Dean Meeks Retires

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College of the Arts Dean Joseph Meeks says he hasn’t written his memoirs yet because it’s a very complex story.
 
It’s the story of a gifted pianist, who from a young age made headlines and grew up to be a professor at a historically black college during the civil rights movement before becoming enamored with a nascent junior college in Cobb County following a solo recital there at a friend’s request.
 
“My life has been a lot of taking the road less travelled,” Meeks said with a sly smile.
 
On Feb. 1, after 38 years on the Kennesaw State faculty — 14 as founding dean of the College of the Arts — Joseph D. Meeks will take his final bow, leaving behind a legacy of accomplishments.
 
“During the years that Dean Meeks has led the College of the Arts, the College has grown in size, reputation, quality and private support,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ken Harmon. “All departments and schools are nationally accredited or in the process. As a friend and fund-raiser, Joe’s skills deserve special mention. The College of the Arts has more endowed scholarships than any other college at Kennesaw State.”
 
Meeks was only nine or 10 years old when he entered a piano competition at Furman University. There he was discovered by his future teacher, mentor and lifelong friend, Floride Cox.
 
“My father scheduled an interview with Miss Floride and my mother drove me to her home. I stood in her music room, looking up at her and I said, ‘I want to study piano with you.’ She told me she couldn’t say, ‘no’ to me, and from that day forward we were living and breathing music every day.”
 
Under the tutelage of the Juilliard-trained teacher, Meeks blossomed.
 
A headline in the March 31, 1957 Independent newspaper in Anderson, S.C. read, “Belton Pianist, 17, Shows Rare Skill.” The article outlined Meeks’ selection as winner of the Walter Spry piano scholarship, “one of the most coveted in the South.”
 
“The youth stepped toward the keyboard and there was a murmur of expectancy as the hometown boy who had made good began a beautiful and delightful rendition of one of Beethoven’s sonatas,” the reporter wrote. “This is a brief look into the future, one that will no doubt take place with Belton’s Joe Meeks as the young man in the spotlight of the music world.”
 
Meeks used his piano scholarship to attend Converse College, where he met another lifelong mentor, Professor Edwin Gerschefski. It was this relationship that would redefine Meeks’ career goals.
 
“My plan was to be a full time pianist, but when I got to Converse and met Prof. Gerschefski, who was dean of the school of music, a performing artist and a renowned teacher, I decided I wanted a life that included all three of those things,” Meeks said. “The rest, as they say, is history.”
 
It is a history that includes an 11-year stint as a professor at the historically black college, Clark College, later Clark Atlanta University, beginning in 1964.
 
“I wanted to be near a big city where the arts would be more vibrant,” Meeks explained of his move to Atlanta. “I wasn’t prepared for the controversy (my hiring) caused. There was this huge reaction, and I was stunned by that.”
 
While at Clark, Meeks rubbed elbows with civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and jazz legend Duke Ellington.
 
“I was sitting on a couch right next to Duke Ellington, and we talked about music and how he was enjoying his residency with (Clark Atlanta),” Meeks recalled. “He was just a normal person.”
 
As tensions surrounding the civil rights movement heated up, hitting a crescendo with the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, Meeks parlayed his friendship with a Kennesaw Junior College professor into a job teaching music appreciation and leading a mixed chorus.
 
“You knew that (Kennesaw Junior College) was going to be more than it was,” Meeks said. “Every year we had taken a step up or two steps up. The opportunities were limitless. I had no intention of staying, but then I thought, 'Why would I go anywhere else?'"
 
On the eve of his stepping down as dean, Meeks is reflective about the college’s many successes under his leadership, including the School of Music’s designation as an All-Steinway school and the significant private giving to COTA leading to the naming of the Dr. Bobbie Bailey & Family Performance Center, the Onyx Theater, the Audrey B. and Jack E. Morgan Jr. Concert Hall, the Eric and Gwendolyn Brooker Rehearsal Hall and the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art.
 
“I’m most proud of the friendships I’ve made,” he said. “We did this together. I didn’t do it by myself.”
 
--By Jennifer Hafer