Hazlett was a trailblazer for a new college

Published 4:41 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

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When wanting to know about the history of Stanly Community College, there are few people more equipped to talk about the subject than Dan Hazlett, the instructor who’s been with the college for every year of its existence.

He was one of the original eight faculty members when the college was still known as Stanly Technical Institute and still teaches part-time.

He was one of the key people, for example, that helped put up the “SCC Through The Decades” exhibit on display at the Stanly County History Center. Many of the old photographs, newspaper clippings and artifacts detailing the college’s earlier years came directly from Hazlett.

“Most organizations cannot boast of dedicated employees with 50 years of continued service, but Stanly Community College is fortunate to have one in Dan Hazlett,” said SCC President Dr. John Enamait. “Since beginning his career with the college in 1971, Dan has been such an integral part of our SCC family.”

Though seemingly intertwined with all things related to the college, Hazlett is not originally from Stanly, nor the state for that matter.

Born in West Virginia in 1948, Hazlett graduated from Marshall University, where he received master’s degrees in journalism and English. After one year teaching high school in Virginia, he considered positions at various colleges in the state, but they were offering only nine or 10 months of employment and he wanted year-round.

Dr. Thomas Bishop, who worked at Marshall, was heading to Stanly to serve as Stanly Technical Institute’s first dean of faculty. He put the word out around campus about job openings at the new college. Hazlett was intrigued, though he knew very little about North Carolina at the time. His only memories were during his honeymoon, when he and his wife Sharon drove through the state to get to Myrtle Beach. He thinks they briefly stopped and ate in Norwood, but he is not sure.

What made him decide to take a position was that the STI jobs, unlike the ones in West Virginia, were year-round. So Hazlett took a chance and he and his wife headed to Stanly — expecting full well to be back in his home state in a few years.

“We told our families we’re going to move to North Carolina just for a couple years and then we’ll be back,” he said. “And we never went back.”

He and his wife arrived in the county in August 1972. Not long after, the Hazletts expanded their family with the addition of their son Jason — the first child born to an STI employee.

With only limited teaching experience to fall back on, this was uncharted territory for Hazlett. He often had classes with students his age or older — many of whom had recently returned from Vietnam.

“It was nothing to have a class of 40 students in it, where now we probably don’t have any classes that go over 20,” he said.

Hazlett, who taught basic business English courses, was initially very tough on his students. This was intentional: Since classes were held in an old high school, STI’s first president Dr. Charles Byrd was adamant that “we acted like a college,” Hazlett said. “He said we’ve got to establish from the very beginning that we’re talking serious education here.”

He remembers being called into Bishop’s office one day, following a very unusual complaint from one of his classes about his behavior. It read: “Do something about Mr. H. He starts class on time, he keeps us the whole time and he talks about the subject the whole time we’re here.” Bishop congratulated Hazlett and told him to keep up the good work.

Dan Hazlett in his office reflecting on his 50 years working at Stanly Community College.

Those first few years were especially precarious because the faculty and staff were learning as they went and there was always the worry that not enough students would enroll or funding would dry up.

“We were a struggling young school,” he said. “There was no guarantee those early years that students would come and the community support and funding would continue. There were so many different angles that had to fall in place to keep things going those first years.”

In the early 1970s, Hazlett said it was quite common for students to arrive to school in the morning after working the night shift at one of the county’s many cotton mills. Hazlett could easily identify these students by the cotton dust in their hair.

“They would say, now don’t start until the cotton heads get here,” Hazlett said with a laugh, noting that between classes the students would go to the restrooms to brush the dust out of their hair.

As someone who has taught thousands of students during his tenure, there have been some colorful moments that still stand out to Hazlett. One occurred early in his career when his class had to write a paper related to current events.

In an era well before spell-check, one student wrote what Hazlett remembers was a quality, well-researched paper about the relations between the North and South Vietnamese. The paper, though, did feature a large, recurring mistake: The student consistently misspelled “Vietnamese” as “Vitamins.”

Hazlett told the student he was confused how he could do such thorough research and yet still get the names wrong. For the mistake, the student received an A-, Hazlett recalled. To this day, he chuckles every time he remembers the incident.

After only a few years, the community college had grown so rapidly that classes had to be held all around the area. Hazlett remembers teaching courses at the hospital, Albemarle High School, the basement of First Baptist Church and even the showroom window of a local car dealer (in what is now Five Points).

“You never knew where you were gonna be teaching,” he said.

But the rapid growth was ultimately a good problem to have and it helped pave the way for the building of the current campus on College Drive. Before the college arrived, much of the land along College Drive was used as a poultry farm.

The first color photograph in the SNAP appeared in June 1977 and featured the Patterson Building.

The very first color photograph that appeared in the The Stanly News & Press was in the June 10, 1977 edition and featured an image of what is now the Patterson building.

“Everything was so clean, everything was new,” Hazlett said. “It felt like a college.”

Hazlett has been approached many times during his career about his interest in making the transition to teaching at a four-year university like Pfeiffer or UNC Charlotte, but he never seriously considered such a move.

“From those beginning years, I saw the value of a community college and what it had to offer,” he said.

Hazlett helped SCC gain statewide publicity in 1986 when he was the recipient of the inaugural Excellence in Instruction Award given to the community college instructor of the year. During his speech, he remembers tweaking a quote derived from a famous line in a George Bernard Shaw play as a way of emphasizing the importance of community colleges.

Dan Hazlett was the first recipient of a teaching award in 1986, given to the top community college instructor in the state. Photo courtesy of Dan Hazlett.

“There’s that saying, ‘Those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach,’ and I said, in my mind, it’s ‘Those who can, teach; and those who can do it the best, teach at a community college,” he said.

As Stanly Community College has evolved and changed over the years, Hazlett’s presence has remained constant. He retired in 2003, but continues to teach part-time. He also leads the college’s Phi Beta Lambda chapter, which has been named a national “Gold Seal Chapter” 18 consecutive years. Several of his SCC students have received state and national awards in PBL competitive events while many local officials, including Albemarle Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall and Councilman Dexter Townsend, were part of PBL and under his tutelage.

Hall said Hazlett always did his best to elevate his students and place them in the best positions to succeed, especially those in PBL, while he always remained dutifully in the background.

“He did have a great influence on me and many, many others,” Hall said, noting that over the course of the past 50 years, Hazlett has been the “heartbeat” of the college.

As of now, even after 50 years of service, Hazlett has no plans on leaving the school anytime soon. He still enjoys interacting with his students. And the community still greatly appreciates him.

“When you think of Stanly Community College, you can’t help but think of Dan Hazlett,” Enamait said. “He’s one in a million and we’re so fortunate to have him as part of the SCC family for our entire 50-year history.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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