As of 2007 and written by Joye Davis
On September 8, 1964, Thomas Sumter Academy breathed its first breath as a teaching institution. The 112 students enrolled in grades one through ten began fulfilling the long-term hopes and dreams of a handful of founding fathers.
On January 16, 1959, a group of community parents banded together and purchased the land and existing main building from the state, forming the Hillcrest Center, Inc. The original shareholders in the Hillcrest Center, Inc., were W.M. LeNoir, H.C. Edens, Jr., V.P. Dennis, A.W. James, C.A. McLaughlin, E.M. Dubose, A.M. Burrows, J.M. Edens, Jr., and J.B. Gaddy. Each contributed $100.00 to the corporation to facilitate the purchase. The building was constructed in 1926 and housed Hillcrest School until 1958 when a new and modern facility was built just across from the old building at Highways 521 and 441. For six years, the building sat silent and living only in the dreams of a dedicated few.
In 1964, dreams became reality. By the time the school was ready to open its doors, several other community leaders had joined forces with the Hillcrest Center crowd, as additional investors and/or directors for the new institution, including R.V. Segars, Jr., J.E. Davis, W.J. Carter, M.S. McLaughlin, J.E. Sanders, Jr., J.R. Burrows, J.B. Pate, J.M. Brabham, E.C. Carter, Jr. and V. R. Dinkins. The school became real and continued to grow far, far beyond the greatest expectations of its founding fathers.
Thomas Sumter Academy began operations under the stern but loving hand of Mrs. Frances Mellette (“Fanny”) Dinkins. Mrs. Dinkins served as Headmistress from 1964 through 1966. She turned the helm over to W.W. Wannamaker, III in 1966. Mr. Wannamaker served as Headmaster until 1969, when the first senior class graduated from Thomas Sumter Academy. C.E. Owens III was hired in 1969 to replace Mr. Wannamaker, and continued in the position of Headmaster until 1996 when he resigned to focus full-time in the Episcopal ministry. Phillip W. Jackson, Jr., a 1984 graduate of Thomas Sumter Academy, took the reins from his former Headmaster and continued until 2004. Mr. William J. Hentges served as interim until Dr. Robert Mayfield joined the school family as Headmaster on June 1, 2006. Ms. Elena Gresham took the position as interim Head of School to complete the school year when Dr. Mayfield left. Long time Thomas Sumter General, Mrs. Debbie Nix accepted the position as Head of School in June of 2008. Her love of the school is evident in all she does.
Thomas Sumter Academy’s motto, “Acta Non Verba,” was engraved on the class rings of the first graduates in 1967; it has served as a prologue for the ensuing years. By the 1966/67 school year, the South Carolina Independent School Association had established intramural basketball, and Thomas Sumter Academy was ready with their first team. The school added bus services for students in the outlying communities in that same school year. On December 20, 1968, Thomas Sumter Academy established a Chapter of the National Honor Society for students excelling in Character, Scholarship, Leadership and Service. In the 1970-71 school year, the Mitch Edens III Memorial Gymnasium was constructed, and the Generals basketball team had played on their home court for the first time.
The school added a Bethel Campus in the 1970-71 school year, which operated in addition to the Dalzell Campus for fifteen years through the 1985-86 school year. Enrollment was an all-time high of 1125 when both campuses were in existence during the 1984-85 school year. In the summer of 1986, the Bethel campus was closed, and the school’s enrollment was reduced accordingly.
The 1971-72 school year produced the first Thomas Sumter Academy football team. In 1974, the school established a concurrent studies program with the University of South Carolina at Sumter, enabling Thomas Sumter Academy students to take courses at their campus for college credit. An additional library was added to the physical plant in 1976, followed by three science classrooms in 1979 and the Fine Arts Building in 1984. The Lower School library, a chorus room and dance studio, and more classrooms were added in 1985. The following year, an after-school daycare was initiated under the direction of Mrs. Renee Langston. In 1987, the academic program was strengthened by the installation of the Lower School science and computer labs.
In 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit Dalzell with force, destroying the old auditorium and causing more than $300,000.00 in damage to the school. The spirit of the Generals would require more than a hurricane to destroy it. Renovations were completed in 1990, and the school had a beautiful new auditorium in addition to other repairs and improvements to the physical plant. In 1990, Thomas Sumter Academy was fortunate enough to acquire additional property to be used for sports, and the school activities continued to expand. Studio Art was added to the school curriculum in 1991, and a three-year art program for the upper school was added in 1992. In 1993, the academic program received an added boost when the relationship with the University of South Carolina at Sumter expanded, allowing students to receive college credit for courses taken at Thomas Sumter Academy’s Dalzell campus.