TIFTON — As Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College prepares to celebrate its 113th birthday Feb. 20 in the midst of a global pandemic, it pays to remember that it’s not the first time students at ABAC faced a health crisis that affected the world’s population.
The deadliest pandemic of the 20th century took place in 1918-19 when a flu virus resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide and approximately 675,000 deaths in the United States, college officials said in a statement.
"Ironically, the solutions to coping with the flu at that time included isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants and limited public gatherings," college officials said. "Pictures from the era show Americans wearing cloth masks over their faces. Such is the case again in 2021 on the ABAC campus."
Students are wearing masks, practicing social distancing, using hand sanitizer and taking some of their classes online.
During the pandemic of 1918-19, ABAC was an area high school called the Second District Agricultural and Mechanical School, college officials said. Tift Hall was the main classroom building and Lewis Hall and Herring Hall were used as dormitories.
Because of World War I, there were nursing shortages during the 1918-19 flu outbreak.
"Today, graduates of the stellar nursing program at ABAC find jobs almost immediately because of the shortage of nursing professionals across the country," college officials said. "In fact, ABAC enrolled more students in nursing classes during the 2020 fall term than at any other time in the history of the program, which began at ABAC in 1966."
ABAC celebrates its latest birthday with an enrollment that reached its second highest number ever during the fall term when 3,990 students from 155 of Georgia’s 159 counties, 19 states and 24 countries took classes. ABAC also attracted students from 53 of Florida’s 67 counties.
Unlike the high school students enrolled at the Second District A&M School during the 1918-19 pandemic, current ABAC students are mainly enrolled in the college’s 12 four-year degree programs which include writing and communication, agriculture, rural community development, agribusiness, nursing, agricultural communication, natural resource management, agricultural education, history and government, biology, environmental horticulture and business.
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-21 has caused other adjustments in the ABAC schedule, including a virtual remake of the annual An Evening for ABAC event which raises funds for student scholarships. Details are available at www.abac.edu/weekforabac.
“This year, since we cannot safely schedule an in-person event, we will be hosting a week-long electronic auction and donation appeal to support funding for ABAC student scholarships,” Arts Connection Director Wayne Jones, who coordinates the event for the ABAC Foundation, said.
“There will be a week’s worth of online activities and articles released during Feb. 18-25 surrounding the auction and donation drive. Since COVID has had such a tremendous impact on parents’ ability to do normal business, scholarships are more important than ever to ensure students can pursue their academic dreams and prepare for their careers.”
Deidre Martin, ABAC chief development officer, said one focal point of A Week for ABAC will be ABAC’s 113th birthday.
“Through this virtual event, we will celebrate ABAC’s birthday and the funds raised from sponsorships will go directly to support student scholarships,” Martin said. “Sponsors will be prominently featured through our website and social media efforts and will receive an ‘ABAC Birthday in a Box’ filled with treats and ABAC gifts delivered prior to the week for their own celebration at home.”
History has proven that pandemics come and eventually go, college officials said. Just as the students in 1918-19 were grateful when the flu epidemic finally ended, students in 2021 on ABAC’s 113th birthday can’t wait for some sense of normalcy as they pursue the education of a lifetime.