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Katie Hicks and Larry RoelThinking back over her years at USC Upstate, P. Kathryn “Katie” Hicks says she was “lucky.”

From the early days of teaching at the Rodeway Inn to developing the University’s first art gallery, to writing new courses and adding to the curriculum, Hicks has devoted most of her adult life to helping to shape the USC Upstate story.

It’s the reason the professor emerita of art has become one of the University’s loyal donors and remains its biggest cheerleader.

“I started when I was 23,” Hicks said. “When I think about it, I spent most of my adult life thinking about the University and working for the University. Back in the first days you had to do things so that people would even know about the University. You had to join every club; you had to go to every art opening, and make connections in the community to spread the information and to get support for the University.”

Hicks said at the time, the faculty was young and enthusiastic and every aspect excited her. It still does, she said.

“I’m lucky I still get to be involved with it,” Hicks said. “It’s an ongoing relationship. It is important as retired faculty to continue to serve here.”

It’s with that love for the University that Hicks and her husband, Dr. Lawrence E. “Larry” Roël, a board certified ophthalmologist with offices on Spartanburg’s Eastside and Westside, have committed the first significant lead gift to build and name the Hicks and Roël Arboretum Entrance.

“This is a really well-planned piece of landscape architecture,” Hicks said. “Few people think of it as a work of art, but it is. It’s a great big sculpture. Everything in the Arboretum is a manmade decision.”

The stone and brick structure will provide a place of entry to the 12-acre Arboretum, which also features the Roël Garden Pavilion, named for Dr. Roël, which was constructed in 2009. The $120,000 project will be completed through private funds.

While Hicks misses teaching, she loves looking back at all the University has become.

“I taught out of the Rodeway Inn,” Hicks said. “They put my office in the laundry room. It was freezing in there. Then I had two ‘bedrooms,’ as classrooms. That was before they moved me to the hotel’s former ‘Foxy Lady Lounge.’ ”

Hicks said she’s taught in each of the older buildings on campus, with exception to the former Mary Black School of Nursing, which now houses the College of Arts and Sciences. She helped to develop the courses and the curriculum for the Visual Arts major. She also developed the University’s first gallery, and while moving the gallery from one place to the next wasn’t her favorite thing to do, she lovingly carried every piece in the gallery collection from one place to the next.

Hicks loves staying involved and knowing what’s going on campus and particularly in the arts program. She credits Dr. Dirk Schlingmann, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to keeping her current.

“He has a heart,” Hicks said. “He’s a wonderful person. He’s been so good to me and he keeps me included in everything.”

The Arboretum keeps her connected, as well. She said while the space incorporates things of beauty, it also ties many of the University’s programs together – such as science, biology and even, art.

A place of solitude, Hicks said the Arboretum also serves as a place for inspiration and what could be a new chapter for USC Upstate.

Hicks said she hopes to one day see a landscape architecture program grow from this peaceful place.

“Each garden has a theme and the purpose is decided by man,” Hicks said. “In this particular area, someone has decided the composition, leading to the focal point. It’s just a big sculpture, a work of art, if you look at it. But someone has decided where the paths will be, where the benches will go and what flower beds will be placed and plantings will be done.”

Hicks said she really looks at the Arboretum as a park and as a place to “just be.”

“I’m very proud to be a part of the Arboretum,” Hicks said. “It’s part of Larry and me, he’s the natural part and I’m the artist part. It’s part of our contribution to the growth and beauty of the University and the community. This way I can pretend that I’ll live on.”

Hicks said they’ve shared their love of the Arboretum over the years by donating monies for the purchase of trees, benches and shrubbery in the name of family and friends. As a former faculty member, that’s important to Hicks.

“It’s a luxury to be able to do this, really,” Hicks said. “Not everyone can. I’m lucky I can give back to the place I’ve spent my adult life. It’s a privilege, and I consider it my responsibility to continue to support the faculty members who have come to the University after my retirement. The University belongs to all of us.”

Hicks said looking back, “Who gets to be lucky enough to start a University? And, how lucky am I to get to continue to be a part of it through the rest of my life.”

Hicks said art is a passion that she hasn’t lost outside the classroom. She’s working to open a museum in Tryon, N.C., in “The Toymaker’s House,” where wooden toys were made. The new gallery will feature the minor art by major artists such as Monet, Picasso, Manet, Chagall and others.

She said it’s a slow process in putting together the museum that will operate as a nonprofit. She hopes to exhibit work by local artists, to host lectures and art classes for both adults and children.

“I’ve been really fortunate in life,” Hicks said. “I’m lucky, I’ve always been lucky. Being an artist was exactly what I wanted to do and I intend to keep on with it as long as I can.”

For additional information about the Hicks and Roël Arboretum Entrance or to make a donation toward this project, contact Bea Walters Smith, director of development and foundation scholarships, at 864.503.5235 or bwsmith@uscupstate.edu.

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