MOUNT OLIVE -- There was a sense of excitement.
A building had been found to serve as the first home of the fledgling Mount Olive Junior College.
But Rose Raper was not impressed when she saw the dilapidated building for the first time.
It was 1953, and the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists had decided to move its Mount Allen Junior College from Black Mountain east since that was where most of its churches are located.
The Rev. Lloyd Vernon, a Mount Olive native and president of the college, knew that Mount Olive had built a new grammar school and no longer used the older two-story building on South Breazeale Avenue where Mount Olive Family Medicine Center is now located.
Mrs. Raper said they learned about the building at the denomination's state convention in Wilson County.
"We were excited, but didn't know much about what was going on," she told the group gathered Thursday afternoon at Steele Memorial Library for the Mount Olive Area Historical Society's Historical Glimpses program.
Mrs. Raper and her late husband, Dr. Burkette Raper, and several others drove to Mount Olive that day to look at the building.
"When we arrived we saw a very dilapidated building -- drab, uncared for, windows broke, grass, weeds all in the yard," she said. "Inside was debris left when the Wayne County school moved down to their new building.
"Papers. Desks turned upside down. Chalkboards broken. Anything that you can think of that you would not want to deal with was there."
And Mrs. Raper, Dr. Michael Pelt and Gary Barefoot well remember the Year of the Mud when the college moved to its "new campus" on Henderson Street in 1965.
The three spoke about the college's -- now the University of Mount Olive's -- early years during the Historical Glimpses program that focuses on local history as told by those who have lived it.
Mrs. Raper worked with her husband during his 50-year presidency of the institution.
Pelt was one of the first employees when the college located to Mount Olive. He was the longest-serving chair of the religion department and also served in other administrative areas during his tenure.
Barefoot was head librarian as well as curator of the Original Free Will Baptist Historical Collection. Even though Barefoot is now retired as librarian, he continues to serve as curator of that collection.
Barefoot has a unique perspective first as a student and then as a staff member at the college.
The Henderson building opened on the "new campus" in 1965, and the girls' dorm was ready, Mrs. Raper said.
"And there were no walks. It was muddy," Barefoot said.
"I have it in my notes that it was called the Year of the Mud," Mrs. Raper said. "We transferred out there, and I know students who where here then loved to talk about the Year of the Mud."
It was also the year of a "tremendous" ice storm that left much of the area without power, she said.
"The cafeteria had a gas stove," she said. "They were able to cook. By that time we had a cafeteria on the downtown campus in the old building.
"I used to make chocolate and various things and haul it out to the dorms because the students couldn't get out. They had no cars. They couldn't get out in that ice and go downtown. So we took care of them as best we could."
During that time a lot of townspeople went to the cafeteria to eat because the power was out, and they couldn't cook," Barefoot said.
There were many difficulties in those early years, Mrs. Raper said.
"We had a lot of obstacles to overcome. The sprits never gave out," she said. "They always wanted to keep going. I never heard Burkette say, 'We are going to have to close out.' He was always optimistic. His faith was strong, and he believed the college could be successful.
"It has been a long journey. We all have enjoyed it, and you know what we have now. You can go out and look and enjoy seeing what we have."
Mrs. Raper traced the church's interest in the development of a college from the 1920s up to the establishment of Mount Olive Junior College.
What started as Mount Allen Junior College opened in September of 1952 with six students and three facility members.
"On Sept. 22, 1954, 22 students enrolled here in Mount Olive," she said. "Areas had been built for the girls to live upstairs in that building."
Large classrooms were sectioned off into three bedrooms that were being painted the day students arrived. The paint was not dry so the girls could not stay in the rooms, Mrs. Raper said.
"There was quite a bit of deliberations going on among parents that had brought their girls to college," she said. "Many of them considered taking them back home with them, but they didn't."
Beds were moved into the lounge downstairs, mats were placed on the floor, and whatever else was necessary for the girls was done, she said.
All of the girls stayed.
The men lived in private homes in town.
"There was no cafeteria in the building," Mrs. Raper said. "Here were 22 students staying and no food service. So Burkette worked out an arrangement with Rusty Flowers, who owned a restaurant downtown. They went down every day, three times for their meals."
During October of that year, Hurricane Hazel struck.
"The group went for lunch at the restaurant downtown, and the winds began to blow while they were at the restaurant," Mrs. Raper said. "Coming back they would tell how they tried to walk to get back to campus, and a gust of wind would come and blow them backward."
In the early 1960s New Bern tried to lure the college away.
"In 1962 New Bern was looking an educational institution, and the Chamber there made a plea to the college to relocate there. Three sites, each 100 acres in size, were offered as possible locations.
"I never had a talk with Dr. Raper about this," Barefoot said. "I don't think it was anything that the board or he started to try and get the town behind the college, but it really got the town behind the college at that point.
"They began to raise some monies. This was in the fall of 1962, somewhere about November when the first proposal was made. By March, there had been enough rallying gone on that the board decided in March 1963 that they would not move to New Bern."
One reason to consider moving was the almost a known fact that a community college would be built in Goldsboro, he said. That created a concern over whether the county could support two schools.