GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – For 50 years, people in George County have been able to stay home to pursue higher education.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) built its first satellite location for George County in 1972. On March 13, 1973, six women made up the first class of graduates from the secretarial studies certificate program.

Three of the women returned to the George County Center on Wednesday, March 15, to be recognized and celebrate the 50th anniversary, along with dozens of current and former faculty, staff and trustees.

George County Center’s First Graduates

  • Ruby Anderson: Served as the secretary at Antioch Full Gospel Church for 30 years and retired as a secretary at Ingalls. She raised four children with her husband, Charles, of 65 years.
  • Gayle Ekhoff Lopez: Worked at a Greene County christian school and in children’s ministry for many years while raising one child with her husband of 49 years.
  • Marilyn Pierce Ferguson: Went on to work for Farm Bureau Insurance, marry, and raise one daughter. (-1983)
  • Betty Jean Hobby: Moved to Lucedale from Dallas with her husband, Jexie, in 1952. After earning her certificate, she worked for Batson & Brown engineering firm before opening the TAB Map Company and raising three children. (1935-2018)
  • Marsha Mergenschroer Graham: Went on to be a teacher’s aide at George County Schools, marry and raise three sons and two daughters. (1953-2016)
  • Linda Murrah: Started a construction company with her husband, Gary, and operated a country store in Buzzard Roost from 1978-1982 while raising two sons.

(l-r) MGCCC Vice President Ladd Taylor, Anderson, Ekhoff Lopez, Murrah, George County Center Administrative Dean Lisa Rhodes, MGCCC President Mary Graham

“We’re standing on the shoulders of all those great leaders that came before us, learning from them, and just building on their success. And we’ll continue to do that,” said MGCCC President Mary Graham. “George County will continue to offer new and different programs and help support economic development, because that’s what a community college should do.”

The center has expanded over the years offering associate’s degrees students can start and finish at the center, in addition to transferable general education courses and adult GED classes.

Current career and technical program offerings include apprentice electric lineman, electrical technology, health care assistant and welding technology. Graham called the center’s cosmetology technology program the top in Mississippi, winning state competitions and placing graduates in jobs all around the region.

“I graduated from here and had my own salon for 18 years. I wanted to do something a little different, so I decided to come back to contribute and teach others,” said instructor Tanya Moreno. “We’re really proud of what goes on here. The classes become like family as they move through the three semesters together.”

George County Center through the years

The cosmetology lab was remodeled three years ago to upgrade the teaching area and client experience. Other recent updates include the 2009 addition of the main academic building with a lecture hall, computer lab and classrooms and the multi-purpose building that hosts many of the county’s major events.

An Honors College began at the center in 2021 along with a partnership with Mississippi State University to provide dual admission to agricultural science students. A certificate program for Enviva employees at the new Lucedale plant began last year.

“This center has really grown and blossomed and the offerings here have really created opportunities for the citizens of George County. We’ve got a lot of great programs that are just so successful.” Graham said. “ Anyone who’s touched George County knows it’s a very special place with the culture here.”

The first commercial truck-driving class will begin at the center on April 3 through a grant from Accelerate MS.