50 for 50

Dr. John Dempsey – Leader Extraordinaire

Dr. John DempseyA few decades ago, Evelyn “Ebbie” Monroe and the other members of the Board of Trustees at Sandhills Community College had a tough job. The excellent president of the college, Dr. Raymond Stone, was retiring and the trustees needed to find a replacement.

“We were knee-high in applications for the position,” Mrs. Monroe recalls. “But Dr. John Dempsey was the obvious choice. Among other outstanding qualities, here was a man who insisted he would teach a class at Sandhills even though he would be president. How could we go wrong by choosing an administrator who made it a priority to be teaching, to be in direct contact with the students!”

Indeed, the board did not go wrong. In fact, you would have a difficult time finding anyone in the area who is not a fan of this man who assumed the presidency of the college in 1989.

John Dempsey, born in Pennsylvania, served in Vietnam while in the Navy. Afterwards he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame, a master’s from William and Mary and his doctorate degree from the University of Massachusetts. His first job in academia was as a political science instructor at the College of Charleston. He went on to become the president of Belmont-Abby College near Charlotte.

Dr. Dempsey and his wife, Evelyn, have two sons, Michael and John, and two grandchildren, Harlan and Emma Rose. Sandhills’ leader is active in the community and was named as The Pilot’s 2012 Newsmaker of the Year.

Dr. Dempsey first became familiar with the Moore County area by playing golf here. He often said he wanted to move to the area so when the late Bob Barrett, owner of the Pine Crest Inn, heard Dr. Stone was retiring he let his friend John know.

Since Dr. Dempsey arrived at Sandhills, the school has grown physically, in enrollment, in programs offered and in the reputation it holds among higher education institutions in North Carolina.

In 1989, the headcount for curriculum students was 2,186. By fall semester 2013 that figure had almost doubled with 4,157 students taking college credit classes. In 1989, there were eight buildings on campus; today, they have been joined by eight more. Many programs have been added under Dr. Dempsey’s leadership. Recent ones like Health and Fitness Science, Digital Media Technology, Computer Gaming & Simulation and Ophthalmic Medical Technician are training students for promising careers. He reinstituted the athletic program and was one of the most enthusiastic fans when the Flyers captured the 2012 NJCAA National Championship.

Dr. Dempsey’s ultimate gift to Sandhills is his fervor in making sure every student at Sandhills has a chance to succeed. Every department and each staff and faculty member is focused on the same goal.

Sandhills led by Dr. Dempsey is a terrific place to work. In fact, the college was named as a “2013 Great College to Work For” by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Math professor Linda Chandler says, “I have been here 14 years and without a doubt, this is the best place I’ve ever worked. Dr. Dempsey has an ‘open door’ policy – literally. He sets the tone for life at Sandhills.”

Staff and faculty continually point out how their jobs are allowed to change and expand to meet their own growth and development.

“When you walk across campus, chances are Dr. Dempsey greets you by name,” says Associate Professor Heather Cox of Sandhills’ Nursing Department. “That’s the kind of person he is, knowing all of us and knowing what’s going on around campus.”

Every person has a Dr. Dempsey story, of how he helped them, listened to them, made ideas happen – including the students in his American Government class. Yes, he’s still teaching. The instinct that told him almost 25 years ago that being in the classroom was a good idea has served him well. 

Thank you, Dr. Dempsey!


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