July 10, 2018
Virginia Hart, the longtime coach and professor who founded the Mars Hill University’s women’s varsity athletics program, received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. The award, conferred by the Governor of North Carolina, is one of the most prestigious in the state and is awarded for “exemplary service to the State of North Carolina.” Hart was presented the award during the North Carolina Association of Student Councils Leadership Workshop. Hart helped bring the workshop to Mars Hill in 1962, and it still is held on the campus each summer.
Colby Cochran, one of several people who nominated Hart for the award, first met her when he attended the leadership workshop as a teenager, 48 years ago. He returned as an assistant while he was in college, and today serves as the association’s executive director. “She has been not only my mentor and friend,” said Cochran, “but also a friend and role model for thousands of students and adult advisers who have participated in this workshop during the past 56 years.”
Hart graduated in 1943 from Mars Hill College, which then was a two-year school, and returned to join the faculty in 1945 after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Winthrop College. She began teaching at Mars Hill 20 days after graduation. In the course of 40 years on the faculty, she continued her formal education, receiving her M.A. in physical education from George Peabody College in 1950 and her Ed.D. from UNC Greensboro in 1976. She played many roles in her Mars Hill teaching career, which ended upon her retirement in 1985: from coach of the men’s tennis team, to director of May Day programs, to service on the planning committee for Chambers Gymnasium, to chair of the faculty development committee, to sponsor of the majorettes and cheerleaders. She founded the women’s varsity athletic programs at Mars Hill, coaching basketball, volleyball, and tennis. She was presented the first Excellence in Teaching Award in 1970 and is a charter member of the Mars Hill University Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1999 she returned to work at the campus in the dining hall, where new generations of Mars Hill students came to know her as “Miss Virginia, the omelet lady.” Following some health issues, she retired a second time, in the spring of 2017.
Cochran calls Hart the “guardian angel” of the student councils leadership workshops. He estimates that by the end of each summer’s weeklong workshop, Hart will have talked to every one of the approximately 300 students and advisers in attendance. “There’s no one any better than Virginia who can see what others can’t see and who can recognize a ‘teachable moment.'” He says one of the first questions he gets from returning students and advisers each year is whether “Miss Virginia” will be at the workshop.