IMG_439331944WHEREAS, Joseph Kenyon East, an innovative public educator, university co-founder and successful entrepreneur and businessman, departed this life on February 15, 2011, the day before his 98th birthday, we, the members of the Columbia Rotary Club, desire to honor his memory with the following recognition of his life and influence among us:

Joseph Kenyon East was born February 16, 1913, near Lineville, Alabama, the son of the late Z. R. and Eva East and the oldest of their ten children. He was graduated from Berry College in Rome, Georgia, earned a Masters degree from Wofford College and did additional graduate study at Duke University and Columbia University in New York.

Ken moved to Horry County, South Carolina, in 1936 and began a 48 year career in public education as teacher and later principal of Horry Elementary School, then as principal of Aynor High School. In 1942 he became Superintendent of Schools in Cottageville and during his time there became involved with local farmers providing refrigerated transportation for their produce, which enabled them to access more distant markets, especially in the northeast, and vastly increase their incomes. This was certainly among the first such services in the southeast and perhaps the nation.

In 1946 he moved to Blacksburg, and it was while serving as superintendent there that he created in 1950 the first tax-supported kindergarten in South Carolina, twenty years before the South Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation creating a statewide kindergarten system. He was a member of the Blacksburg Rotary Club during his years there and was elected its president.

In 1953 he returned to Horry County as Director of Instruction for Horry County Schools where he established the first countywide audio-visual library for public schools in the state, and was also instrumental in improving adult literacy in the county. While there he began working with key individuals in the community who envisioned the establishment of a junior college to enable local students to earn college credits without having to leave town. It was Ken East who persuaded the College of Charleston to sponsor an extension program in Conway, which was a completely novel concept in South Carolina, and to help make it a reality, he served as the first secretary of the Coastal Educational Foundation, and worked to create the curriculum and recruit the faculty. Our state’s first tax supported junior college, Coastal Carolina Junior College, opened its doors in September, 1954, with 53 students. Today Coastal Carolina University serves 10,000 students and has 1,100 employees.

Ken moved to Columbia in 1959 to establish and supervise the first audio-visual education program for the State Department of Education, where he established a statewide library of free films for public schools. During this period he was intimately involved in the planning and development of South Carolina’s Educational Television system.

He was appointed Director of Adult Education for South Carolina in 1965 when less than 6,000 people were enrolled in the program. During his 18 years of leadership more than 850,000 students enrolled in adult education classes, South Carolina had one of the highest rated programs in the nation and his model was adopted by many other states. He was elected Chairman of the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education in 1974 and is recognized in the South Carolina Adult Education Hall of Fame as the “Father of Adult Education in South Carolina.”

Upon his retirement from the State Department of Education in 1983 he was appointed by the U. S. Department of Education to serve as a consultant for the southeastern states and testified before legislative committees in South Carolina and Congressional committees in support of adult education.

The awards he received were numerous: the Outstanding Service Award from the National Association of Public, Continuing and Adult Education; an honorary Doctor of Education degree from the University of South Carolina; the Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service; the Order of the Palmetto from Gov. Richard W. Riley; and the Distinguished Achievement Award from Berry College, his alma mater.

Ken was a Rotarian for 61 years and joined the Columbia Rotary Club in August, 1964, with the classification “Education-Adult,” and he was a Paul Harris sustaining member, six time Paul Harris Fellow and a President’s Club donor to the Columbia Scholars Fund.

A deeply spiritual man, his sterling character had been formed by his experiences growing up in rural Alabama and his love of agriculture never waned. He was an experienced organic gardener long before it gained currency and had a special passion for propagating heirloom roses. Beginning at age 14, he was a Sunday School teacher for 68 years and a life deacon in the First Baptist Church of Columbia. He possessed a strong faith that produced a bold but humble confidence which endeared him to others and enabled him to be the useful man he was in his work and in his community.

He was survived by his wife of 71 years, Leona Strickland East, who has since died; four sons, Ken East, Jr., a member of our Rotary Club, Louis East, a charter member of the St. Andrew’s Rotary Club, and Bill East, all of Columbia, and Larry East of Aiken; 13 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and a great-great grandchild, two sisters and three brothers.

The dedicated service and generous philanthropy of this remarkable man who was our friend have enhanced the lives of everyone who knew him and we are grateful to his family for sharing him with us.


1. That we, the members of the Columbia Rotary Club, do hereby pay honor this day to the memory of our fellow Rotarian and friend, Joseph Kenyon East, whose life made this city, state and nation a better place through his service in the highest ideals of Rotary and of his profession; and

2. That we again express to his family and friends our deepest sympathy in their loss; and

  1. That copies of this Resolution be sent to his children with the original being filed as a permanent part of our club records.