- Associated Press - Sunday, July 27, 2014

BRISTOL, Va. (AP) - After spending her entire adult life teaching at Virginia Intermont College, Mary Lou Smith is now writing a book to preserve the recently closed school’s 130-year history.

Smith, 78, graduated from the former two-year girl’s school in 1955 and began teaching there in 1957, after earning her bachelor’s degree. Her 57-year career ended abruptly in May, when the private, liberal arts school ceased operations due to a financial collapse and lost accreditation.

“If the Lord lets me live long enough, I’m going to finish this book,” Smith said. “There is so much history there, somebody has got to do this or it’s all going to die.”

The working title is “Virginia Intermont College, 130 Years.”

Present for nearly half of that time and after working for seven college presidents, Smith is now researching the school’s founding in Glade Spring, Virginia, its founder the Rev. Joseph Harrison and the move to Bristol.

She expects the research and writing could take at least a year.

“It’s going to be a history and an autobiography. I was at VI longer than anyone,” Smith said. “It will be part autobiography because I’ve got so many stories to tell.”

She effortlessly recites names, years and circumstances from memory yet proudly describes unearthing miniscule details like the founder’s middle name or that the school - which developed a nationally recognized equestrian program - actually gave physical education credits for horseback riding 100 years ago.

Smith has already enlisted the aid of former VI photography instructors Jay Phyfer and Joe Champagne to document features on the current campus and envisions a lavishly illustrated hardback book when finished.

She has already pored over old documents at the alumni house, visited libraries to study old newspaper archives and reached out to the relatives of former VI officials. Smith also expects to rely on a network of friends and former students.

“I taught so many children and adults how to swim and I’ve stayed in touch with so many people,” Smith said.

Plans include chapters about the school’s evolution from two-year to four-year, development of its buildings and campus, faculty, the notable people who spoke or appeared there, the equine program and people who made significant impacts. She doesn’t yet have a publisher, but is focused primarily on pulling elements of the book together.

“I’ve got so much to do,” she said

Seeing VI close was emotional for everyone involved, she said.

“I didn’t cry, but I did tear up some,” Smith said. “Some people were sobbing. I felt so bad for the students who only needed six hours or something like that to graduate. They are going to get a degree from King or Emory & Henry or some other school after spending all that time at VI.”

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Information from: Bristol Herald Courier, http://www.bristolnews.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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