Spartanburg Community College President Henry Giles began working at the college in 1969, when he was 23 years old.
He had taught eighth-grade math for a year at Cowpens High School and figured with already one year in the state retirement system, he could retire at age 52.
Now, Giles is 68, long past that original retirement age, and the longest serving employee of the college to date.
“I have no immediate plans to retire,” Giles said this week. “My thought is that I'm going to be here for a while.”
Giles came to work at the college shortly after the completion of the West building, now named for the first director of the college, P. Dan Hull. It doubled the size of the campus, which had about 800 students, 32 faculty members and about a dozen programs of study. Giles taught math for a year, then began managing a grant at SCC to provide job skills training for economically disadvantaged residents. When Giles was named vice president for development, he wrote the college's first set of bylaws and developed and wrote grants. He later oversaw academic programs, admissions and student services as vice president of academic affairs. During that time, one of the major initiatives was getting the college to move from quarters to semesters. It wasn't an easy transition, Giles said, but important in ensuring that SCC credits would easily transfer to other colleges.
During the 1980s, another major initiative of SCC was the Technical Scholars program. Participants in the program attended classes but also worked part-time while earning their degree, and they were often offered a position at the company they worked for upon graduation.
“It was a very successful program,” Giles said. “It's ebbed and waned based on the economy. U.S. companies see the overhead costs. European companies tend to see it as an investment for the future.”
SCC now has a scholars program in conjunction with BMW.
Giles later became vice president for business affairs for the college — the chief financial officer in charge of accounts payable, human resources, payroll and security.
“When you're in the business office, you become the cop on the block,” Giles said.
When Dr. Para Jones became president of SCC, Giles said he thought about retiring. In 2012, he was named interim president before being named president of the college.
Now, about 6,000 students attend classes at the college's five campuses in a three-county area, and there are still projects to finish, Giles said. Those include: overseeing the opening of the Cherokee County campus' $5.9 million Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Industrial Technology (CAMIT); developing a new strategic plan for SCC; realigning space for projected growth and analyzing the conditions of existing buildings; and seeing the college through another accreditation, which should be complete in 2016.
Another large project that Giles wanted to see through was a SCC campus in downtown Spartanburg, which came to fruition last year with the opening of the renovated Evans Building on Kennedy Street.
“There's always something that I felt needed to be done,” Giles said. “There's always a project.”
With 45 years in at an always-evolving institution, Giles has seen a lot of changes. As an example, he said when he began at SCC, students in the automotive program learned how to repair brakes and do tune-ups. Now they learn how to do computer diagnostics.
Another change came during the 1990s, when SCC expanded its programs to include associate's degrees, with expanded courses including math, English, history, psychology and economics.
“More and more students needed those skill sets,” Giles said. The programs better prepare students for career advancements and management, or for transfer to four-year universities.
“When I came here, this was the Spartanburg Technical Education Center,” Giles said. “We were not a college. We've migrated into post-secondary education. This college is and should continue to be the door to higher education in Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties. Our focus is not on writing papers and doing research. We are a nurturing environment to help students grow and develop.”
Faculty and staff recently held a celebration for Giles' accomplishments. Four of the five past presidents or directors spoke during the event, including Hull, 91, who still goes to the gym three days a week, and Joe Gault, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday by skydiving.
Giles takes his role seriously, and arrives at work at 7 a.m., to start the day in the quiet of morning before other employees arrive.
“I've always enjoyed working here,” Giles said. “I like having a reason to get up every day and feeling that I made some kind of difference.”
Dan Terhune, who served as SCC president from 1996 to 2009, said he was happy to return to the college and speak during the celebration honoring Giles.
“I was really glad he was going to be recognized,” he said.
Giles is unique because he rose through the ranks from instructor to president, Terhune said. Giles served as vice president of business affairs during Terhune's tenure, and the former president said Giles was very knowledgeable about state regulations and ensured clean audits for SCC.
“He is a good, solid educational professional, a stabilizing force for the college,” Terhune said.
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