Permanent Site for OWJC Spurs Local Debate - John Baldwin Remembers

Adapted from an article written by Joy P. Yarnall,
Communications instructor, for the OWC 25th Anniversary.

John Baldwin served as Superintendent of Schools for Walton County in 1961-77. He remembers that the possibility of a junior college in the area in the early sixties was very encouraging to those in education. According to Baldwin, the establishment of a junior college was not a problem legislatively because the junior college concept was popular with the Florida Legislature. However, the location of the college caused some controversy.

Obviously, the people in Walton County wanted the college located in Walton County, and the people in Okaloosa County wanted it there. The people in Walton County realized that their county would server fewer students because their population was smaller. However, that realization did not prevent their wanting the college in Walton County. In Okaloosa County, Fort Walton Beach and Niceville vied for the site. Of course, Walton County favored the Niceville location, being nearer. Regardless of the specific location, the obvious general location was somewhere on the Eglin reservation because of the availability of the land; therefore, officials at Eglin became involved in the location decision.

A friendly struggle ensued for a while. Walton County lined up with Niceville because Fort Walton would be out of commuting distance for most residents of Walton County. Soon the controversy became bitter. One disgruntled Fort Walton partisan complained in an editorial that the "two-bit politicians" in Walton County were about to prevent Fort Walton from getting what they wanted.

After many meetings and much debate, the determination of the site rested with the State Board of Education. The State Superintendent of Education at that time was Tom Bailey, who had been the principal at Walton Senior High School for approximately twenty years. He chose the Niceville site as the one acceptable to the State Department of Education.

The next decision was the selection of the president. Committees from the two counties interviewed candidates. They chose Dr. Ed McCracken who had much going for him; pioneering spirit, enthusiasm, and, of course, fine qualifications. James Rhodes, principal, gave Dr. McCracken office space in Niceville High School.

After the temporary campus was set up in old Valparaiso, enthusiasm flourished in the District. Walton County provided bus transportation to Niceville. The Paxton City Council gave every student who went to OWJC a stipend. The City of DeFuniak Springs offered similar encouragement for students to attend OWJC. Many residents who had not finished high school began to see the possibility of going to college. They went to adult high school or took the G.E.D. exam and went on to OWJC.

Baldwin remembers that before OWJC was established, Walton County had to go to Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama to find qualified teachers for the district. However, he recalls that within four years of the establishment of the junior college, that graduates were returning to teach in area schools, and within six years the county was self sufficient so far as teachers were concerned.

Baldwin noted that the college opened up new opportunities for local students which did not exist before the establishment of the college. The educational and economic impact that OWJC has had on the area is immeasurable. Baldwin does not know of any force that has had a greater impact on Walton County.

John Baldwin, who was influential in planning OWJC, later served as a member of the OWCC District Board of Trustees.

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