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“Uncle Gus” Gamewell and his 65 years of service

Written By: Phillip Stone - Oct• 03•12

Joseph Augustus Gamewell

It’s hard to believe someone could serve on the faculty for 65 years, but we had one professor who did just that.

Joseph Augustus Gamewell was born in January 1850, the same year that Benjamin Wofford died.  He was probably pre-destined to enroll at Wofford, as his father and grandfather were both Methodist ministers in South Carolina; his father was a member of Wofford’s original board of trustees.  As his father was the minister of Central Methodist in Spartanburg when the college opened, he could say that he was present as a small child at the very beginning of the college.

Young Gamewell enlisted in the Confederate army in the waning months of the war (at age 15), and later, prepared for entry into Wofford’s freshman class in the college’s preparatory department.  He enrolled in the college in 1867.  He was one of the charter members of Kappa Alpha when the fraternity came to Wofford in 1869, and he played on one of the early Wofford baseball teams.  He was president of the Calhoun Literary Society during his senior year, and he also was a speaker at Commencement.  After graduating with the class of 1871, Gamewell taught for four years in Kentucky before returning to teach at his alma mater.

In his first years back at Wofford, he taught in the preparatory department, but soon moved to teaching college courses as professor of Latin.  In 1879, he became the secretary of the college (we’d call him the secretary of the faculty today), a position he held for the rest of his tenure.

A very elderly Gamewell with his grandson.

“Uncle Gus,” as he came to be known, stands out in the history of Wofford for two reasons.  One was simply his longevity.  He was on the faculty from 1875 to 1940, or for 65 years. That’s the longest period of service for anyone in the college’s history.  And the fact that his father was a founding trustee, that he was literally present at the beginning, and that he could claim to have encountered everyone who had been connected with the college for over eighty years make him a distinctive figure.  In its November 7, 1938 issue, Life Magazine identified him as one of the oldest college professors in America, running a picture in its magazine. In addition to his longevity, Professor Gamewell founded the Wofford Lyceum, a type of lecture series popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Gamewell considered the Lyceum “my most successful and profitable work for the college and the community.”  Under the auspices of the Lyceum, numerous speakers with national reputations came to speak in Spartanburg.  College historian D. D. Wallace, his long-time faculty colleague, also cited the Lyceum as his greatest contribution to the intellectual life of the college.  The advent of radio made it gradually more difficult, as Wallace noted, to attract good speakers.  In the early years, though, the college was able to attract Woodrow Wilson, Lyman Abbott, George Kennan, Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, and William Jennings Bryan. It’s also reported that Booker T. Washington spoke as part of the Lyceum.  Many of these guests stayed in Gamewell’s campus home, which is now the Hugh R. Black Wellness Center.  Wallace said that while there was a Lyceum committee, Gamewell did all the work and let younger members of the committee know that he knew better than they what the public and college audiences wanted.

J. A. Gamewell spent most of his life in a relationship with Wofford.  Commenting on the time he spent growing up in Spartanburg and on his life in the community, he explained “If I was not on the campus, I was always in sight of the towers. These twin towers are an inspiration to anyone traveling on any road that today leads into Spartanburg.”

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