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Today@YHC August 2011

Alumni Spotlight: Al Garnto

For Blairsville native Al Garnto, ’94, memories of Young Harris College span not only his two years spent as a student at the College, but his entire life. In fact, one of Garnto’s most treasured memories of YHC occurred when he was just six years old.

“YHC is really involved in our area of the Appalachian Mountains, and every year the theatre department puts on a huge play for the local school kids,” Garnto said. “I remember the first time I set foot in Glenn Auditorium. I was blown away. I could not have been more amazed if I had been set down in the center of Rome. I knew from then on that when I grew up, I would be going to Young Harris College.”

The road to YHC was not an easy one. School officials stated that Garnto’s inability to learn the fundamentals, along with his extreme amount of energy, caused a disturbance inside the classroom that ultimately led to his expulsion at the age of 15.

Garnto did not give up on his dream of attending YHC to study art and learn from what he refers to as “the outstanding art department,” which was headed by Emeritus Professor of Art Dick Aunspaugh. After studying independently for several years, Garnto earned his G.E.D. in 1990 and began attending Young Harris College in 1992.

Garnto excelled in his art classes at the College but was soon failing his other courses. Dr. Austine Hunter Wallis, who served asdirector of college counseling at YHC during Garnto’s studies, encouraged him to undergo testing that ultimately revealed he has a severe form of dyslexia.  

“What I liked about YHC was that I was not a statistic; I was seen as a person and not just a number. The small student-to-teacher ratio was the reason I got the help I needed to succeed,” Garnto said. “Thank God for Young Harris College and Dr. Wallis, who spotted my learning difference and worked with me to develop ways to overcome it. Austine and the professors at Young Harris College helped change the course of my life.”

During his time at YHC, Garnto was a member of theArt League and the Young Harris College men’s tennis team. In 1993, his team finished second place in Georgia and 15th in the nation. Off the tennis court, some of Garnto’s most vivid recollections include spending time on campus with his classmates. 

“One of my favorite memories from YHC was the blizzard of 1993, and the biggest snowball fight I have ever been in,” Garnto said.

By the end of 1993, Garnto had a 4.0 GPA and received several awards for his paintings and sculptures. He was awarded a presidential scholarship from the Atlanta College of Art, where he earned a degree in art and sculpture. After completing his studies, Garnto returned to Blairsville and opened the Al Garnto Fine Art Studio in 1994.

“I have made my living for the past 17 years from my art,” Garnto said. “My work is collected throughout the Southeast, mainly through long-standing clients, gallery referrals and art shows.”

Two of Garnto’s paintings are on permanent display in YHC’s Duckworth Library as part of the Byron Herbert Reece collection. Garnto has also taken part in several art projects at YHC throughout the years, including redesigning the Mann Collection in Duckworth Library that features more than 5,000 Indian artifacts.

Garnto’s exhibition, “A Retrospective,” was recently on display at the Campus Gate Art Gallery during Alumni Weekend, and will also be on display August 15-September 9 with an opening reception on Thursday, August 18, at 6 p.m. The exhibit spanned 20 years of Garnto’s artwork, including drawings, paintings, kinetic sculptures, constructed assemblages, folk art and composite street photography.

“Al is very talented in visual arts creativity. What impressed me the most when he was at YHC was his enthusiasm, energy and love of art,” Aunspaugh said. “His art spirit, combined with his drawing and painting talents, have led to some outstanding and creative work."

Nine of Garnto’s kinetic sculptures are currently on display at Meeks Park in Blairsville, making the park the largest kinetic sculpture show in northeast Georgia history. Garnto is currently working on the Appalachian Sculpture Project, a wide-scale initiative to create 24 kinetic sculptures from Georgia to Maine, exposing various areas of Appalachia to art and sculpture.

“This is quickly becoming the largest kinetic sculpture project ever to be done by a single artist throughout rural Appalachia,” Garnto said. “The project has made it possible for me to share with the world how I have used art and sculpture to overcome a severe learning difference.”

