History and Traditions
Lenoir-Rhyne University opened its doors in 1891 when four Lutheran pastors wanted to create a school for young people to receive a sound education based on religious principles and Christian values. The doors to the one-room school, then called Highland Academy, opened with 12 students.
In 1895, the college assumed its first official synodical sponsorship which continues today with the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The original property, a 56-acre tract one-mile north of the Hickory business district, was part of the estate of a Watauga County lawyer, Captain Walter Lenoir. Before he died in 1890, Captain Lenoir donated the land as a campus for a church-sponsored college. The school officially opened on September 1, 1891. It carried the name "Highland College," but four months later it was chartered under the name of Lenoir College in memory of the donor of the land. The college became Lenoir-Rhyne in 1923, in honor of Daniel E. Rhyne, a Lincoln County industrialist who boosted the endowment and other assets of the institution. The college was admitted into the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1928.
The end of World War II brought an influx of students, boosting enrollment from 407 in 1945 to 843 in 1947. In the late 1960s, the college initiated long-range plans to enrich the quality of its curricula and has never looked back. Major improvements in the academic calendar were implemented. New courses were offered and joint degree programs with other institutions were added. Student personnel services were expanded, new buildings were constructed and others were renovated. The campus almost doubled in size and endowment hit new highs.
Lenoir College is founded by four Lutheran pastors. From the beginning, it is co-educational, which is progressive for the time. The first college president is the Rev. Robert Anderson Yoder, who serves from 1891 to 1901. The college is named for Walter W. Lenoir, a Wilkes County lawyer and judge, who donated the property for the college in his will.
In 1926, Professor Pearl Setzer Deal created the Lenoir-Rhyne Playmakers. In January, 1927, a fire destroyed Old Main. Because insurance could not cover the loss, the College developed a bold funding drive to replace the administration building while also building a new women’s dormitory and a dining hall. The Hickory Daily Record assisted in the rebuilding efforts, calling on the public to donate books to replenish the College’s library. The community effort collected 8,715 books and $900 in cash. Ultimately more than 9,000 volumes are received. Later that year, Joe Bear, at the time a live animal, was introduced as the College mascot.
In 1928, Daniel Efird Rhyne, a Lutheran businessman from Lincoln County, gave $150,000 toward the College’s rebuilding effort. The Rhyne Building, one of the first new buildings, was named his honor. The name of the College was later changed to Lenoir-Rhyne College. 1928 also saw the completion of Mauney Hall, the new women’s residence hall named for the Jacob and Andrew Mauney families of Kings Mountain, who paid for its construction. Henry Owl, the first Cherokee to graduate from a North Carolina college, earned his degree in 1928.
By 1935, Professor Kenneth Lee began the now prestigious A Cappella Choir.
In 1942, The Carl Augustus Rudisill Library opened, the result of a generous $50,000 gift from the Cherryville textile executive and member of LR's Class of 1905.
On February 16, 1957, the first basketball game was played in the new Shuford Gymnasium. Construction of the gym was made possible by the generosity of A. Alex Shuford Jr. and Shuford Mills. The gym was built as part of Our Campaign for a Greater Lenoir-Rhyne, a $1.5 million fund-raising effort that included several buildings.
The Minges Science Building, named after the L.L. Minges family of Rocky Mount, opened in 1960. Also in 1960, the Bears Football team, under head coach Clarence Stasavich and assistant coaches Hanley Painter and Norman Punch, won the national championship. Later, in 1963, the Cromer Center opened, incorporating part of the original dining hall while also providing space for student activities. It is named for former LR President Voigt Cromer. Later that year, 1963 LR enrolled its first five African-American students during the summer session. Among them was Jerry Shaw, the first full-time black athlete at LR. After graduation, he became a member of the College’s student activities staff. Shaw Plaza and Shaw Center, home of the Black Student Alliance, are named in his memory.
The 1976 presidential election year brought President Gerald R. Ford and Presidential candidate Gov. Jimmy Carter to speak on campus in the P.E. Monroe Auditorium. In April of 1977, Pulitzer Prize-winner Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” spoke at Lenoir-Rhyne. Also in 1977, the College began its support services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students, designed to make a higher education more accessible.
In 2002, the Charles M. Snipes School of Business & Economics was the first school of the College to be named. It was named after banker and alumnus Charles Snipes ’58. The McCrorie Center opened later that year, and was named for alumnus Hank McCrorie ’60, who donated the naming gift.
2004 brought the renovation and dedication of Mauney-Schaeffer Conference Hall, as well as the establishment of the Thomas W. Reese Institute for Conservation Studies, which was established with a gift of $3 million from Thomas Reese ’48, owner of Hickory Printing Group.
In 2005, the iconic The Charge, a larger-than-life size statue of a black bear in attack stance, was installed on campus. The statue by noted sculptor John Phelps was a project of the Piedmont Educational Foundation/Bears Club.
John ’72 and Marilyn ’73 Moretz, two college alumni, gave the largest gift in the College’s history in 2007, totaling $5.1 million. This generous gift funded a nursing scholarship and improvements to athletic facilities. Later that year, the Board of Trustees appointed the Commission for Lenoir-Rhyne to study the future of the College. The Board also approved an aggressive plan for $50 million in expansion and improvements of LR’s physical facilities.
In March of 2008, the Board of Trustees approved the plan to transform Lenoir-Rhyne College into a university. Additionally, the Donald and Helen Schort School of Computing Sciences and Mathematics was established with a $2.5 million estate gift from the couple. In August of the same year, the first phase of the Moretz Sports – Athletic Complex was completed, including the Irwin Belk Track and a new soccer field. This was the first track and field complex in the College’s history. Also in August, students moved into the new Residential Village and the newly renovated Fritz-Conrad Residence Hall. On August 23, 2008, Lenoir-Rhyne University was officially created by a vote of the trustees.
The Solmaz Institute for Obesity was established in October 2009 with $3 million gift from Gungor and Diana Solmaz of Denver, N.C.
A generous gift from Irwin Belk gave the University a 12' tall statue of Martin Luther in October of 2010.
The merger between Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC and Lenoir-Rhyne University became official in July of 2012. In August of the same year, the LRU Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville opened its doors to students.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the construction of the new Chapel in March of 2013. Located in the heart of campus, Grace Chapel was dedicated on November 21, 2014.
The LR football team finished second in the NCAA Division II National Football Championship. The game, played on December 21, 2013 in Florence, Alabama, was televised live.
The University Rising campaign finished in March of 2015 with $66,662,000 raised. In August of the same year, the Minges Science Building addition held its groundbreaking. The addition was named Alex and Lee George Hall.