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“I’ve been fortunate enough to have about 12 to 15 articles published 
in professional journals, and I always get the ideas for the articles 
while I’m on my motorcycle. Frequently, I’ve stopped right there on the spot 
and taken out a pad, written down some notes and formalized some ideas. 
My best thinking is usually done on my motorcycle.”

Executive Profile

Easy Rider

David Sink, who runs a 
top-notch community college,
gets his best ideas while 
cruising on his Harley

By Kevin Brafford

On three occasions Dr. David Sink has, in his words, “gotten the bug.” The first led him down a path to education administration and steered him to where he is now — president of Blue Ridge Community College.

On merit alone, such a career choice would make for interesting reading. But it’s the other two occasions when the bug has gotten to the 56-year-old Sink that make his story even more compelling.

His love for family — he has two grown children and an equal number of grandchildren — and the love of his highly regarded school in Flat Rock, just south of Hendersonville, rank just above two hobbies not common for your average college president.

Sink proudly travels the country on a 1996 Harley Davidson Bad Boy, a purchase he made that year after taking the college’s motorcycle safety course on a whim. “The bug just bit me, and I couldn’t come up with a good reason not to pursue it,” he says. “And if I was going to get a bike, it just seemed to me that it had to be a Harley.”

For many people, one hobby begets another, but that’s not the case for Sink. He discovered a passion for baseball during a stint in the Army, but his passion for touring major league ballparks began 16 years ago after making a pact with his then 8-year-old son, who was slightly enamored with the game but very much enamored by his father.

“His mother and I were about to divorce, and it was an extremely difficult time,” Sink says. “I sat down with Matthew and said, ‘You’re going to be living with your mom and she’s going to be in Lexington and I’m going to be in Hendersonville. I’ll see you every weekend, but during the week you need to do all the things she tells you to do. And if you do those things, we’ll go to a major league baseball game every summer.’ ”

Ten years later, father and son had wolfed down hot dogs in all 30 big-league stadiums, stretching from Miami to Seattle, Montreal to San Diego and all points between. Matthew’s now 23 and enrolled at Blue Ridge, and they’re still visiting big-league cities. “Baseball won’t let us stop,” Sink says. “They keep building new ballparks, so we keep having to backtrack.”

David William Sink Jr. was born and raised in Lexington. His father was a building contractor and his mother a homemaker and caretaker of the nursery at First Baptist Church for “what seems like a hundred years,” Sink says.

“Growing up in Lexington in those days, you were pretty much a product of your church, the Boy Scouts, sports — things like that. We didn’t have all of the opportunities that kids have today, and maybe that was a good thing. I do know this: You had to work hard at getting into trouble. The neighbors and folks at the church — they all looked out for you. If you were headed down a path that wasn’t good for you, it was quickly brought to your attention that you needed to change directions.”

Sink never strayed far, though he and the other kids in the neighborhood were creative in their free time. “There were 10 or 12 of us that played together and were about the same age,” he says. “I remember in the summer the city had this jeep — we called it the spray jeep — that would drive around at night and emit this tremendous white fog cloud behind it. All the neighbors would run in their houses and shut the doors and windows so they wouldn’t breathe in that DDT.

“Not us. We’d get on our bikes and follow right behind that jeep, going in and out of the clouds. It’s amazing that we didn’t kill ourselves breathing in that stuff, but following that cloud was as much fun to us as when the little ice cream truck would come down the street in the evenings.”

In high school, Sink played football and basketball and served as a manager for the tennis team. “I sat on the bench more than I played,” he says, “but I still enjoyed it.” In the spring of 1965, he was a member of Lexington’s final segregated graduating class.

He went to Wingate Junior College, where he earned an associate degree in literature, then spent two more years at the University of North Carolina, graduating with a bachelor’s in American History. “As soon as I finished at Chapel Hill, I got the infamous letter from Uncle Sam that said ‘greetings,’ ” he recalls. “I wasn’t alone and it wasn’t a surprise.”

Sink spent two years in the Army, then married and moved to Greensboro. He commuted on weekdays to Lexington, where he worked for his father’s company, and soon enrolled in graduate school classes on nights and weekends at UNCG, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill.

“I thought when I got out of the Army that I was going to be a builder like my dad and my uncles,” he says. “I was a carpenter — well, that was a generous term. I guess if you asked the people I worked with, they would have called me a carpenter’s helper or a ‘gofer’ or a mudboy.

