Following in His Footsteps - A Lees-McRae Legacy Story

BANNER ELK, N.C. -- On a temperate Saturday afternoon in January, a father and son sat sharing stories from their time at Lees-McRae College. They may have been discussing the same place, but one was speaking of his past, and the other of his present.

A legacy family is a family in which at least two relatives have attended the same institution. Michael and Josh Kurtz represent just one of many legacy families that can be found all over campus.

"I am honored that Josh is following a similar path. He is, of course, doing it in his own way, but it's nice to see the similarities in our experiences," said Michael Kurtz, a Lees-McRae Alumni and United Methodist Pastor.

Michael Kurtz attended Lees-McRae College from 1973-1975 when the school was still a Junior College and received his Associate of Arts Degree.

Michael's decision to attend Lees-McRae was made easier when he was offered, and accepted, a partial basketball scholarship. Aside from the financial incentive, he was originally from Ashe County and loved the mountains, which made the choice to come to Lees-McRae that much easier.

While he was a student he was a member of the Bobcat men's basketball team, was a member of Order of the Tower and was a Resident Assistant on the 3rd floor of Tennessee Dorm.

"The facilities have certainly changed since I was a student. My senior year was the year that McDonald Dining Hall opened and also Williams Gym. We didn't get to play in the new gym though. We were still in the old gym with wooden backboards," said Michael with a grin.

Josh, the son of Michael Kurtz and a Lees-McRae College student, was quick to point out how much nicer the facilities are now as compared to when his father was a student.

"Regardless of differences in facilities, we still have similar experiences. Dinners over at the coach's house, fun times with the team, and just playing basketball," said Josh with a gleam of pride in his eyes.

Josh, a junior, has followed a path very similar to that of his father, which even included his decision to attend Lees-McRae.

"Lees-McRae wasn't even on the radar until March of 2006 when the basketball coach invited me up to try-out. I had a great time. I walked through campus and it just felt like a good fit. Like my father, I love being in the mountains, and my grandparents live just over in Ashe County, so I have family pretty close," said Josh as he looked over and grinned at his father.

Josh's involvement on campus seems endless. He is a member of the Bobcat men's basketball team, a member of Order of the Tower, is a Resident Director for Tate Dorm, is in the Honor's Program, is a student representative on the Staley Lecture Committee and is the Delta Omicron Theta Sweetheart.

"I am an Elementary Education major and Religious Studies minor. I hope to teach for a couple years after I graduate and then go to Divinity School," Josh said with quiet determination.

Michael Kurtz also taught and coached for four years before going to Divinity School, which only furthers the similarities between father and son.

"Lees-McRae may have more and better facilities, but the one thing that hasn't changed after all these years is the close-knit relationships that students develop with each other and with their professors. I still remember John Wilson who was my professor for Ethics. He was such a kind man and wonderful professor. It says a lot about the college that they hire professors who are still memorable thirty-some years later," said Michael as he adjusted his thin-framed glasses.

"To have Josh attending my Alma Mater is so thrilling and serendipitous," said Michael as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

As Josh rested in the same position, the spitting image of his father, he said, "It is an honor and a privilege to go to the same college as my father. It's so much fun to be able to share stories, because he knows exactly what I'm talking about -- he lived it."

Lees-McRae wasn't just memorable for its kind professors and close-knit relationships, there was legendary mischief had by students in the 70s.

"I remember the streakers. It was hilarious to watch. At least thirty or forty students running naked through campus, mostly males I believe. That is what was done back then. It was en vogue to streak I guess," Michael said as he laughed and grinned nostalgically.

As his son looked at him with surprise, Michael quickly added with a laugh, "Don't worry Josh, I didn't streak…not that I'm above it, I was just scared!"

From Resident Assistant, Order of the Tower and men's basketball to height, voice and mannerisms, the similarities of the Kurtz men are endless. And now, thanks to their shared collegiate experience, their bond will only continue to grow.

With a look of deep sincerity in his eye, Michael said, "We are just so happy that Lees-McRae reached out to our family and gave Josh and I the opportunity to experience the things that we have."