It is Garnto’s hope that one of these kinetic sculptures will reside near his hometown and alma mater, to highlight not only his love for the region, but also for the College that helped shape his artistic career.

“At YHC, I realized that when you learn to look at the world differently, it becomes a different world,” Garnto said. “When I went to YHC, I could just feel that I was experiencing something special. It has been a true blessing in my life.”

5 Questions for… Dr. Ray Farley

Ray Farley, Ph.D., has worn many hats at Young Harris College, serving as a history teacher, residence hall director, dean and, most notably, president—a title he held for two decades. By the time Dr. Farley retired in 1991, important steps were taken to strengthen the College endowment, faculty, curriculumand facilities.  Acapital campaign led to the construction of Rollins Hall and the renovation of residence halls, administrative buildings and dining facilities;plans for beautifying the campus were implemented;a faculty growth and development programwas added and hiring practices were improved to cultivate top-notch faculty; and the curriculum was adjusted to suit student needs. Read about what brought Dr. Farley to Young Harris, some of his fondest memories at YHC, and what it has been like to watch Young Harris College grow during the last 50 years.

What are you up to these days?

Since retiring in 1991, my life has been unscheduled—no early appointments in Atlanta or elsewhere. I have enjoyed some return trips to Paris, London and Vienna. I was envious of the recent YHC Choir trip to Vienna, which is my favorite European city. My last trip was to Spain in 2009. Since the death of my three siblings in 2006-07, there is a void, but my daughter and granddaughter keep me active.

You served as president of Young Harris College from 1971-1991. What brought you to YHC, and what is it about the College that made you want to serve as president for 20 years?

After completing a three-year tour in the Army Security Agency in 1955, I accepted a teaching position in a high school. To my surprise, I soon discovered that juniors and seniors were not excited about world history. Therefore, I began searching for something else. A trip to Young Harris and an interview convinced me to move to the mountains of north Georgia and I have never regretted that decision. Becoming dean of Young Harris College in 1959 caused me to decide to return to college to learn about being an administrator. Opportunities presented themselves for me to enroll at Florida State University in their Ph.D. program in junior college administration. I returned to YHC in 1963 to continue as dean. After Douglas Reed Sasser, ’50, resigned, I was elected president by the Board of Trustees in 1971.

What are some of your fondest memories of your time working at Young Harris College?

There are many fond memories from my 35 years at YHC—some as director of Peel Hall, sponsor of the Spat Club, Phi Theta Kappa, teaching history (which many students recall vividly), working with the faculty, staff, students, alumni and Board of Trustees. Individuals may recall these meaningful memories and frown or smile.

During your tenure, you truly prepared YHC for its second century of existence. What were some of the most significant decisions made during your presidency and why?

It has always been my belief that the greatest years for YHC are in the future. Each administration works for that goal. The College’s past is remarkable, but it has to continue to be better. My administration was only one link in an ever-lengthening chain. I am very proud of all of those who forged the link between 1971 and 1991.

Young Harris College is currently in a period of growth much like it experienced during your presidency—improved campus housing, addition of faculty, new academic courses and a capital campaign to help the College achieve its goals for the future. What has the experience been like of watching the College grow and what do you hope the future holds for YHC?

I have nothing but admiration for all who are involved in the changes on the campus. Every visit finds something new and exciting. Even though we may long for the past, change is necessary. For example, the elm trees along the side of what is now Goolsby Center were old and dying. They were removed and now the new trees are beautiful, but memory of elms is still around. The many physical changes on the campus are wonderful and with time they will change, but the spirit, which is the true YHC, remains.

I was recently asked to write the Alumni Buzz letter for this month’s edition of Today@YHC. Once I got past the initial “uh oh!,” I thought this would be a great way to note how much I am honored and humbled to be an alumnus of Young Harris College and feel so blessed that I attended there, and also to encourage fellow alumni to support the College. 

