In 1955, a citizens’ group in Fayetteville, North Carolina, began discussing the possibility of bringing a private college to the city. The Presbyterian Synod of North Carolina had just announced plans to build a four-year college somewhere in eastern North Carolina, and many local leaders were hopeful that Fayetteville could attract that institution. After the Presbyterians selected Laurinburg as the site for their new college, the mayor of Fayetteville appointed the "Fayetteville College Steering Committee" to formulate a proposal for bringing a Methodist college to town.
The Fayetteville (later Methodist) College Foundation was created to secure pledges of land and money. During 1956, Fayetteville attorney Terry Sanford and other foundation leaders met with Bishop Paul Garber of the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church and his cabinet and formally invited the conference to establish a four-year, coeducational college in Fayetteville. The group pledged 600 acres of land, $2 million for initial construction of the campus, $50,000 annually for sustaining funds, and city utilities as well as police and fire protection for the site. Bishop Garber’s Long Range Planning Committee voted to accept the Fayetteville group’s offer and a similar offer from Rocky Mount; the committee also proposed to move Louisburg College to Rocky Mount and convert it into a four-year college.
At a special session May 14, 1956, the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church formally accepted the Fayetteville group’s offer, voting to build senior colleges in Fayetteville and Rocky Mount and to retain Louisburg College as a junior college. As part of its plan for expanding higher education, the North Carolina Conference also voted to launch a $5 million fund drive to build the two new colleges and help Louisburg; each of the two new senior colleges was to receive $2 million toward initial construction.
In July 1956, a Methodist College Board of Trustees was organized, and Fayetteville attorney Terry Sanford was elected board chairman. Methodist College was chartered by the state of North Carolina November 1, 1956 as a senior, coeducational, residential college of liberal arts and sciences.
In June 1957, the trustees named L. Stacy Weaver, superintendent of the Durham City Schools and an active Methodist lay leader, the first president of Methodist College. The trustees adopted as the college motto Veritas et Virtus, Latin for "Truth and Virtue." Seeking a thoroughly "modern" look, the trustees retained the architectural firm of Stevens and Wilkinson of Atlanta to design the campus. The end result was a campus consisting of three terraced, interlocking malls and contemporary buildings with vaulted roofs and masonry sunscreens. Site preparation for the campus and construction of the first four buildings began in the fall of 1958.
In September 1960, Methodist College opened for business with 88 full-time students, 12 faculty members and four buildings: the Classroom Building, the Student Union, the Science Building, and the Boiler Plant. Construction continued. Three apartment buildings (temporary residence halls) and a temporary gymnasium were built in 1961 and 1962. During 1963 and 1964, the Yarborough Bell Tower, Davis Memorial Library, and four large residence halls (Cumberland, Garber, Sanford and Weaver) were completed.
Intercollegiate sports began in the fall of 1963. As a member of the Dixie Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Methodist initially fielded teams in cross country, golf, basketball, bowling, tennis, adding soccer, wrestling, track and field and baseball over the next six years. Methodist was affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (N.A.I.A.) before joining Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (N.C.A.A.).
Methodist achieved important academic goals by graduating its first class of 43 students in May 1964 and receiving full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in November 1966.
Enrollment grew steadily in the sixties, reaching a peak of 1,069 in 1967-68. New facilities were added, including the Reeves Auditorium/Fine Arts Building, Horner Administration Building, and an addition to the Student Union in 1967-68. The Fleishman Fountain and Hensdale Chapel were built in 1969.
Although enrollment had declined as the College began its second decade, its programs and facilities continued to expand. O'Hanlon Amphitheater was built in 1971, and Shelley Baseball Field was completed and dedicated in 1974. In the early 1970s, majors in art and physical education were added
In June 1973, President Stacy Weaver retired. He was succeeded by Dr. Richard Pearce, vice president and dean at Florida Southern College. One of Dr. Pearce’s first acts was to distribute a statement of principles to the trustees and the college staff and students; therein he declared that the college would honor its church-affiliation by strictly enforcing rules against substance abuse. In response to the Arab oil embargo and soaring energy prices, Dr. Pearce had the college boilers converted from fuel oil to natural gas, installed new energy-efficient lighting, and took other energy conservation measures.
Declining enrollment, which bottomed out at 610 in 1973, forced the college to lay off faculty and staff, borrow from local banks for current operations, and default on federal loans used to build the first four residence halls. For most of the 1970s, the residence halls were only half-filled, housing as few as 250 students at one point. In 1974, as part of an effort to enhance residential life and retain more resident students, President Pearce approved the establishment of fraternities and sororities and the hiring of a full-time director for the Student Union.
In 1975, a president’s home was built on campus and the college launched an evening program. In 1976, Methodist was designated an American Bicentennial campus, and a gift from Mrs. Karl Berns provided a Schantz pipe organ for Hensdale Chapel. During the next two years, the road between Cumberland Hall and the Student Union was paved; the soccer field was enlarged and a track laid around it.
An Army ROTC program was added in 1977. In 1978, Methodist College began offering associate or two-year degrees. By 1979, enrollment had increased to 990, but only 360 students were living on a campus designed to house 600. Over the next four years enrollment declined to 771, putting further strain on the college's finances.
