2020 Hall of Fame Inductees
Five Graduates, One Educator Selected for Greenville County Schools Hall of Fame
Five outstanding graduates of Greenville County Schools have been selected for induction in the GCS Hall of Fame. They are Senator Ralph Anderson, Public Health Practitioner and Travelers Rest City Council Member Dr. Shaniece Criss, Senator J. Verne Smith (awarded posthumously), former U. S. Ambassador to Canada David H. Wilkins, and Conservationist Brad Wyche.
This year, membership in the Hall of Fame has been expanded to include former educators who enhanced our community and contributed to the success of countless students. Retired Art Educator Eva K. Esrum will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as an outstanding past educator. The inductees were honored at an awards ceremony and dinner on Thursday, November 21, 2019 at the Greenville Convention Center.
The Greenville County Schools Hall of Fame honors men and women who have graduated from Greenville County Schools and have made substantial or significant contributions at the local, regional, national, or international levels in areas such as academia and education, arts, athletics, business, media, public service, philanthropy, medicine, military, or science. The GCS Hall of Fame is the vision of District Superintendent Dr. Burke Royster. The induction event is hosted by the Greenville County Schools Foundation.
Inductees were selected by a committee of representatives from the School Board of Trustees, GCS Foundation, current and former administrators, and community leaders. Selection Committee members were Kris Bruton, Harlem Globetrotters; Phillip Davie, Greenville County Schools Administration; Lynda Leventis-Wells, Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees; Catherine James, Greenville Federal Credit Union; Deborah McKetty, United Way of Greenville County; Jane Robelot, WYFF News 4; Angel Whaley, Public Education Partners; and Harold Waters, Herff Jones Harold Waters and Associates.
Ralph Anderson graduated from Sterling High School in 1945 and earned a bachelor’s degree from Allen University in 1949. Anderson was a Non-Commissioned Officer for the United States Army from 1950 to 1952 followed by service as a postmaster from 1970 to 1983. In 1982 he was named to the City of Greenville Zoning Board and the Board of Directors for the Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce. His 21-year career in politics began at age 55 when he ran for Greenville City Council, a position he held from 1983 to 1991. He then served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1991 to 1997, and the South Carolina State Senate from 1997 to 2013. He was awarded the Order of the Palmetto in 2012. He is an executive member of the Appalachian Council of Governments, a board member for Saint Anthony's Catholic School and the Community Foundation of Greater Greenville, and First Vice President of the Greenville Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In addition, Anderson serves on the boards of BB&T Bank, Senior Action, and Sunbelt Human Advancement Resources.
Dr. Shaniece Criss
Dr. Shaniece Criss, a 1998 graduate of Southside High School and the Fine Arts Center, is an Assistant Professor of Health Science at Furman University. After receiving her undergraduate degree in communications from Oglethorpe University and a Master of Public Health from Emory University, Criss earned a Doctor of Science degree from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She also earned a Master in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she was awarded a Presidential Public Service Fellowship and a Political Campaign Practicum. Dr. Criss served as producer and host for a national television show for the Ministry of Health in Guyana, South America, during her Peace Corps service. She partners with Furman’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health as an academic lead on projects with Prisma Health-Upstate and LiveWell Greenville. Dr. Criss serves on the Travelers Rest City Council and the board of directors for Prisma Health, Public Education Partners, Dining for Women, and SC YMCA Youth in Government and Teen Achievers.
J. Verne Smith (1925-2006)
J. Verne Smith was a proud member of the Greer High School Class of 1941, where he served as student body president. He attended Presbyterian College for two years prior to his service in World War II with the U. S. Army’s 25th Division in the Pacific Theater. In 1971, Smith was elected to the State Senate, where he served for more than 30 years. As the longest-serving state senator from Greenville County, J. Verne Smith is remembered for helping lure BMW to Greer, building Lake Robinson, funding the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, locating the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in downtown Greenville, and supporting facilities for the disabled. The beloved “Senator from Greer” always fought for issues close to his heart, particularly public education, health care, the aging, and alcohol and drug abuse. Senator J. Verne Smith was an Eagle Scout, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and president of the Tire Exchange Corporations of Greer, Mauldin, and Simpsonville.
David H. Wilkins
After graduating from Greenville High School in 1964, David Wilkins received a tennis scholarship to attend Clemson University. He later earned a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law, then served in the U. S. Army as a first lieutenant. First elected in 1980, Wilkins served 25 years in the South Carolina House of Representatives. He was elected Speaker of the House in 1994, a position he held for 11 years. In 2005, he was appointed by President George W. Bush as U.S. Ambassador to Canada, where he served for four years. Ambassador Wilkins spent six years chairing the Clemson University Board of Trustees and remains an active member of that board. He also sits on the board of United Community Bank. His public service includes work on issues such as energy, national security, the environment, trade, and travel. He chairs the public policy and international law practice department at Nelson Mullins, and he is the recipient of numerous awards including the state's highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto.
A 1968 graduate of Greenville High School, Brad Wyche later earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and environmental studies from Princeton University and a law degree from the University of Virginia. He also earned a master’s degree in natural resource management from Yale University. After working as an attorney for nearly 20 years, Wyche left the law practice in 1998 to found Upstate Forever and served as its Executive Director until 2015. He now serves as Senior Advisor to the organization. Wyche served on Governor Dick Riley’s Council on Natural Resources and the Environment and on Governor Mark Sanford’s Climate Change, Energy and Commerce Advisory Committee. He also served on the South Carolina Coastal Council and as Chair of the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control. Wyche is the recipient of The Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian award, and numerous other awards recognizing his contributions to protecting the environment. In addition, he received an honorary doctorate in humanities from Furman University for his work and accomplishments in the sustainable development and conservation fields.
Eva K. Esrum
Eva Esrum is recognized as the first inductee into the Greenville County Schools Educator Hall of Fame. Esrum attended Bowling Green State University and the University of South Carolina. She was an art educator in GCS for 36 years, with five years at Greer High School and 31 years at Hillcrest High School. Esrum developed a program called Artist for Hire that allowed students to collaborate with teachers to produce classroom art, and for a successful partnership with Proaxis Physical Therapy that provided students with career education, cross-curricular learning, and real-life experiences. She has been published several times in the nation's leading art education magazine, Arts & Activities. Her articles focus on special projects she developed and implemented with her students and on student success stories. Her former student, Matthew Cordell, won the 2018 Randolph Caldecott Medal, presented for the most prestigious American children's picture book of the year. Another former student, Daniel Miyares, is a Master Artist at Hallmark Cards and an author and illustrator of children's books.