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John Decatur Messick

November 9, 1897 - October 3, 1993


John Messick was born on Nov. 9, 1897 in South Creek, NC in Beaufort County.1

After completing basic schooling in South Creek, Messick studied at Falcon Academy. He then attended King’s Business College in Raleigh before entering Elon College, where he graduated in 1922. After graduating from Elon, Messick pursued a career in education. He spent the next few years working in North Carolina public schools. He worked as principal of South River School in Wade, NC from 1922-1926; principal in Trenton, NC from 1926-1929; and Superintendent in Spencer, NC from 1929-1935. Meanwhile, Messick continued his education by doing graduate work during the summers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1922-1929. Messick received a Ph.D. in administration and supervision of schools from New York University in 1934.

After obtaining his Ph.D., Messick focused his career to college education, beginning with a small job as a summer session professor at the Teachers College in Asheville, NC in 1934-1935. In 1935, Messick accepted a job at a college as the Dean of Men, Instruction and Administration at Elon College. In 1944, Messick left North Carolina to take a job as Dean of Instruction and Administrative Assistant to the President at State Teachers College in Montclair, NJ.

In 1947, Messick accepted and became the fifth President of East Carolina Teachers College. He began his presidency with a campaign to drop the word Teachers from the school’s name to reflect his new expanded mission for the college. The General Assembly approved the name change to East Carolina College in 1951.

Under his tenure, the college accepted male students, enrollment increased to 8,000 students, faculty growth matched campus expansion (from 75 faculty members to 230), library holdings doubled, and 80 acres of land were added to the campus.2 A closed-circuit television system and campus public radio station was established.3 This made ECC the first institution in the Southeast to offer courses for credit through television in 1958.4 Established an Air Force ROTC unit in 1948. Expanded the physical plant by 10 new buildings, additions to six buildings, and conversion of two buildings to new uses.5 By the time of Messick’s resignation in 1959, ECC had become the third largest campus in North Carolina. Two of Messick’s most important accomplishments include challenging the state government’s unequal funding of the Consolidated University over the teacher’s colleges and fighting for the establishment of a Nursing School.6

In 1982, the John Decatur Messick Theater Arts Center was dedicated. The $3 million-plus center includes what was the Wahl-Coates Laboratory School and McGinnis Auditorium. The new arts center included classrooms and laboratories for speech and drama, costume and scenery workshops, acting and dance studios, and flexible studio theater for experimental drama.7

He was married in 1924 to Magdalene Elizabeth Robinson. They had two daughters Helen Margaret and Mary Rosalyn and two sons, Norval Robinson and John Albert.8 He died Oct. 3, 1993.