Lincoln Tech’s NADC Celebrates 100th Anniversary
More than 500 guests and alumni came out on October 5th to commemorate the centennial of one of the nation’s most renowned career training schools. Lincoln Tech’s Nashville campus, originally founded in 1919 as Nashville Auto-Diesel College (NADC), celebrated its 100th anniversary with an alumni reunion event that brought together generations of past graduates.
“It was such a privilege to be able to meet graduates that helped build this school’s rich history,” said Scott Shaw, Lincoln Tech’s President and CEO. “Hearing their stories about not only this school’s beginnings, but how it transformed so many lives, was thrilling. Lincoln Tech is honored to be able to carry on this tradition and continue to build the nation’s auto-diesel workforce.”
In its 100-year history, the campus has graduated tens of thousands of skilled, trained technicians for the auto, diesel, collision repair, heavy equipment and welding industries. It was even cited by President Harry Truman for his “Point Four” program following World War II. Entrepreneur H.O. Balls started the college in 1919, and at the anniversary celebration Thomas Hooper, a descendant of the Balls family, reflected on H.O.’s vision.
Hooper told the story of how “Uncle Herman” hitched a ride to Nashville with three pennies in his pocket, worked until he had saved enough money to start a highly successful business college, then purchased the idea for a Nashville-based auto school – not the school, only the idea itself. H.O. Balls built NADC from the ground up: its first class was held in the basement of a local YMCA, and was taught by H.O.’s brother.
Throughout the early stages of NADC’s evolution, the school was truly a family affair. The brothers traveled across Tennessee in the 1930s – the time of the Great Depression – “enrolling students on the promise of a better future,” Hooper said. H.O. and his family also strove to break down racial and gender barriers in the auto and diesel industries, becoming pioneers in recruiting minorities and women to the school.
“Things we now take for granted were, at the time, revolutionary,” he said of his family’s endeavors. “This school was built, and is run today, by people who believe in better things. Not for just themselves, but for the people they serve.”
Hooper recalled his early childhood at the campus, dating back to when he was nine years old and asked his family for a job. H.O. Balls paid him to work the coal-burning furnace on Fridays so that students would have heat in their dorm rooms over the weekend. That was 1971 – by 1976, Hooper said he was promoted to lawn maintenance, where he learned a lesson that sticks with him to this day.
“I’ll never forget Uncle Herman’s first lesson to me about work ethic. I showed up late for lawn work one morning, and he was standing by the time clock. He told me, ‘Go back and sit down for 55 minutes because I’m docking you an hour for being five minutes late.’ I was never late again.”
That kind of integrity in a job well-done, and in maintaining a professional mentality at all times, has been instilled in generations of graduates thanks to a faculty and staff that has held true to the foundation Hooper’s family laid during the school’s earliest years.
Alumni reflect on the NADC legacy
Campus President Bob Butterworth kicked off the event by reading a proclamation from the Tennessee House of Representatives commending the campus on this milestone, along with a congratulatory letter from Senator Lamar Alexander.
The day featured a family-friendly atmosphere including a barbecue lunch, music, and a pair of “celebrity” cars: a commemorative NADC-wrapped Jeep Gladiator was joined by an even bigger draw, the 1968 “Bullitt” Mustang made famous in the 1968 Steve McQueen movie classic. The true guests of honor, however, were the alumni who came from across the country to tour their alma mater, meet current students and staff, and reminisce about the school that helped launch their careers. One of those alums, Brinkley “Tiny” Simpson from the Class of 1958, delivered one of the day’s most memorable addresses. He spoke of growing up picking cotton as a child in North Carolina before saving enough money to enroll at NADC after high school.
“That [investment] was the best money I ever spent,” Simpson told the audience. “As students, we were taught by some of the best instructors in the auto-diesel industry. They were abreast of some of the latest technology at that time. I had a great advantage when I got out into the industry.”
Following graduation, he recalled, he allowed himself two weeks off to get a job – otherwise, he decided, he would enlist in the Army. As those two weeks neared their end, he was offered a job with Caterpillar, Inc. as a diesel mechanic. That job was the start of a 43-year career with Caterpillar that lasted until his retirement in 2001.
Looking back on how far the campus has come since his days of training, Simpson said, “There’s been a lot of changes here – and it’s great to see.” Then he spoke about the city at large. “I can’t believe what’s happened to Nashville in 60 years,” he joked. “Y’all have stoplights here now!”
Simpson was one of several graduates who spoke to the NADC tradition and how the school helped position them for success. On behalf of the school’s founding family, Hooper – who also worked as a young man in a variety of positions on campus – cited Lincoln’s role in continuing that tradition.
“I am proud to be here on this centennial celebration, as I’m sure everyone in my family would be if they could be,” he said. “I have had the privilege of working for, and working with, some of the best people I’ve ever known – all at this address. As NADC evolved, it became evident that the shoulders of one family weren’t broad enough to carry this. The Lincoln family is up to the challenge of carrying NADC through the next 100 years.”
Several of the campus’ friends and regional hiring partners helped sponsor the event including:
- Brandeis Power Equipment
- Crown Lift Trucks
- Hendrick Automotive Group
- Sean & Samantha Kiernan
- Morgan Auto Group
- Ryder System, Inc.
- Ann Smith
- Stowers CAT
- Thompson Machinery
- Vector Fleet Management
- Volunteer Welding
- Vulcan Materials
- Yancey Brothers CAT
Lincoln Tech Nashville is proud to carry on the NADC legacy at this historic campus, and thanks everyone who came out to celebrate this milestone.