The college tried to downplay Shippy's presence. Bannerman was friends with the editor of the Asheville newspaper and asked him to keep it quiet "for safety, for Alma's safety and the students' safety," Mary Bannerman Wheeler said.
The first newspaper story about the school's integration appeared in September 1955. By then, Warren Wilson had five black students and its first black graduate, Georgia Powell, who had earned her associate's degree that spring. And by then, Shippy was long gone; he left after one year to earn money for his family, his brother Michael said.
He joined the Army, then moved to Indiana, where he married and had two daughters. Except for occasional correspondence with a few friends, Shippy vanished from Warren Wilson life until 1987.
Then, his marriage over, he returned to the Swannanoa Valley to care for his aging grandmother, going to work at a state-run long-term care facility. He again became active in his church and enthusiastically backed local youth sports teams, sitting behind the umpire at Little League games so he could cheer for both sides.
'One of you'
That's where Rodney Lytle first encountered the stranger who had a major impact on his life. A friend nudged him and pointed to Shippy. "He's one of you," she said.
Lytle was confused. He had two cousins who attended Warren Wilson in 1959 and knew blacks had gone there for years, well before it became a four-year college in 1967, well before he met his wife there, earned his degree, got his job.
But he had never seen this older man or heard the name Alma Shippy. He walked over and struck up a conversation, "and from that moment on we were friends."
Lytle became Shippy's champion, determined not only to commemorate his accomplishment but to help him live a more comfortable life.
Though Warren Wilson had long required students to complete service projects to graduate, no one had done anything to help its first black student.
A pair of students organized a crew to fix Shippy's house. In 1994, the college included Shippy in the centennial celebration of its original farm school. And eight years later, on the 50th anniversary of his enrollment, the board of trustees passed a proclamation honoring Shippy, Bannerman, Lail, Jensen and all those involved.
Shippy had prepared a three-page speech, but when he stood to read it, the pages rattled in his shaking hands, Lytle said. He took his seat again and began to cry.
"I can't say anything," he told Lytle. "I'm overwhelmed."
In early December, his friends gathered once more, crowding into the college chapel for a memorial service, a few days after Shippy's death at 72. They are determined that it will not be the last time the school marks his memory.
One former classmate has proposed a scholarship in Shippy's name. Shippy's family, Lytle and other college officials are discussing a permanent memorial -- a marker, or perhaps a tree -- for Shippy and all those who welcomed him into their lives not because of a court order, but as a matter of fairness and faith.
"This group of people at Warren Wilson College was open-minded and willing to accept Alma not as a colored guy, like they called us then," Michael Shippy said. "They accepted him as a man."