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Starlight celebrates Gainesville's 50th year

Starlight 2014
The annual Starlight Concert & Fireworks event will feature homage to the 50th anniversary of the University of North Georgia's Gainesville Campus, music by local band Back in Time, and a fireworks show.

This year's 16th annual Starlight Concert & Fireworks event, set for Friday, June 6, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Gainesville Campus.

The Gainesville Campus was established as Gainesville Junior College in March 1964 after encouragement from the governor's office and the University System of Georgia to address an urgent need for higher education in the community. The founding group included James E. Mathis Sr., Loyd Strickland, Jesse Jewell, James A. Dunlap, Raymond Sweetenburg, Ralph Cleveland, A. D. Wright, Otis Cato, and Charles Propes. The campus welcomed its first students in 1966.

"As the former Gainesville Junior College has transitioned to Gainesville College, Gainesville State College, and now the University of North Georgia, a commitment to providing excellence in educational opportunity for our region continues to be the hallmark of our institution," said Dr. Al Panu, senior vice president for University Affairs. "We are proud to celebrate 50 years of a vision realized through the work of community leaders, educators, alumni, and students. We are still meeting the community's need for higher education and producing educated leaders who are making a positive difference for others."

Student on Gainesville Campus in 1968
A student on the Gainesville Campus in 1968.

One of those alumni making a difference is Rich White, who says the encouragement he received as a student prepared him for a successful 30-year career in banking. Through his continued involvement with his alma mater, White has seen that faculty and staff still care for students.

"When I was at what was then called Gainesville Junior College, what made the biggest difference for me was that the faculty and the staff took a keen interest in just about every student there. They believed in me and encouraged me to do a lot of things that I'd never done before," he said. "Even though they have a lot more students now, they still have this caring attitude about all of their students and each student still gets a lot of personal attention."

After earning an associate degree in 1968, White earned a bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Georgia. He twice served as chairman of the Gainesville Campus' philanthropic foundation and has led many Gainesville community organizations.

During the event, the Alumni Tent will showcase items from a time capsule that was sealed 50 years ago with the intention of being opened during the 50th anniversary, as well as old yearbooks and memorabilia. Signs pointing to the tent will highlight key moments in the history of the campus, and talking points will be presented on stage to discuss those highlights. The band will also be playing music from the 1960s.

The Starlight Concert & Fireworks will be held at the G.W. Bailey Amphitheatre; gates will be open from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with music beginning at 6 p.m. and fireworks commencing at dusk. The entry fee for the event will be $10 per car or $20 per large van, bus, etc. All proceeds from entry fees will benefit UNG student scholarships. UNG parking passes, including student, faculty and staff passes, will not grant free entry to the event.

"This show is truly a community favorite and has been a signature event of the Gainesville Campus for the past 15 years," said Amy Lancaster, UNG alumni relations officer. "We hope that everyone will come out next Friday for an evening of great music by local band Back in Time, featuring former UNG employee Mercer Crook, a great family atmosphere, and a fireworks display that is the quintessential way to kick off the summer."

Walk-ins, pets, sparklers or outside fireworks, political signage, open flames and grills are not allowed at the event. The campus is tobacco-free.

In the event of rain, the show will be held June 13.

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