As Melvin “Tuffy” Nussbaum III of Bainbridge likes to say, “It’s always been nice to say that I graduated first in my class. N (Nussbaum) comes before P (Prince).”
Terry F. Prince of Cairo said hold on: He was handed his diploma first by then Bainbridge Junior College President Edward Mobley in 1974. “Tell Tuffy they gave me my diploma first.”
Nonetheless, Nussbaum and Prince (listed alphabetically) constitute the entire Bainbridge Junior College’s graduating class of 1974 – the first graduates of the 40-year-old institution. Which one of the two was actually first is still up for debate.
Forty years later, both graduates are successful businessmen who have etched out good livings in their hometowns. Both say their experiences at Bainbridge State College – even if it was for a year – were enjoyable where the most memorable experiences were the relationships they built with their professors.
“It is a good college. Back then, the teachers helped you. That is why I liked it,” Prince said. “You were not just a number. You go to another college, and they don’t care if you come to class. They don’t care if you fail.”
He remembers specifically his economics and accounting professor, Frank M. Boozer, whom Prince said made his classes interesting and relative. There was an English instructor, Dotti Randall, who worked with him before and after classes so he could pass a mandatory essay portion of a competency test needed to advance in his college career.
Nussbaum remembers a very popular humanities and English professor, Edward Marsicano.
“Many of the professors of the college were not a whole lot older than we were. They were starting out just as we were,” Nussbaum said. “Marsicano was easy to relate to because he was close to our age.”
Other professors such as Drs. Bob Lane, Jim Young, Ray Chambers and Robert Dubay, as well as Dr. Mobley, were among the inaugural faculty members, and all eventually retired from Bainbridge State. They all also became fixtures in the community where former students of theirs eventually formed friendships with them, Nussbaum said.
“I remember the people more than anything else,” Nussbaum said.
As for the actual ceremony, which was held in Dr. Mobley’s office with both graduates’ parents in attendance, neither one could remember too much about it.
“It was a very short ceremony,” Nussbaum said. “It was just us there. There were no speakers. I am sure we got a little lecture from Dr. Mobley, but I cannot tell you what he said.”
Both had trouble remembering where their diplomas were located, with Nussbaum eventually finding his in the attic. Prince’s was still to be located.
Both said they had attended college their first year at other institutions that were not convenient for them to work and go to college. Both had transferred credit to Bainbridge Junior College, and then they finished their second year at the college.
“The only objective either one of us had was getting that degree so that you can transfer into another school and go on. My goal was to get a four-year degree,” said Nussbaum, who earned a bachelor’s in business from Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus. He now is vice president at First Port City Bank in Bainbridge.
“When I graduated from high school, I was more interested in fishing on Lake Seminole than I was going to college, and it was a way I could do both. It worked well for me,” Nussbaum said.
Prince said he had to work while going to college, so Bainbridge State was very convenient. After here, he graduated from Valdosta State University with a bachelor’s in accounting. Since 1984, he has owned an accounting firm in Cairo.
Both recall particular memories from their physical education classes.
Nussbaum said he remembers a handball class with the court laid out in one of the unfinished buildings.
Prince said part of his PE class entailed running around the circle of the campus with the last day’s class seeing how much their times had improved.
“We got halfway around and here comes a guy with a pickup truck. We all jumped in the back of the truck and rode almost all the way around that thing on the truck,” Prince said. “He (his PE teacher) was talking about how good we had done.”
Prince’s sister, Linda Eckenrod, who is 10 years younger than he is and who also attended the 1974 graduation ceremony, graduated from Bainbridge State and met her future husband, Scott, at the college. His daughter, Carrie, started her college career at Bainbridge State before furthering her studies at the University of Georgia.
“I tell everyone, if you are going to send someone to college, send them to Bainbridge for the first two years, let them grow up,” Prince said.
Nussbaum has served on the college’s foundation board for more than seven years. His mother was also very active in the foundation when it first began.
Nussbaum said being the first graduate – or the second – is certainly an honor. “But it was just where things fell at the time.”
Prince said when he travels to Bainbridge, he likes to ride through the campus. He said he is impressed with its growth.
Nussbaum said he thinks the college is going in a very good direction.
“It has become a bigger school than I ever imaged it being. It has gone beyond anything I could have foreseen. It has obviously had some very good leadership and guidance along the way,” Nussbaum said. “The technical school was certainly something we needed here in the community. It has really fit the bill. I am just proud to have been a part of it.”