Volunteer and donor Bob McNair shares the magic

“Did you know there was once a swimming pool in Hanes Student Commons?” The question comes from Bob McNair, a dedicated volunteer and a seemingly endless source of UNCSA trivia.

He’s not talking about the now-disused pool in the Fitness Center, but a detail from a more distant time.

“It was somewhere in the basement, maybe on the end by Eisenberg [Social Hall].”

He hasn’t gotten a definitive answer on where the pool was located, but he’s on the case.

This is just one of the pieces of UNCSA trivia Bob has filed away. Curious about how the Fighting Pickle got its name? Bob can tell you. Want to learn more about “Conversations,” the sculpture on Giannini Drive across from the Welcome Center that also houses the cremated remains of dedicated UNCSA supporter Phil Hanes? Bob can tell you all about that, too.

His fascination with the university goes back decades.

“When I was in high school, one of my best buddies played trumpet with me in the band. He was incredibly talented. I was super mediocre.” His friend went on to get accepted in the very first class at the school, back in 1965, first as a high school student and then as an undergraduate.

Bob visited, and was fascinated by the promise of the school — a state-funded arts conservatory created as one of several ingredients that would guide North Carolina toward a brighter future.

A decade later, Bob and his wife Judy moved to Winston-Salem for a job, and once again, UNCSA was central to the appeal of the area.

“I still remember when my parents visited and we took them to ‘The Nutcracker' back when it was still at Reynolds Auditorium.”

“I think the more people are personally involved with the school, the more likely they are to want to directly help the school grow."

Bob McNair

As the years passed, Bob remained engaged with the school, to the extent that his schedule allowed. Upon retiring, he saw UNCSA as a way to remain engaged with the community.

He joined The Associates, an organization founded in the late 1970s to bring together community members eager to volunteer with administrators, faculty and staff who benefit deeply from their efforts and their knowledge of the wider community.

Through The Associates, Bob first began working regularly in the Mail Center, where he learned more about how the university worked and got to know students, faculty and staff.

He has also been keen to keep others updated about performances and other goings-on around campus. He started a personal email update about upcoming performances in 2013 that he sends out to an ever-growing list of friends and colleagues that now numbers in the hundreds.

Eventually, he was called upon to share the knowledge of the campus he had gained — as well as his enthusiasm for the school and for getting to know new people — by leading tours of the campus for non-students (community groups and fellow volunteers) as well as interested and admitted students during high-volume times when Admissions tour guides needed a helping hand.

“I’m grateful to be a part of the process of meeting these students and getting to know who they are and why they are interested in UNCSA,” he says.

A group of eight people standing in front of a photo backdrop at an awards event

Judy and Bob McNair (center) at the 2023 Triad National Philanthropy Day Luncheon, along with (from left to right) Kait Dorsky (University Archives), School of Dance Dean Endalyn Outlaw, Rob Myers (Admissions), Rich Whittington (Advancement), School of Music Dean Saxton Rose, and Shannon Wright (Advancement)

He notes that during tours, students, faculty, staff — even Chancellor Cole and the various conservatory deans — are eager to stop and talk to prospective students and parents, answer questions and welcome them to campus. “That gives a really good impression of the school for these visitors.”

Bob sees the role of volunteers like The Associates as going beyond the volunteer hours they provide, noting that it is the kind of program that builds vital bridges between UNCSA and the community.

“It’s important for them to understand that the local community supports them… that I’m just a local volunteer, I’m not a member of the staff,” he says. “I don’t have a vested interest in trying to sell the school, other than giving them the highlights as I understand them.”

Bob’s experience as a volunteer has also led him to become more involved with the university as a donor. He and Judy joined the School of Music Dean’s Circle a few years ago by making qualifying IRA contributions to music scholarships.

“I think the more people are personally involved with the school, the more likely they are to want to directly help the school grow, bring in faculty and move forward,” he says.

And music scholarships were a natural decision for Bob. “I love music. There are so many performances and the faculty and students have always been so receptive. I’ve been able to see classes and rehearsals through the years, and everyone has been so kind.” Supporting scholarships brings him joy because he can do something to put a UNCSA education in reach for students “in some small way.”

But, of course, the impact of Bob and his fellow donors and volunteers is anything but small.

Next time you’re on campus, keep an eye out for Bob. You might find him on the lower level of Hanes Student Commons, trying to find out once and for all just where that pool was.

February 29, 2024