When David Abstance Jr. walked across Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical Education Center’s quad in his cap and gown on Aug. 20, 1970, he made history.
His last name meant that Abstance was the very first person to receive an associate degree from Orangeburg-Calhoun TEC. He was one of 22 students to receive a degree at the ceremony.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school,” the Denmark native said. “TEC was a brand-new school, and I was in the first class. I had applied to get into the National Guard at the same time I applied to the college. There was a waiting period, and it took me two years to get accepted in the National Guard, so it all worked out – I finished my degree in business administration before leaving for basic training in Texas.”
After a fulfilling career, Abstance retired in 2011 as manager of corporate insurance for SCANA Corporation. He said he fondly remembers his two years at Orangeburg-Calhoun TEC, which changed its name in 1974 to Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
“I was involved in many activities at TEC,” he said. “I operated the bookstore and was the business manager for the ORACAL (yearbook) staff. That was a lot of work. We also formed a basketball team and played a couple of games – and got slaughtered. We were absolutely horrible.”
Abstance met his wife, the former Sandra Goodwin of Bowman, while she was studying secretarial science at the college.
“I’d seen her around campus and decided to ask her out,” he said. “We got engaged the next year and married shortly after we graduated and I returned home from National Guard training.”
The education she received at TEC helped Abstance’s wife in her 40-year career at Bank of America. The pair celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary in April and have two sons, David III and Joey, and six grandchildren.
Abstance said the college prepared him well for the workforce.
“It provided me with a quality education,” he said. “It gave me the basics I needed to succeed in the business world. Most students don’t realize that you go to school to learn the fundamentals of whatever field you’re studying, but you never quit learning. My degree got me in the door. You keep applying those principles you learn in college and growing your entire career.”
It was a stroke of luck that Abstance even started working for SCE&G, he said.
“In the early 1970s, jobs were few and far between. It was a very, very tight market,” Abstance said. “After National Guard training, I came back home and started applying for jobs everywhere. Then, in one day, I got offers from Wannamaker Chevrolet in Orangeburg, a home finance company in Columbia and SCE&G. SCE&G happened to be the one that called first.”
He started out working for the company’s corporate secretary, who at the time handled not only the secretarial duties of the corporation, but also the annual meeting of stockholders, the retirement plan, corporate files, disability plans and corporate insurance, Abstance said.
“About nine years after I went to work there, the department was split into several new departments because of the tremendous growth, and I was placed in charge of the retirement plans, disability plans and all of the corporate insurance,” he said. “Then, about 10 years later, they split it again, and I got the corporate insurance. It was the most fascinating job.”
In 1973, SCE&G began construction of its nuclear power plant, the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in Fairfield County. Abstance said he was among those who helped design and write the insurance policies for the nuclear industry. His role afforded him the opportunity to travel across the United States and beyond.
“I served in many insurance organizations in the electric utility industry and was eventually chairman of several, including the nuclear insurance group Nuclear Electric Insurance Industry, or NEIL,” he said. “When I took the insurance course at Orangeburg-Calhoun TEC, I would never have dreamt that one day I would be forming the risk management department at a major corporation – and then, on top of that, helping write nuclear insurance policies. I also had the opportunity to help write two other insurance policies that were specifically for our corporation. Because I knew the principles of what an insurance policy contained, I was able to apply those principles to those situations.”
Just like SCE&G and SCANA grew and changed before Abstance’s eyes, so did Orangeburg-Calhoun TEC. When he was at the school, there were only a handful of buildings on campus – one with administrative and faculty offices; one that housed an auditorium, bookstore, canteen and classrooms; a building with additional classrooms; and one for courses like automotive, mechanical engineering and welding.
“The first computer I worked on was a big conglomerate machine that took punch cards we had keyed in information on and tabulated them based on a board you wired to tell it what to do,” he said. “Times sure have changed.”
Looking through an old yearbook, Abstance remembered former Business Department Director Frances Buyck as a wonderful instructor, adding that she was the first female to receive a master’s degree in business administration from the University of South Carolina.
“I had a lot of other great professors, as well,” he said. “One was a retired attorney who taught business law, another was a retired lieutenant colonel from the Air Force who taught us several subjects, and we had a professor who had been at The Citadel. You can read all you want to in a book, but you can only get so much from that, but if you have someone who has lived through those experiences explain them to you, it’s much more meaningful.”
Abstance’s dedication in class and on campus led his peers to select him as Outstanding Student in Business Administration. He was also named Who’s Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges in 1969-1970.
His picture, marking him as receiving the first associate degree at Orangeburg-Calhoun TEC, was published in the 1971 ORACAL and The Times and Democrat, he said.
“Those were interesting times,” Abstance said. “It’s been a good life.”