TWU Board Member Connecting Past and Present

The story has been told, but it bears repeating…the Hardaway family has paved the way for African American students at Tennessee Wesleyan University.

What you may not know is that they continue to be involved in connecting the school with black students, past and present.


The late Gatha Hardaway Smith came to TWU in the fall of 1963, following the integration of the school. In 1967 she became the first African American graduate of TWU, an accomplishment featured on the timeline in the Colloms Campus Center.


That fall Gatha’s brother, Vant Hardaway, began his collegiate journey at Wesleyan, earning a degree in history while working on campus. This was just the beginning, however, as the younger two Hardaway children, Pervice and Rhoda, both attended TWU. Since the first generation of Hardaway’s attended Wesleyan, two more generations have become Bulldogs.


Vant continued on in higher education, eventually earning his Doctor of Ministry. He worked 30 years in the Athens and McMinn County school systems, also serving as a minister in the area for almost 20 years. Dr. Hardaway retired and now serves on the TWU Board of Trustees. He also travels with his wife, doing ministry to families and couples, crossing all denominational and cultural lines.


“For my family, the college really helped us move into higher education,” said Dr. Hardaway. “My parents came from south Alabama and Mississippi, from poor families. Neither of them graduated high school, but they desired for their children to go into higher education. And so, four siblings all started here at Tennessee Wesleyan and that has moved down to two other generations.”


This isn’t just a history of a family, though, as Dr. Hardaway now helps oversee the operation of the school as a part of the board, and desires to do even more to connect TWU to both the Athens and black communities.


“One of my goals is to continue to develop stronger connections with the community, especially the ethnic communities,” added Dr. Hardaway “One of the major ways we’re doing this is connecting to a program called the Dream Achievers. We promote maintaining high academic standards for young children in the local school districts, so we partner with the NAACP for Dream Achievers.”


“Right now, our impact is to reach out and show some of the past as we project into the future. I’d like to promote Tennessee Wesleyan students and the campus to people that have been a part of Tennessee Wesleyan, even if they have not been to campus in a long time.”


“To get a chance to drive back, or to get back to Athens and see the transition and the change, because the population has changed. It has become much more diverse, both culturally and with ethnicity, but the wider, more international population as well. I want alumni to come back and see TWU today.”


If you are a TWU alum and would like to be connected with Dr. Hardaway, please contact the TWU Alumni Office at (423) 746-5330 or