County Economic Development Committee and Committee of 100; Member of Annie Penn Hospital Board; Member of the local First Citizens Bank Board and the Board of Cherokee Scout Council with Silver Beaver Award. He also enjoyed volunteering at Camp Carefree and delighted in sharing his love of the farm and animals with his grandchildren.

He always treated others with respect and dignity, one of his hallmarks of success. Most of all he loved his wife and family and will be greatly missed.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Mary Owens; son, Alan Owens (Sheila); daughter, Melissa Davis (Tony); sister, Rose; brothers, Robert and Gene; 5 grandchildren; 4 great grandchildren and a large extended family.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of Rockingham County, PO Box 281, Wentworth, NC 27375; First Presbyterian Church Building Fund, 582 Southwood Dr. Eden, NC 27288 or the N. Jerry Owens Scholarship with RCC Foundation, Inc. PO Box 38 Wentworth, NC 27375.


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