K. Ray Bailey, President Emeritus of A-B Tech and former Buncombe County Commissioner touted student success and perseverance through his commencement address during graduation ceremonies May 17 at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Bailey played a major role in the growth and success of A-B Tech and its impact on the community, as an employee, president and community leader for 41 years.
He spoke about Sarah Schober, an A-B Tech graduate who received three academic degrees from the college in 2006. She is currently the Director of Food and Natural Products for the N.C. BioNetwork.
Sarah was a mother at 15 and earned her high school equivalency while living in a group home. She was downsized from her job and on her last day of work, she drove down Victoria Road and saw a sign about a new program at the college.
“In three years, she graduated from A-B Tech with a 4.0 (gpa), four kids and while working,” Bailey said. She later became the Biotech manager at the college and kept moving up and furthering her education.
“Did you ever see a leader that didn’t have good work ethic?” Bailey said. “A good leader values people and treats them like you want to be treated.”
Bailey was hired as the director of Adult Basic Education for the college in 1966. His tenure as president from 1990 to 2007 was marked by record-breaking enrollment, the addition of more than 30 degree and diploma programs, and the creation of strategic partnerships with business and industry, schools, and other colleges and universities that helped meet workforce development needs.
Among the nearly 1,200 degree and diploma candidates was Culinary Arts student Ruth Solis, a member of the Student Hot Food team who knows about hard work and long hours.
She put in more than 70 hours a week at the college with at least two days spanning from 8 a.m. to midnight, practicing for competition, taking classes and studying.
“People should know what they’re getting themselves into before going into the culinary program. Make sure that you love cooking and you understand that it’s not going to be easy,” Ruth said. “I’ve seen a lot of people drop, because it’s hard.”
Ruth’s love for the kitchen started around the time most children head for kindergarten. “I always enjoyed being with my mom and grandmother in the kitchen. That was the gathering room in my family. I would always want to help them,” she said. By the age of 7, she was cooking solo.
Ruth knew she wanted to be a chef but there wasn’t a culinary college in her hometown of Sparta. She took culinary classes in high school where the teacher would mention A-B Tech and its Hot Food Team. She decided to check out the college and met with instructors and she was impressed with what she saw.
Her father, however, was not as impressed. “We are a traditional Mexican family. He wanted me to be like my cousins and become a doctor, lawyer or study international business. When my dad found out where I wanted to go, he had a fit,” she said. After witnessing her successes, however, Ruth’s dad has now joined her mother in becoming her biggest supporters.
A-B Tech Interim President Dennis King, Ed.D., presented awards to faculty and staff members during the ceremony. Hospitality Education Instructor Walter Rapetski was honored as Faculty Member of the Year. Psychology Instructor Karen Townsend was recognized as Adjunct Faculty Member of the Year. Information Center Director Aaron Richman was designated as Staff Member of the Year. Ursula Gullow, who teaches art, was named Continuing Education Faculty Member of the Year.