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Singer, politicos among YHC alum

February 21, 2011

By Ali Neese, Staff Writer

Young Harris College might be a small school nestled in the North Georgia mountains, but it has seen its fair share of former students turn into household names. YHC has many notable alumni that it claims, including two former Georgia Governors, Congressmen, members of the clergy and entertainers.

Probably one of YHC’s most well-known alumni is former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller. Born in the city of Young Harris, Zell attended school at YHC and later became a member of the faculty. While on staff at YHC Miller also became the mayor of Young Harris, then became a state senator and was later elected to lieutenant governor, a position that he held for sixteen years. In 1990, he ran for governor of Georgia and was in office for two terms. His impact on both the state of Georgia and YHC will be remembered for years to come.

As many YHC students know, a late-night trip to Waffle House is often the perfect study break. What might not be so well-known is that the co-founder of the Waffle House chain is a graduate of our small college. Tom Forkner, a member of the class of 1937, along with business partner Joe Rogers, went on to open what has become “America’s second-largest family-style restaurant,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Along with Forkner, YHC can also boast of educating a famous country singer. Trisha Yearwood, a graduate of YHC class of 1984, was a member of both Sigma Beta Sigma as well as the Dorcas Society. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, in 1991 she released her debut album, which sold two million copies, earning her the Academy of Country Music’s award for the top new female vocalist. Since her career began, Yearwood has released 11 studio albums and was inducted into both the Grand Ole Opry and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

Yet another YHC alum that has made a name for himself is the late poet and novelist, Byron Herbert Reece. A part of the class of 1940, Reece began showing his literary talents at an early age. He served as a writer-in-residence at the University of California at Los Angeles, Emory University and YHC. He is described as “the poet whose old-fashioned, finely crafted ballads and lyrics celebrate the life and heritage of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” as described by the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Reece wrote four books of poetry and two novels, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and received two Guggenheim awards. Despite his success, Reece’s life was hard. Both of his parents became sick with tuberculosis, a disease Reece also contracted from caring for them. On June 3, 1958, while on staff at YHC, Reece finished grading his students’ papers and then committed suicide in his office.

Many YHC students will agree that this small college has made a big impact on our lives. We have all learned lessons, both in and out of the classroom that we will carry with us well into the future. We are all capable of great things, only time will tell who will become the next household name.

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