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Dan W. and Betty Poteat Olds holding hands

Still learning, still serving

Celebrating the legacy and impact of the Dan W. and Betty Poteat Olds Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Dr. Dan Olds started serving Wofford College in 1963, and 53 years later he’s still discovering new ways to mentor and improve the college experience for students.

During the spring Scholarship Recognition Dinner, Olds and his wife, Betty, met Wesley Duckett ’16, recipient of the Dan W. and Betty Poteat Olds Endowed Scholarship and a computer science major with minors in economics and mathematics from Charleston, S.C. Duckett loved hearing about the college’s first computers and comparing the data storage in his mobile phone to the memory in a computer that required several rooms of space.

“It’s crazy to me that this little thing can store more than 3,000 times the amount that Wofford’s first computer could,” said Duckett during the scholarship dinner as he whipped out his phone.

“We all chuckled, but the significance of it was not lost on me,” he says. “Dr. Olds paved the path for the digital age on campus, and everyone, not just computer science majors, should be grateful for his efforts.”

Shay Ellison ’09 was also a recipient of the Olds Endowed Scholarship and the first to receive the Dan W. Olds Computer Science Departmental Award, funded through a separate endowed fund at the college established by Betty and their children, Linda and John, in honor of Dan’s retirement.

“Funding for scholarships and academic awards is extremely important to help students focus on studying and learning during school rather than worrying about paying for education,” says Ellison, who majored in history and mathematics as well as computer science at Wofford. He went on to earn an advanced degree from Florida State University and a scholarship and employment from the U.S. government. He now lives in Austin, Texas, where he works with the dealer portal and application programming interface for TRUECar Inc.

The Dan W. and Betty Poteat Olds Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wofford was established in 1995 and funded in 2006 by John Poteat, Betty’s father.

“My dad didn’t get to finish college because of the Great Depression,” says Betty, “but he was always interested in education.”

Poteat, who became a successful businessman and philanthropist, ensured that Betty had educational opportunities. She earned advanced degrees from the University of Tennessee and Duke University, where she met Olds, a Ph.D. candidate soon to become the chair of the Department of Physics at Wofford College.

When Olds came to Wofford, he had taken only two computer classes during his undergraduate and graduate career, but he knew that the computer age was coming and began researching ways to bring computer technology to the college. In 1967 he proposed a computer time-sharing service. The first computer terminal arrived on campus in 1968, and the college shared a computer with other organizations via long-distance telephone lines until 1975 and the arrival of the Wofford WITCH. Olds helped write the grant that brought the WITCH (Wofford’s Instructional Timesharing Computer from Hoechst) to Wofford. He developed and managed the college’s first computer systems while teaching and administering physics. He then started the college’s Computer Science Department and served as its first chairman before directing Wofford Computer Services.

“It was an emerging field. None of us knew much about it,” says Olds, who taught himself then taught others, something that became a hallmark of his career.

Although the college did not offer a computer science major until much later, several of those first computer students went on to pursue careers in the field. 

Ashley Carder ’80 was one of those students. Carder became fascinated with the Wofford WITCH in 1977. He took the three computer classes that Wofford offered at the time and worked in the college’s computer center. 

“I was a sociology major, but immediately found a computer programming job after graduating from Wofford,” says Carder, who has seen remarkable changes in the field over the past 35 years and has developed insurance processing websites for companies including Ford, Charles Schwab Investments, Kemper Insurance, Sears, Empire Insurance Co. and Insurance Co. of the West. Carder currently serves as the chief information officer at the South Carolina Wind and Hail Underwriting Association in Columbia, S.C. “I would not be where I am today without the guidance of Dr. Olds and the experiences in the Wofford College Computer Center in the late 1970s.”

Even after retirement Olds continued to find ways to support the Wofford student experience. In 2009 he and Betty established a $100,000 charitable gift annuity naming Wofford as the beneficiary.

“I inherited money from my mother and father that we really didn’t need to live on,” says Olds. “Having a bit of regular, unassigned income to spend on my genealogical interests, however, was attractive.”

The charitable gift annuity offered Olds life income and tax benefits that made the planned gift more attractive than an outright gift. 

“Charitable gift annuities are easy because they’re simple contracts with the college. Donors don’t have to go through an attorney unless that’s their preference,” says Lisa De Freitas ’88, director of gift planning.

Olds continues to enjoy receiving updates from former students. He and Betty have found places to volunteer in the community, and both enjoy traveling.

“We’ve traveled to China, the Caribbean, Europe and all 50 states,” says Betty. “Dan’s interest in genealogy began when he was around 12 years old, and we use that as an excuse to travel when we can.”

“I can make a pretty good case that I’m a descendant of Charlemagne or his great-grandparents,” says Olds. “I thought when I retired I’d be going to lots of courthouses and graveyards, but there’s enough on the internet — images of real records — to keep me busy.”

Olds, who taught the first genealogy Interim at Wofford (but only after doing research and planning to ensure it had sufficient academic merit), now has moved into DNA ancestry testing. He’s tested himself, Betty, his son, his grandson and his brother. 

“So far, I’ve gotten no unexpected results,” says Olds, “but I’ve got another DNA kit on the way.”

According to De Freitas, the charitable gift annuity is a win-win for Olds and Wofford. “Dr. Olds receives the extra income he needs to pursue his interests, and deserving students receive additional scholarship assistance. We are grateful that Dan and Betty Olds continue to put Wofford students first.”

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89, Fall 2016