“But a recession had set in during the late 1970s and my dad had three houses he had built and decided he wanted to get rid of. One day, after I’d be there three years, he tells me he’s going to retire and that I’m going to have to get a job on my own.”

Fortunately for Sink, he was about to receive his master’s in guidance and counseling, a specialized area that he admittedly sort of fell into in the couple of years prior. “It was one of those decisions that kind of evolves when you don’t really make any decision,” he says. “I was taking graduate courses in history, business and education. I picked up a teaching certificate and did some practice teaching at Grimsley and Dudley high schools.

“I found that I liked teaching, so I started taking more courses in counseling because I enjoyed working with young people that age. Then one morning I woke up and realized that I had enough courses to get a master’s in counseling.”

Sink landed a job at Davidson County Community College as a guidance counselor and moved back to his hometown. Two years later, he was named associate dean for evening programs. By then, he was yearning to learn more, so he took a couple of years off and moved to Blacksburg, Va., to work toward his doctorate in education administration at Virginia Tech.

“When I went back to Davidson County Community College in 1979, (then president) Grady Love had a plan for me: He asked me to write grants; he asked me to develop a small business center; he asked me to be the liaison between the college and the area’s industry leaders; and he asked me to be the dean for the evening program and to start Saturday classes.

“When you do all of those things, you really get a sense of what community colleges are all about. If I hadn’t already been bitten by the bug — and I think I had — then that certainly was affirmation that, hey, this is kind of a neat thing to do.”

Ed Wilson, president of Roanoke-Chowan Technical College in Ahoskie, had heard of a rising star at the community college in Davidson County. Needing an academic dean in 1982, Wilson found his man in Sink. “It was a great experience,” Sink says, “one that really helped me grow a lot. Talk about night and day, that was Ahoskie compared to Lexington. Ahoskie is corn, peanuts and tobacco, and it’s more closely associated with Norfolk, Va., than any other city. In fact, you can get to Baltimore faster than you can get to Charlotte.”

Sink’s big break came 11 months later. “Our state community college president, former Gov. Bob Scott, calls Ed and says that he’d like for him to come to Raleigh to be vice president of the statewide system,” Sink says. “Of course, he couldn’t turn that down. Then the board here turns to me and asks if I’d like to be president of Roanoke-Chowan. And, of course, I couldn’t turn that down.”

Handed the reins of a college on what one could call short notice, Sink sought to gain insight and knowledge from his peers. He had known of the work and reputation of Bill Killion, the first and only president of Blue Ridge Community College, and the two became friends. Four years later, when Killion stepped down, Sink was asked to be his successor.

The experience at Roanoke-Chowan had been immeasurable, but Sink was intrigued by the beauty and serenity of the mountains and by a college with seemingly unlimited room to grow. “I applied for the position — that’s how much I wanted it,” he says. “While I loved my time in Ahoskie, it was an easy decision to make.”

That was 16 years ago, and Sink hasn’t thought twice about moving again. “I grew up in the Piedmont, spent a couple of years in Monroe and a couple in Chapel Hill,” he says. “I lived a year in Boston and a year in Columbus, Ga., both connected to the military. I spent a couple of years in Blacksburg, and I had nearly five years in northeast North Carolina. Now I’ve lived in Hendersonville for 16 years.

“So I feel like I know North Carolina about as well as anyone, because I’ve lived in its three distinct areas. And in a great state to live, I feel like I live in the best part.”

He has seen the best parts of other states, too, either through his travels with Matthew or alone on his Harley. “I get great pleasure from them both,” he says. “I’m a firm believer that you should enjoy life and get everything out of it that you can. Work’s important, but getting away from work is also important.”

As a kid, Sink played Little League baseball and fondly remembers that time, as well as neighborhood summer sandlot games at Grimes School.

While in the Army, Sink found himself in St. Louis, Mo., on a day when the Cardinals — his favorite team as a teenager — were hosting the New York Mets. “That was my first big-league game, and Bob Gibson was pitching for the Cardinals and Tom Seaver for the Mets — two guys who’d wind up in the Hall of Fame and be considered among the best pitchers of all time. That day, Seaver beat the Cardinals in 10 innings, 1-0, and I was hooked.”

