Wiley Bolden, 99: Long life was dedicated to education

Former president of Savannah State University

Wiley Bolden spent nearly a century as an educator, from working as a professor at Georgia State University to leading both Savannah State University and Morris Brown College.

But he always had time to stop, pause, and smell the roses.

“He knew the names of almost every tree and plant. He would see one and just name it and tell us about it. And he had a green thumb,” said his daughter Millicent Bolden. “I don’t know how he knew them. But he was just curious about everything and he made us curious about everything.”

Dr. Wiley Speights Bolden, who was also thought to be the oldest member in his fraternity in Georgia, died on Jan. 30, 2018 in Atlanta. He was 99.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Dr. Wiley Bolden

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A wake will be held Friday at Murray Brothers Cascade Chapel in Atlanta. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Warren Memorial United Methodist Church, where Dr. Bolden had been a member and Sunday School teacher since 1948.

“He was just a great dad,” Millicent Bolden said. “Education was very important to him and he was a lifelong learner. He was still active and we didn’t expect this. We expected him to go on at least until 100.”

Dr. Bolden was born Dec. 18, 1918 – just a month after the end of the Great War – to Gertrude Speights and Wiley Lee Bolden in Birmingham. He was the oldest of five children. He was initially educated at the Emerson Institute, a private denominational school in Mobile for blacks run by northern white missionaries. He graduated from high school in 1935 and attended Alabama State Teachers College (now known as Alabama State University).

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He graduated in 1939 with a degree in chemistry, but while on campus he pledged into the Beta Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

He joined the Eta Lambda Chapter in Atlanta in 1948 and remained an active member until his death.

»MORE: The rise of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity

After graduating, Bolden taught math and science and served as a principal in several schools in Alabama. In 1942, as he hopped from school to school, he bumped into Willie Creagh Miller, a teacher at a rival high school with whom he had gone to high school.

He was drafted in 1944 and assigned to Fort Benning, where he taught inductees basic instruction to get them on at least a fourth-grade academic level. His daughter said that that experience heightened his awareness of social disadvantage, while giving him insights into the teaching and learning process.

On August 13, 1945, he married Willie Creagh Miller.

After the two were married they enrolled in masters’ degree programs at Columbia University and both graduated in 1947. The two would have four children.

In the fall of 1948, Dr. Bolden began teaching at Clark College, and after he got his doctorate in 1957, he became chairman of the school’s Department of Psychology and Education. He left Clark in 1967, having become the dean of faculty and instruction.

From 1970 until 1987, he worked as an education professor at Georgia State University. When he retired, the Board of Regents named him Professor Emeritus of Educational Foundations at GSU.

Savannah State lured him out of retirement in February 1988 to serve as acting president until September 1989. While at SSU, he fought off threats of a merger with Armstrong State College. That next retirement didn’t last either as Morris Brown College tapped him to be acting vice president of academic affairs from 1992 until 1994.

Dr. Bolden is survived by two daughters, Millicent Bolden of Birmingham and Lelia E. Bolden of Atlanta; a sister, Madeline Doris Douglas of Los Angeles; a granddaughter, Madeline Bolden of Atlanta; and one great granddaughter, Bethany Bolden, who is a student at Savannah State.

His wife died in 2011, and two other children, Lisa Bolden Monette and Wiley Miller Bolden, also preceded him in death.

“He loved God, education and family,” said daughter Lelia E. Bolden. “He stressed how important it was to live a positive life and help others.”

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