Back in 1965, students who attended Northern Virginia Technical College learned how to use typewriters and adding machines inside an old warehouse at Baileys Crossroads where missiles were made during World War II.
Renamed Northern Virginia Community College the next year, the small technical school that opened to 761 students two decades ago now has five campuses.
It has the largest enrollment of any college or university in the state and is the second largest community college in the nation (after Miami-Dade Community College in Florida) with an enrollment of 33,000 students.
The college will celebrate its 20th anniversary next week with parties, a carnival and a homecoming dance. There will also be special panel discussions that will highlight the school's past, present and future.
Cecil W. Shuler, dean of financial and administrative services, remembers the worry and work that went into planning the fledging school's curriculum and recruiting the first handful of teachers.
"We started with nothing and 100 days later we opened the school," said Shuler, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a colonel in 1965 to help establish the college.
With the help of his wife and several faculty members, Shuler assembled the desks and chairs and distributed chalk and erasers in the makeshift classrooms on the eve of opening day.
"We came back at 7 a.m. to unlock the doors and let the first students in. We had our work cut out for us there," said Shuler..
Shuler said the most popular classes 20 years dealt with "secretarial science." He said the courses, which drew mostly women, are now called office management and data processing.
"The computer has replaced the typewriter and now we have lots of men taking the word processing class," said Shuler, 67.
Shuler said the college's success in attracting students and teaching a wide range of vocational, technical and general education classes gave the state General Assembly, which funds the school, the confidence to boost its operating budget from $952,236 in 1965 to more then $50 million in 1984.
As the enrollment grew, school officials accumulated the necessary funds to start construction of five new campuses through increased state allocations, two bond referendums and private donations.
The Annandale campus, which faces Rte. 236 just west of the Beltway, opened in 1967, followed by the Alexandria campus off Beauregard Street in 1973.
The Loudoun and Manassas branches opened in 1974 with almost double the enrollment school officials expected, and the first phase of the Woodbridge campus was completed in June 1975.
To round out the four days of 20th anniversary festivities, a special task force has been trying to locate members of the first graduating class of 1967. James Bradley, school spokesman, said it has not been easy.
"We have the names from the first commencement program and now somebody will sit down, find their addresses 18 years ago and see if we can find them today in the phone book," Bradley said. "They didn't have the computers or records we have today . . . . Everything was done by hand."
While there is no official list, Bradley said many local and state politicians have taken classes at Northern Virginia Community College during the past two decades.
He said famed magician David Copperfield and television actress Donna Dixon also attended the school.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s when classes on many campuses took a back seat to protests and marches, students at the growing communty college stayed clear of any controversy or turbulence, Shuler said.
"Most of our students didn't want any part of the campus unrest . We had students who had the opportunity for an education for the first time in their life . . . . Going to school was a serious business," he said.
The four-day anniversary celebration will include a community-wide carnival to be held on Sept. 21 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the college's Annandale campus, featuring arts, crafts, exhibits, live music and food.
In addition to the panel discussions and homecoming dance, there will be special receptions honoring past and present school officials, government officials and college donors.