The best part of all from my time at YHC is that I met my wife, Susan Rankin Ginn, ’77.  We will be celebrating 30 years of marriage this October, yet it still seems like just yesterday we were students canoeing across Lake Chatuge on an Easter morning.  Susan and I have two wonderful children, Mary-Frances and Alex, ’09.  Mary-Frances graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in business management and marketing and has started her career, while Alex earned his associate degree in science at YHC and is currently enrolled in UGA’s engineering program.  Another great moment occurred when my brother, Charlie, ’78, met Kathy May Ginn, ’78, there, and they have been married for nearly 31 years.

The beautiful campus, students, faculty and staff in that wonderful place nestled in the mountains of north Georgia have a special place in my life.  I moved from the big city of Atlanta to the campus of a college with less than 500 students.  I started with a group of five others from the same high school that had more than 2,000 students.  We had all known each other during high school, but had nowhere near the same and close relationships we developed during our time at YHC.  That group is still part of lifelong friendships that were built at Young Harris.  I am continuously amazed at the many times I interact with former students and faculty of YHC around Georgia and the southeastern United States.

As part of the YHC experience, I grew in many areas and directions, both individually and as a part of the community.  The students, classes, professors and staff helped me see and learn from different perspectives I had not explored before—I was always into science, math, engineering and finance, but at YHC I gained a true appreciation of art, English, history and many other subjects.  The community of YHC allowed me to learn how to have my own opinions but also work together with others based on principles of faith, betterment and service to others.

I am still involved in the YHC community as a member of the Alumni Board.  To me, “being involved” means participating, nurturing, supporting and doing a lot of other things to help something or someone succeed.  The College is changing in many ways as it renews and redevelops a four-year course of study, while remaining true to the founding principles of Artemas Lester and Judge Young L.G. Harris. This transformation includes adding more students, faculty and staff, NCAA Division II athletics and new facilities too. I thank those of you who have stayed involved through giving, attending Alumni Weekend or Connection events, encouraging others to attend YHC and finding other ways to help the College. I look forward to seeing every member of our YHC community become even more involved to continue the success of our beloved College as it grows in many areas and directions.

Yours through YHC,

Candler Ginn, ’77

Young Harris College Achieves Candidacy for NCAA Division II Membership

Young Harris College President Cathy Cox recently announced that YHC has been formally accepted as a candidate for membership in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at the Division II level.   

“We are very excited to begin the formal process to full membership in NCAA at the Division II level, President Cox said. “Our athletic department has worked diligently in leading this endeavor, and this achievement is a significant milestone in our on-going transformation to a four-year college. We know that NCAA membership will attract many talented student-athletes to Young Harris College.”

“Today is a great day for YHC!” said Young Harris College Director of Athletics Randy Dunn. “I am very pleased that the NCAA membership committee considered YHC a worthy institution for provisional membership. Obtaining full membership will be a three-year process, and if everything goes well, YHC should receive full NCAA membership in 2014-2015.”

During the first provisional year, Young Harris College will bring itself completely in line with the policies and procedures of the NCAA and develop Division II schedules for its teams. Following the College’s first year as a candidate for membership, the NCAA’s membership committee will send representatives to campus to review and evaluate YHC’s progress, and will then make a recommendation to move Young Harris College to the next level of the membership process.

“The next step for Young Harris College is to immediately begin work to complete the process for membership in the Peach Belt Conference, which is one of the strongest and most prestigious Division II conferences in the country,” added Dunn, who successfully transitioned North Georgia College & State University to NCAA Division II and Peach Belt Conference membership prior to arriving at YHC in 2010. “Young Harris College will be the only private college in Georgia in the esteemed Peach Belt Conference.”

Current Peach Belt Conference members include Armstrong Atlantic State University, Augusta State University, Clayton State University, Columbus State University, Flagler College, Francis Marion University, Georgia College & State University, Georgia Southwestern State University, Lander University, University of Montevallo, North Georgia College & State University, the University of North Carolina—Pembroke and the University of South Carolina—Aiken.

“Many individuals worked long and hard to make this happen, but President Cox should be the person most recognized for her vision, commitment and support during this process,” Dunn said.

