By Anna Hall, The Brunswick News
More than 30 years ago, John Teel had a serious decision to make. At the time, he was the president of what is now College of Coastal Georgia, and he had a dedicated vision for the future of the school.
If he had it his way — which it turns out he does — what was then Brunswick Junior College would become a four-year college. It would thrive with a balance of academia and culture, and would be a hallmark of the Coastal Georgia community.
As he lead the charge for the college for 22 years, serving as president, he was put in many positions to make decisions that would leave a lasting impact on the college campus.
Through his focused leadership, Teel saw enrollment at the college increase from 293 students when he started as president in 1968, to 1,300 students when he left the post in 1990. Today, the college serves more than 3,000 students.
It was a decision Teel made in 1980, though, that has personally left a mark in his memory. A local contractor came to his office, asking if he could use dirt from the college campus for his own business.
"He said he'd dig a hole at no charge to remove the dirt, dig the hole, and we could build a lake," Teel said.
After a handful of studies, Teel was left with less-than-clear data. The lake he was set on building could go one of two ways: become a mud pit, or be an additional element of attraction on the Brunswick campus.
Taking a chance, Teel moved ahead with the project and gave the OK for the construction of what he hoped would be a centerpiece of the college he so clearly adores.
That decision was honored Tuesday, when the lake was officially dedicated to Teel during a celebratory ceremony attended by past college presidents, members of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, college faculty, students, staff, members of the city and county commissions and members of the board of education.
"When I made that decision to build this lake, I envisioned it to be something that could be enjoyed for years to come, for it to be surrounded by dormitories, nature paths and student life," Teel said during the ceremony. "And now, look. It has become that."
Former college president Valerie Hepburn noted Teel has been an ongoing cheerleader for the college's success ever since he took the reins of the institution decades ago. Now retired, Teel continues to show his ongoing and sincere zeal for making the college an accessible, affordable educational option for students everywhere, she said.
"Dr. Teel is so deserving of this recognition," said Hepburn, who was president of the college when it became a four-year institution in 2008. "He has long had a vision for this campus, hoping it would become the educational institution it is now morphing into. Looking around now, you can see this is what he had hoped for."
Shaking Teel's hand, current college president Greg Aloia, who took the helm after Hepburn left in 2013, expressed genuine gratitude for the past president's dedicated years of service. Had Teel never laid the foundation for continued growth of the college, it may not have shifted so seamlessly to where it is today, Aloia said.
For Teel's long-time friend and former board of regents member Jim Bishop, seeing the college grow, especially in the past few years, at the rate it has, with increasing enrollment, increased program offerings and increased athletic opportunities, has been a shining moment for the community. The campus, he said, has consistently changed and grown, with Lake Teel at the heart of it all.
"When I got out of the car to come to this ceremony today, I got lost," Bishop said. "Who would have ever though, just a few years ago, that you could get lost on this campus? That is a real accolade for this college community, and we have Dr. Teel's past efforts to thank for this growth. This is a special day and a special moment for this college."
Former College of Coastal Georgia President Valerie Hepburn, from left, former board of regents member Jim Bishop, Frances Teel, and her husband, former Brunswick Junior College President John Teel listen to remarks Tuesday during a dedication ceremony naming the lake on the CCGA campus in honor of Teel. Teel was the second president at BJC, and the lake was created under his leadership in 1980.