Mary Holmes alumni react to demolition

Darlene Cox was in the last graduating class to receive an Associate of Arts degree from Mary Holmes College. She and others who attended Mary Holmes are sad to see the Mead Holmes Administration Building torn down.
Staff Writer

Mary Holmes College was an open admission, two-year, historically African American, coeducational, primarily residential institution related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) located in West Point.

The college was founded in 1892 as a Presbyterian Institution dedicated to educating the daughters of former slaves.

Since then, Mary Holmes offered opportunities to all who seek knowledge and personal enhancement, making it possible for many without opportunity to achieve success in such diverse fields as religion, education, law, and medicine. The announcement that the school had closed its doors was made March 3, 2005.

Community Counseling Services purchased the campus in 2010. Renovations of standing structures began almost immediately. The purpose was to keep as much of the historic site intact as possible. The Mead Holmes Administration Building was deemed too far gone in disrepair and contained asbestos and other chemicals that made the building far too expensive to save. Demolition of the building has been taking place during the month of July.

"I loved everything about Mary Holmes," said Darlene Cox, an alumnus of the college. "To see the administration building torn down is so very sad. My heart feels like someone has thrown rocks through its windows and has broken it in pieces."

Cox said the Mead Holmes Administration Building was the first place she went on campus to register at the college.

"Everyone was so kind and patient with me when I registered," Cox said. "I had a scholarship as a non-traditional student. I was grown, married, our children were grown and they encouraged me to go back to school. Mary Holmes was right here in West Point. It was perfect."

Mary Holmes laid the educational foundation before going on to Mississippi State, Cox said. "Nathaniel Jackson was president of the college," Cox said. "Paul Dobbs was vice president. They both had their offices in the administration building and the doors were always open to the students. They knew us by name. We were welcome to go to them or any of the advisors in that building. It was a safe place to go when you had a problem. That building meant so very much to me."

She said Mary Holmes not only taught its students academics, but life lessons, as well.

"We learned to give back what we could," Cox said. "Most people don't have a lot of money, so we were taught how to give of ourselves, our time, our talents. How to believe in ourselves. It gave me so much."

Margaret Shelton graduated from Mary Holmes in 1966, and had many precious memories of her time as a Mary Homes student. "It broke my heart to see that building torn down," Shelton said. "It made me feel like I did when they first announced the college was closing for good. I have a lot of memories from that building and the whole campus."

Shelton said she remembers what her father told her, to take advantage of every second life gives you. These moments will not last forever. She said that's why she cherishes the memories of Mary Holmes College.

"Those first two years of college prepared me for life." Shelton said. "It made me focused and grounded. People came to Mary Holmes from all over the country, I got to meet so many different types of people. It showed me the world was bigger than West Point."

She said it was here, it was affordable and perfect for a young woman with seven siblings who wanted an education.

"My parents couldn't afford to send me to a university," Shelton said. "So I commuted to school and still had the full college experience without the cost of a university. I was so very blessed to have been part of Mary Holmes."

Cox and Shelton have both been part of many reunions at Mary Holmes. This year the alumni made a large donation of canned and non-perishable food items to the Project Homestead Food Pantry. In previous years they have made donations to Sally Kate Winters Family Services and other charities in the area.

Mary Holmes College may be gone, but it has left a lasting legacy in the hearts and minds of its former students.