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NC State Breaks Ground on Ruby C. McSwain Education Center

Artist's rendering of the Ruby C. McSwain Education Center. Click on the above image for a larger view. By Art Latham, CALS Communication Services

North Carolina State University officials broke ground today (December 20, 2000) on a new 6,000-square-foot education center at the J. C. Raulston Arboretum. The event marks the start of construction on the first building, statewide, funded as a result of the $3.1 billion higher education bond referendum passed by North Carolina voters on Nov. 7.

The $4.2 million Ruby C. McSwain Education Center is a teaching, outreach and extension facility that will house classrooms and an auditorium. It is scheduled to be completed in summer 2002. Bond funds provided $500,000 for the building, and private donations supplied $3.7 million.

"It is fitting that the first structure built with support from bonds money be a center for education that will be used by students, faculty, industry and the public alike," said Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. "This is the type of wise investment in the future that voters had in mind when they approved the bond referendum."

NC State students will use the new center's classrooms on a daily basis and the building's auditorium and meeting facilities also will be made available for use by the Friends of the Arboretum, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service field faculty, local garden clubs, green industry representatives and other gardening-related groups. Currently, the arboretum has no education center. "Having this center on the grounds will greatly enhance our teaching and public education efforts," Dr. Bob Lyons, the director of the Raulston Arboretum, said.

The new, long-needed center is named for Ruby Vann Crumpler McSwain of Sanford, who donated $1.2 million toward its completion. McSwain, known by many as "Ms. Ruby," is a noted philanthropist and has been one of the college's more generous benefactors. In 1997, she donated 300 acres and a historic house to the N.C. Agricultural Foundation Inc. for North Carolina Cooperative Extension's Lee County Center. She was named Citizen of the Year in 1997 by The Sanford Herald and Philanthropist of the Year in 1998 by the National Society of Fund Raising Executives' Triangle Chapter. She is a major benefactor of Meredith College and the North Carolina Museum of Art.

At the ceremony, Fox recognized McSwain for her long-time support of the arboretum, the college and the university.

Fox also presented a plaque to Phil Kirk for his leadership role in helping the bond issue pass. Kirk chairs the state's Board of Education, is president of North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, and is a member of North Carolinians for Educational Opportunity. He is publisher of North Carolina magazine.

Other supporters of NC State and the new McSwain Education Center also were recognized at the ceremony.

J. Willie York of Raleigh, a 1933 NC State alumnus, was recognized by William C. Friday, UNC system president emeritus. York presented a $245,000 check to Fox to complete his $300,000 pledge for the education center. In recognition of his gift, Fox announced that the center's auditorium would be named the York Auditorium, in honor of York, his late wife and other family members.

Donor Annie Laurie Williams of Raleigh was recognized by Dr. Tom Monaco, professor and head of NC State's Department of Horticultural Science. Contributions from The Garden Club of North Carolina were recognized by Peggy Fain, president of the Raulston Arboretum's board of advisers. Numerous other donors were recognized by Lyons.

Dr. James L. Oblinger, dean of NC State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, presided at the ceremony.

Lyons calls the eight-acre arboretum, which is part of the NC State's Department of Horticultural Science, a living laboratory. College faculty and staff collect, evaluate and introduce diverse, superior plants with great environmental adaptability at the arboretum, and provide hands-on experience in the responsible, creative management of these collections. To that end, the arboretum has collected and established thousands of plants, distributed about 60,000 plants for testing, and handed out an estimated 3 million cuttings to nursery professionals in its 25-year history. It also shares designs, plant advisories and plants with other arboreta and institutions.

The Raulston Arboretum is located at 4301 Beryl Road in Raleigh, and is open free to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Check online at for more information.

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