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Keel cuts first melon at GSU
Watermelon cuttings every Tuesday, Thursday in July
With Curtis Frink, left, demonstrating proper technique, Georgia Southern University President Brooks Keel, center, and wife Tammie Schalue preside over their first Annual Summer Watermelon Cutting Wednesday on campus.

    Around 300 people enjoyed the sweet taste of watermelon Wednesday as Dr. Brooks Keel sliced his first watermelon as president of Georgia Southern University, continuing a long-standing summer tradition.
    Keel and his wife, Dr. Tammie Schalue learned their slicing techniques with Curtis Frink, who has assisted every president since Zach Henderson in 1948.
    “This is the first time I’ve been to a university where they have such an event like this,” Keel said. “I think it just points to the type of family atmosphere we try to have here at Georgia Southern.”
    Frink once worked as manager at the Landrum Cafeteria, and retired in 2003 after 47 years of service. Keel continued the tradition of inviting him back for this year’s cutting.
    Frink said that Keel did everything right.
    “He learned real quick,” Frink said, “He knows how to chop that thing, chop that thing and chop that thing.”
    Henderson, in 1967, explained to Bob Harrell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “It’s all in the wrist.” Keel, on the other hand, said that it’s in the arm.
    “I think it’s more in the arm than it is the wrist,” Keel said. “You’ve got to have a strong arm to be able to swack those watermelons just right.”
    Afterward, Frink graded the couple on their cutting skills. He gave Keel an A. For Schalue, he said that her technique will improve over time.
    “I’ve got to give you a B,” Frink said to Schalue, “But next time, it will be an A.”
    Schalue said that the couple is looking forward to many more watermelon cuttings.
    Schalue said, “[We’ll be doing this for] a lot of years I hope.”
    It is commonly believed that the tradition of cutting watermelons each summer originated  with Henderson, who became president of Georgia Teachers College in 1948.
    According to Delma “Del” Presley, professor emeritus of English at GSU and author of “The Southern Century,” Henderson “codified” the event, which began much earlier in 1924.
    “That summer we had our first big crop of teachers come to campus to study at our new Normal School. It was then that the people of Statesboro introduced watermelon cutting to the campus. It’s not something that the campus created for the community. The community instituted the watermelon cutting.”
    In the Thursday, July 17, 1924, edition of The Bulloch Times, it was reported that 221 people attended the watermelon cutting, which was “practically the entire enrollment of the school.”
    According to the article, that event was sponsored by John E. McCroan, chairman of the Board of Trustees and Mrs. A.J. Mooney, president of the Statesboro Woman’s Club. According to Presley, McCroan had asked the group to help commemorate the transition from a teacher’s college to a normal school.
    “In future years, I noticed, every summer we had watermelon cuttings,” Presley said, explaining that President Guy Wells placed an emphasis was placed on having summer watermelon cuttings, which continued through the 1930s.
    Presley said that through a combination of political crises that included Marvin Pittman’s embattled relationship with Georgia Governor Herman Talmadge and World War II, enrollment at the school decreased, and the tradition slipped away until Henderson began the cuttings again in 1948.
    Connie Racey, an administrative secretary in the department of construction management at GSU, said that she enjoyed her first watermelon cutting.
    “I just think it’s a pretty cool thing to do,” Racey said. “It gives people something to look forward to and you get to socialize a little. It makes it very nice. It’s very refreshing.”
    Wednesday’s cutting was only the first event of the summer, and additional watermelon cuttings will be held every Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. during the month of July, across from the Williams Center on campus.

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