It was two weeks late happening, and when Howard Community College opened its doors to students for the first time, on Oct. 12, 1970, officials weren’t entirely confident that everything was going to be OK.
There was the building’s array of smoke detectors, for example. “We don’t know how it works, and it could go off at anytime,” Bob Newkirk, HCC’s physical education instructor, told The Sun. College President Alfred J. Smith agreed. “It is possible that cigarette smoke coming from the cafeteria could set it off. We just don’t know what will happen.”
The detectors behaved, and even though there seemed to be as many construction workers on campus as students, the day went off without a major hitch. The weekend before, “several dozen” faculty and student volunteers helped move the process along, cleaning the facilities and arranging classroom desks in rows.
Full-time enrollment that first day was 250. Classes were held in the school’s one and only building, what is now the James Clark Jr. Library Building (ground had been broken in June 1969). The 120-acre campus in Columbia had been purchased from The Rouse Company for a little more than $300,000; among the extant structures was an old barn and silo that some wanted to turn into a student center, until a high wind blew it down one night. The schedule for the fall semester took up three stapled pages.
Oh, yeah, there was one other small problem that first day, as student Nancy Hogue, 20, told The Sun. She noticed it during her morning English class.
“A tiny, cute-looking mouse showed up,” Hogue told reporter Michael J. Clark, “and was eventually chased from our classroom by the female instructor.”