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History & 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 Walter W. Lenoir. Before he died in 1890, 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 the endowment hit new highs.

LR Timeline


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.

1900 - 1919

Robert Fritz became the college’s second president in 1901. On March 13, 1919, he resigned as president, closing out a tenure of 18 years, 7 months, and 11 days ­– the longest in school history.

In the summer of 1903, Fritz selected the school colors (garnet and black) and the motto “Veritas vos Liberabit” (the truth shall set you free, from John 8).

In 1903, the college started a baseball team, its first intercollegiate sport. Two years later, it fielded its first intercollegiate football team.

The college awarded its first honorary doctorates in 1907.

A proposal for a college yearbook was made to faculty at its meeting on January 22, 1909. A name for the publication – HACAWA, meaning Halls, Campus, Walls – was decided on February 12, 1909. The name was proposed by Fritz, who later wrote, “The jobs, successes, pleasures, victories – and failures – were deeply within their three never-to-be-forgotten realms – Halls, Campus, Walls!”

At the 1915 banquet, the alumni association selected Virginia pastor A.L. Boliek to speak. Boliek was the first alumnus to have a son graduate from Lenoir. His son, Leo L. Boliek, received his degree the same week to become the college’s first “grandson.”

Librarian John C. Seegers, Jr., wrote the alma mater “Fair Star of Caroline” in 1917.

1920 - 1939

The 1924 baseball team inspired the nickname of “Bears.” A Raleigh News & Observer sportswriter, reporting on the team’s 22-7 win over Atlantic Christian College in Wilson on April 9, observed that “after a slow start, the Lenoir-Rhyne team came charging out of the dugout like mountain bears charging forth from their haunts in the Western North Carolina mountains.”

In 1926, Professor Pearl Setzer Deal created the Lenoir-Rhyne Playmakers. In January 1927, a fire destroyed Old Main, the administration building. Because insurance could not cover the loss, the college developed a bold funding drive to replace the building, while also constructing 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 E. 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.

Henry M. Owl, a baseball star, graduated in 1928. Owl was the first American Indian to graduate from a North Carolina college.

In 1935, Professor Kenneth Lee began the A Cappella Choir.

1940 - 1959

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 fundraising effort that included several buildings.

1960 - 1979

The Minges Science Building, named after the L.L. Minges family of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, 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.

During the 1965 academic year, Raymond M. Bost became Lenoir-Rhyne’s first full-time academic dean and served in that position until his election as president in 1968. Bost’s successor, Albert B. Anderson, assumed the presidential duties on September 13, 1976 and was the first non-clergyman to serve as president.

The Greek Awards were founded in 1966 by Dr. Ellis Boatmon, a history professor, to recognize achievements of fraternity and sorority members.

In 1968, Gloria Ann Sudderth became the first African-American to graduate from Lenoir-Rhyne.

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, 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 1976, the board restored the hyphen to the name Lenoir-Rhyne after 50 years of debating the topic. During the Bost administration, the cause was renewed by Orestes P. Rhyne, who later became known as the “Hero of the Hyphen” by challenging the institution to take action with an offer of $5,000 to the endowment fund on the table. The board accepted his offer and the hyphenated name became official in the spring of 1976.

The Lenoir-Rhyne Sports Hall of Fame was endorsed in late 1976 by the board of trustees to “recognize and perpetuate the noteworthy athletic tradition of Lenoir-Rhyne College by honoring and memorializing individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to this tradition.”

In April 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 higher education more accessible.

In 1977, Alfred Chine was the first foreign Student Government Association president. Chine was a political science major from Auka, Nigeria.

1980 - 1999

Sen. George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nominee, spoke at Lenoir-Rhyne in 1981.

On November 14, 1988, English professor Dr. Rand Brandes began the Visiting Writers Series, with Paul Muldoon serving as the first visiting writer.

In the Shuford Gymnasium on a steamy August day in 1990 at 10 am, Dr. Gunnar Stålsett, General Secretary of the World Lutheran Federation in Geneva, Switzerland, officially opened the Lenoir-Rhyne College centennial year.

To encourage and support student travel, Lenoir-Rhyne opened the office of international education in 1991.

In 1995, Natalie Daniel earned First Team All-American honors in soccer – the first woman to do so in Lenoir-Rhyne’s history.

The scared music program began in 1996 and the newly formed Lenoir-Rhyne Youth Chorus has its inaugural performance in April 1997.

2000 - 2010

Lenoir-Rhyne’s Friends of Music was established in 2000 to support performing arts on campus and in the community.

On September 22, 2000, ground was broken for the McCrorie Center – a 33,500 square-foot building designed to house health science programs and provide athletic spaces.

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 2004, Hands on Hickory, a community service program for incoming freshman was launched by the Office of Student Life.

In 2005, The Charge, the iconic 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 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 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, North Carolina.

2010 - Present

A generous gift from Irwin Belk gave the University a 12 foot tall statue of Martin Luther in October of 2010. The statue is believed to be the largest statue of Martin Luther in the world.

The merger between Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina and Lenoir-Rhyne University became official in July 2012. In August of the same year, the LRU Center for Graduate Studies in Asheville, North Carolina opened its doors to students.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the construction of the new chapel in March 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 by ESPN.

The University Rising campaign finished in March 2015 with $66 million raised. In August of the same year, the Minges Science Building addition held its groundbreaking. The addition was named Alex and Lee George Hall.

The 2015 academic year marked the 125th anniversary of the institution. "A Fair Star Rises" was produced to commemorate the tradition and history of our campus community.

In January 2016, Lenoir-Rhyne opened its doors to the new Wayne B. Powell Health Sciences Center and welcomed its inaugural class for the Physician Assistant Studies Program.

Kim Pate was named the director of intercollegiate athletics on March 1, 2016. She replaced Neill McGeachy, who resigned after 14 years of service.

President Donald Trump visited LR's campus in March 2016 while campaigning for the 2016 presidential election. Although LR endorses no political candidates, the institution is founded on principles that firmly support open civil discourse and the free exchange of ideas.

In the fall of 2016, the Spirt of LR Marching Band took the field for the first time since the early 1990s. Neil Underwood was appointed as the band's director.

Community members joined LR officials at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Occupational Therapy building at the Center for Graduate Studies of Columbia in November 2016.

Dr. Frederick K. Whitt and his wife, Donna, are welcomed to Lenoir-Rhyne's campus in February 2017. Whitt was named the 12th president of the University.

LRU debuted a digital version of Profile Magazine in the fall of 2017. The digital magazine is an interactive storytelling experience that combines all the benefits of the print edition while blending text, photography, and video in a beautifully designed and responsive format.

On April 12, 2018, LRU held an inaugural Giving Day Challenge prompting dedicated alumni, faculty, staff, students, and community partners to give more than $97,000 to the institution.

The first cohort for the Family Nurse Practitioner/Doctorate of Nursing Practice, LRU's first doctoral program, began in August 2018.

The 30th anniversary of the Visiting Writers Series was celebrated during the 2018 academic year.

In May 2018, men's lacrosse advanced to the NCAA DII Men's Lacrosse National Championship Semifinal game. Head Coach Greg Paradine was also named the National Division II Coach of the Year for the 2018 season,

In December 2018, LRU broke ground for the Neill McGeachy Sports Performance Center. The facility will feature 14,000 square feet of new and enhanced multiuse training space, a weight room, nutrition bar and indoor turf training area, enhanced team meeting spaces, additional coaches offices, and a covered pavilion for Bears Club hospitality and engagement space.