For Genevieve Burda, commitment to WCU is part of a long, strong family tradition
By JILL INGRAM MA ’08
Education and the environment were more than abstract concepts to the late Genevieve Whitmire MAEd ’69 and E.J. Whitmire, and results of the family’s devotion abound at WCU. E.J. Whitmire contributed site preparation for the football stadium, which bears his name, and was instrumental in establishing natural resources as a course of study. University faculty and students in that department continue to monitor forested stands at the family’s 1,000-acre Cherokee County farm (the majority now in a conservation easement and owned and operated by son Steve Whitmire). Over the years, three generations of the extended Whitmire family have established three endowed scholarship funds for students of education and contributed substantially toward the sciences through support of programs and a professorship.
E.J. and his daughter, Genevieve Whitmire Burda, also demonstrated their commitment to the university through service on the board of trustees. Burda retired in 2009 after a decade, and according to Chancellor John W. Bardo, the university has “never had a better trustee.” Burda “was always there, was always prepared and could get people excited,” said Bardo in October, when he presented her with the university’s annual Distinguished Service Award. Burda’s brother Steve Whitmire said his sibling “usually can get what she wants with a little bit of charm and humor.”
As a trustee, Burda served on the board’s finance and audit committee (including four years as chair) “during a time when the committee had a lot of work to do,” said Chuck Wooten ’73, vice chancellor for administration and finance. That committee oversees architect selection for construction projects, and primary was the university’s $46 million, 160,000-square-foot health sciences building. Scheduled for completion in 2012, the building is the first facility to be constructed on approximately 350 acres the university purchased on the west side of N.C. 107 and is the cornerstone of a planned neighborhood focusing on retirement, aging and health.
From the beginning, Burda lobbied for an architectural firm with depth, but one with local ties that also was experienced in mountain construction. “My interest was definitely in having it fit with the lay of the land,” Burda said. Ultimately, the committee selected Pearce Brinkley Cease and Lee, an architectural firm with an office in Asheville.
The building will feature a number of sustainable elements, including a rooftop garden that cleans water runoff by filtering it through dirt and vegetation; passive solar heat; natural light; and rooftop solar collectors that will aid in heating water. The building will be WCU’s first with LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, meaning it meets standards for environmentally sustainable construction. “I was just stunned when I saw the initial drawing,” Burda said. “It just fit into that mountainside so beautifully. It’s a signature building, and that’s what we hoped for.”
Burda and her husband, Larry, who are retired and live in Mars Hill, have three daughters, Kathleen Wirth ’97 MAEd ’01, Cindy Burda and Carey Burda ’08.