He passed his interest on to Matthew, and their first big-league experience together in 1987 was at New York’s Yankee Stadium. “I think my eyes that day got bigger than his,” Sink says of his son. “The trip that summer transformed into 10 summers of trips just like it.”

The journeys have spawned a book that Sink soon hopes to put in a publisher’s hands. “I’ve titled it ‘Repeated Summers,’ ” he says. “It started out as more of a baseball directory, but what it’s turned into is a book on the relationship between a father and son with regard to what’s happening on and off the field. I’ve found that I’m out there looking at reflections of the past — remembering how I learned to read and do math through collecting baseball cards as a kid. Matthew, on the other hand, is sitting there with little interest in strategy, but is totally focused on how much money players are making and what it costs to buy a hot dog, soda and souvenir.”

The book also will give the Sinks’ views of their favorite ballparks and their favorite towns. “I’ve just got to make the decision to quit working on it, to wrap it up,” he says. “The problem is that they keep building all these new stadiums. We’ve already been to Baltimore twice, Chicago twice and Atlanta twice. Now, we need to go back to Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. It’s tempting, but at some point you have to draw the line.”

Sink’s other pursuit also draws on his time. Three summers ago, he took off with four other motorcycle enthusiasts on a ride to Sturgis, S.D. — a distance that allowed his companions time to make the return trek home to their jobs.

Not Sink. He took six weeks off and saw the United States in a way and at a pace that many people would envy. “I went from Sturgis to Olympic State Park in Washington State and rode down the Pacific Coast Highway, then came back across country on Route 66,” he says. “It was liberating and invigorating, to say the least.

“Some mornings I’d have a plan. Other days I’d just take off. I remember riding over the Colorado River on a bridge going into the state of Washington. The winds were blowing like crazy and my motorcycle literally was being blown from one side of the bridge to the other. I certainly got on a first-name basis with Jesus that day.”

With a straight face, Sink says he learned how to travel lightly. “All you need when you’re by yourself on a motorcycle going coast to coast is two pairs of jeans, four T-shirts, a leather jacket, a few pairs of underwear and some toiletries. Some nights I’d camp out; other times I’d find a little countryside inn with a bathtub in it and wash everything out. In small towns I’d sometimes find a wash-a-teria, and while my clothes were washing, I’d walk around, get something to eat and learn about where I was.”

Sink’s motorcycle travels aren’t confined to the United States. As president of the Hendersonville Rotary Club in 2002, he attended that year’s June meeting of Rotary International in Barcelona. Once the conference ended, Sink took a train to Frankfurt — “the only place in Europe where you can rent a Harley” — and spent two weeks riding through the country. “I’d spend some evenings sleeping in a meadow, or I’d find a room over a storefront in some little Bavarian town that’d have a beer garden and an ice cream parlor right below it,” he says. “I had my Harley, beer and ice cream right there — who could ask for more?”

Sink’s excursions on his Harley, while still frequent, generally are shorter now, but their impact hasn’t been minimized. “For me, it’s a way of relaxing to a level that allows the creative juices to flow,” he says. “When I’m on my motorcycle, I am so in tune with things — in such a great comfort zone.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have about 12 to 15 articles published in professional journals, and I always get the ideas for the articles while I’m on my motorcycle. Frequently, I’ve stopped right there on the spot and taken out a pad, written down some notes and formalized some ideas. My best thinking is usually done on my motorcycle.”

Those thoughts more often than not involve Blue Ridge, a rapidly growing community college with campuses in Flat Rock and Brevard that welcomed more than 2,200 students last month and has another 15,000 enrolled in continuing education. Enrollment is up 25 percent in the past five years, and the N.C. State Board of Community Colleges has recognized Blue Ridge as one of only four “superior” colleges in the state for 2001 and 2002. Growth is readily apparent, including a baseball stadium that’s home to the college’s two-year-old program. 

“That’s happened because we hire really good people and then get out of their way,” Sink says. “We stress a concept called job sculpturing, where you identify a talented person, bring them in and then six months later you sculpture a job for them. That’s how we’ve found good people.”

It’s the reward of discovering, then molding, leaders that brings a twinkle to sink’s eyes. He speaks one day of teaching community college leadership classes at a university “like Cornell or N.C. State.”

But for now, life is good, very good. “It’s way too much fun to come to work and see what else we can do to make Blue Ridge an even better place to come to college,” he says. “I couldn’t be happier.”

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