Lifelong educator and learner leaves legacy of helping WCU students

Retired teacher Juanita F. Proffitt ’39 often said that she would do anything that she could to help Western Carolina. How the Madison County resident helped was through sharing her time and her gifts as one of the longest-serving members of the WCU Alumni Association board of directors, as a regular at campus events from athletics to the arts, and as an avid supporter of scholarships. In addition to promoting growth of the Alumni Association’s scholarship fund, Proffitt developed a scholarship fund to help capable students attend WCU in honor of her husband, the late Brank Proffitt ’42, who also had worked in education. Just more than a year after his death, Juanita Proffitt died Dec. 15 at the age of 95.

Juanita F. Proffitt

Six dollars was enough to get the late Juanita Proffitt ’39 started at WCU; she and her husband, the late Brank Proffitt ’42, made supporting their alma mater a habit.

“They both were always looking for ways to give back to the university,” said Marty Ramsey ’85, director of alumni affairs.

Western Carolina gave Juanita Proffitt a job and the chance to pursue a degree at a time when there was “no money, no anything,” she said during an interview several years ago. She remembered wondering at the time how she would afford college after the bank failed and an aunt who raised her had terminal cancer. “My mother finally raised $6 – that was a lot of money then – and that got me started at Western,” she said. She was able to work her way through the teacher education program, taking jobs such as grading papers for professors.

For Brank Proffitt, furthering his education had been a journey that included, at one time, hitchhiking 15 miles to and from class. At Western Carolina, he was able to pursue his degree by working with a professor taking educational films and equipment to schools – a job he described as a lifesaver.

The couple met as teachers at Sylva High School, and Juanita Proffitt continued to teach throughout her career in North Carolina schools. She went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an honor society for educators.

Meanwhile, Brank Proffitt earned a master’s degree at Peabody College and a doctorate at UNC-CH. He worked as a teacher, administrator and superintendent at places ranging from the McKee Laboratory School at Western Carolina to Burlington City Schools. During his tenure at BCS, the system constructed new schools and achieved desegregation. He then had a hand in enabling successful integration of public schools across the state.

WCU honored him in 1972 as Alumnus of the Year. In 2008, the couple received WCU’s Distinguished Service Award for service that Juanita Proffitt said was rooted in gratitude. “Think what life would have been for Brank and me if Western hadn’t been here,” she said.

After Juanita Proffit’s death, the family asked that donations in her memory be directed to the Brank and Juanita Farmer Proffitt Scholarship Fund at WCU.

Jack Hudson ’82, president of the WCU Alumni Association, described Proffitt as one of the greatest alums in WCU’s history. “Juanita Proffitt was one of the most enthusiastic and encouraging members of our WCU Alumni Association,” said Hudson in a post shared with the group. Her support was an example to all, and she and her husband left not only a scholarship but also a legacy of support, he said. “She was always working on ways to help students be able to achieve their dream of education,” said Hudson.