John William Harrelson was a veteran of World War I and head of the mathematics department at North Carolina State College when, in 1934, he was appointed dean of administration for the university. That meant Col. Harrelson, as he was generally known, was the man in charge of State College. There was no university chancellor, at least not until Harrelson’s title was changed to chancellor in 1945.
Harrelson had the distinction of being the first alumnus to oversee the college, having graduated in 1909 as the valedictorian of his class. He immediately went to work as a math instructor at the college, later becoming a professor.
But on this day, in 1943, Harrelson reported for active Army duty. In doing so, he became the 56th member of the faculty to enter active service and the first head of a major college in the South to be called for permanent active duty.
Harrelson was appointed deputy chief of the Army Specialized Training Program in the Fourth Service Command, a post he held for 16 months before returning to State College, according to an account in North Carolina State University: A Narrative History, by Alice Elizabeth Reagan. The Faculty Council ran the college in Harrelson’s absence.
Of course, many generations of NC State students are familiar with the round building in the heart of campus that is named after Harrelson.
Stay tuned for more installments of special moments in NC State’s history as part of the university’s yearlong celebration of its 125th anniversary.