Robert D. Bob Burris, Sr.

How running out of money made one CSCC the man he is today.

One semester into his education at Middle Tennessee State University, Robert D. Bob Burris, Sr. ran out of money. So he packed his bags, returned home to Cleveland and went to work. Four years later, when Cleveland State Community College was opening in 1967, Bob saw an open door to continue his education. He walked right through it.

“In the 1960s, the people who went to college were always the people who were financially secure—and I wasn’t,” Bob says. “Getting that degree was an opportunity to better myself and achieve a personal goal.”

Early Days

The inaugural year of CSCC’s existence, registration was in the old John Miller home on Broad Street, and classes were held at North Cleveland Baptist Church. Having previously attended North Cleveland Baptist, heading to the church felt like a homecoming for Bob.

Since Bob was working a full-time job, that homecoming initially involved night classes. When he switched to working nights, he started taking his classes during the day. Eventually, he earned his degree from CSCC and went on to get his bachelor’s from Lee College.

With these degrees in hand, Bob went on to a full life. He worked for Farm Bureau for Tennessee for thirty years, raised a family and did his part to better the community.

“I always felt like having a college degree made me a first-class citizen,” Bob says. “My degree from Cleveland State and later from Lee afforded me more than just a business opportunity. It helped me appreciate more things culturally.”

Bob’s cultural appreciation shows itself in the realms of music, public speaking and writing. And through the years, this cultural appreciation hasn’t been relegated to textbooks or conversations with friends. He’s putting it to use. Bob has an immense love for music—even though he “can hardly play the radio,” he cowrote The Hank Snow Story—an autobiography of the influential country music artist from the 1950s and ‘60s and used the skills he learned in John Bradley’s public speaking class at Cleveland State to win a seat on the Bradley County Commission in 1986.

Looking Ahead

With a grandson attending Walker Valley High School, Bob is hoping yet another generation can soon call CSCC his alma mater. To that end, Bob has encouraged his grandson to dual enroll at Cleveland State when the time arrives. And while he may not hold an official political office at the time, Bob has something to say to those who do.

“I feel that community colleges are neglected by the states, and I think they need more funding,” Bob says. “Cleveland State’s graduates are good citizens who need the boost that the college provides. Without sufficient funding, however, it is getting harder for good people to get the solid start they need.”