The announcement adds to the positive momentum building throughout campus over the past few years as the125-year-old institution returns to its roots as a four-year college.

Since earning its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2008 to grant bachelor’s degrees, Young Harris College has been adding baccalaureate majors and academic programs at a rapid pace. As of 2011, YHC now offers 13 baccalaureate majors—biology, business and public policy, communication studies, English, early childhood education, history, mathematics, middle grades education, music, music education, musical theatre, outdoor leadership and theatre—as well as a full array of minors and teacher certifications. The College will continue to roll out new academic programs annually.

In addition, Young Harris College has doubled the size of its faculty in just four years and hired additional staff to support the new academic programs and student amenities.

Last fall, Young Harris College broke enrollment records for the fourth consecutive year with more than 800 students on campus; then on May 7, the College conferred its first bachelor’s degrees in nearly a century to a class of 40 seniors.

Young Harris College is in an unprecedented building program to support its growth, having recently added a 200-bed, LEED Silver-certified residence hall that opened to industry acclaim in 2009, followed by the 57,000-square-foot, LEED-certified Recreation and Fitness Center that opened in 2010. Next month, YHC will open The Village, the newest student housing option for upperclassmen, which adds 148 beds configured as apartments within a residential “village” atmosphere. The next major facility constructed will be a new campus center that combines a student center, dining hall, banquet facility and library in a single, state-of-the-art 125,000-square-foot building.

During the 2010-2011 season, YHC competed as an independent school against other four-year institutions. Prior to that transition, Young Harris College’s athletic teams were among the finest in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The Mountain Lions claimed the 2006 NJCAA national championship in women’s soccer, the same season head coach Kathy Brown was named national Coach of the Year. In 2007, head coach Rick Robinson led Young Harris College’s baseball team to the Junior College World Series.

In addition, Young Harris College student-athletes have gone on to earn individual acclaim. Six former YHC baseball players have made it to the Major League, with three currently playing: outfielder Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Orioles, right-handed pitcher Cory Gearrinof the Atlanta Braves and outfielder Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies. Markakis and Bryson Smith, a 2011 draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds, both earned the title of national junior college player of the year during their YHC careers. Many other former Mountain Lions have played professionally or have gone on to play at the highest collegiate levels in their respective sport.

Young Harris College currently sponsors 12 intercollegiate sports teams: baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, softball and men’s and women’s tennis.

(Front row, left to right) Senior Woman Administrator and Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance Jennifer Stearsman, Head Baseball Coach Rick Robinson, Head Women’s Soccer Coach and Assistant Director of Athletics for Community Engagement Kathy Brown, Head Women’s Basketball Coach Brenda Paul, (back row, left to right) Head Men’s Basketball Coach Pete Herrmann, Head Softball Coach and Senior Associate Director of Athletics Eric Geldhart, YHC President Cathy Cox, Director of Athletics Randy Dunn, Director of Golf Brett Beazley and Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach Barry Brown.

Young Harris College President Cathy Cox and Director of Athletics Randy Dunn announced today that YHC has been formally accepted as a candidate for membership in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at the Division II level.   

Young Harris College Launches New Mobile Website

Young Harris College has launched, a new mobile website that offers instant access to YHC from any smartphone. Focusing on simplicity and easy, icon-driven navigation, the mobile website includes popular features such as event calendars, social media links and a news feed. The site also includes navigational tools including a campus map, directions and tour.

The mobile site provides quick access to the most popular links on the College's main website,, and contains fewer graphics than the full website, allowing for a fast page load of the site on mobile devices. The site is compatible with mobile browsers found on phones like iPhone, Android and BlackBerry, offering users an optimal viewing and navigation experience on handheld wireless devices.

“Young Harris College is making a conscientious effort to stay at the forefront of technology in the arena of higher education,” Vice President for Technology Ken Faneuff said. “We are happy to be able to provide students and other visitors with a mobile site that features easy-to-navigate links and important information that can be accessed on the go.”