When President Pearce retired in 1983, the college trustees appointed Dr. M. Elton Hendricks, academic dean at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, to be the third president of Methodist College. A year later enrollment in the day program reached 760, showing a 15 percent increase over the preceding year. Women's soccer was added to the intercollegiate athletic program in 1984.
In March 1986, Methodist College established the Charles M. Reeves School of Business to honor a Sanford, North Carolina businessman, trustee, and benefactor. The Reeves School of Business established a concentration in Professional Golf Management in 1986 and a similar program in Professional Tennis Management the following year.
By the fall of 1986, enrollment had grown to 1,375 students for the day and evening programs combined. In 1986. the college established an Honor Code, began waiving tuition for senior citizens, and launched a capital campaign to raise $3.5 million to build a physical activities center, the March F. Riddle Center, which opened in January 1990. In 1988, the trustees approved the addition of football to the Methodist athletic program (beginning in 1989) and the college held a ribbon-cutting and open house for the restored Mallett-Rogers House art gallery. A golf driving range, eight tennis courts and nine golf holes were built between 1988 and 1993.
Methodist College began the 1990-91 school year with an enrollment of 1,447—969 day students and 343 evening students. Increased enrollment provided new opportunities. New majors were announced in International Relations and Criminal Justice. A mentor/tutoring program was started in the fall of 1991. In May 1992, the college contracted with EUA/Highland Partners for a $1.5 million, two-year energy savings plan involving installation of new heating and lighting systems with electronic controls. The large boilers at the boiler plant were phased out. After the new systems went on-line in 1994, the college realized a 34 percent reduction in annual energy costs. A four-year project to replace underground electric cables was completed.
In June 1993, the Methodist College Board of Trustees approved a series of important planning recommendations presented by a Strategic Concepts Committee appointed by the president. Projecting "at least 2,000 students" by the year 2000, the committee recommended that the college borrow funds to build additional residence halls over the next five years to accommodate 300 new resident students and that the college undertake a major capital campaign "of at least ten million dollars" for increasing the endowment and constructing a library addition, a new academic building, and a science building.
In 1994 the Methodist College Board of Trustees agreed to lease 30 acres of campus land (for a token fee) to a local non-profit group for construction of a youth soccer complex consisting of eight fields.
In the summer of 1994, the state attorney general's office authorized the establishment of a campus police department at Methodist College, giving certified and sworn officers full arrest powers. In the fall of 1994, a new residence hall for women opened behind Garber Hall. The college launched a $6.5 million Expanding the Vision capital campaign to build an annex to the library, a math and computer science building, and a new academic building.
Methodist College began the 1994-95 school year with a record enrollment of 1,826 students—1,237 in the day program and 589 in the Evening College. In 1995, the college announced it would launch a Physician Assistant program in 1996. The Lura Tally Center for Leadership Development was established, allowing students to earn an interdisciplinary minor in leadership over a four-year period.
During 1995-96, West Hall (for males) was opened and the main entrance to the campus was realigned to meet a proposed stoplight. The Methodist College Development Corporation was chartered and granted a 50-year lease of 22 acres of college land (south and east of the main entrance) for development of the College Centre Office Park.
In the summer of 1996, Methodist College dedicated the new Richard L. Player Golf and Tennis Learning Center. Joe W. Stout Hall, housing Enrollment Services, opened during the spring of 1997, followed quickly by the Medical Science Building. The Math and Computer Science Building opened in the summer of 1997. The second nine holes of the college golf course were completed during the summer of 1998.
In 1999-2000, Walter and Margaret Clark Hall and the Library Annex opened. Fall 2000 saw the completion of Cape Fear Commons, the college’s first apartment-style, co-educational, residence hall. Fall 2001 brought a record enrollment of 2,143, the enrollment of ten students in the College’s first graduate program, a Master of Medical Science (Physician Assistant Studies) program, and the renovation of a brick home (dubbed Union Station) to house the Student Government Association, student activities personnel, and a coffee house. Union Station was renamed Chris’s House in 2004, in memory of Chris Ryan, director of student activities from 1989-2003.
The Methodist College Mace is a 21st century Graduation tradition.
In the spring of 2002, Methodist fielded its first women’s lacrosse team. In May 2002, the College announced the “Seeds on Good Soil, A New Season” campaign, a three-year effort to raise $11 million: $5 million to build an addition to the Science Building, $3.5 million to build a fitness and wellness center, $1.5 million for operating expenses, and $1 million for the College endowment. Cape Fear Commons II, a second apartment-style residence hall, was completed and occupied in the fall of 2002.
In December 2003, Methodist awarded its first master’s degrees to seven graduates of the physician assistant program. In 2004, the college changed its academic structure by creating six schools, each with its own dean. In 2005, the College launched the Professional MBA at Pinehurst, a weekend program taught in cooperation with the nearby Pinehurst Resort. In 2006, a Master of Justice Administration weekend program was established at the N. C. Criminal Justice Academy in Salemburg, N.C.
In the fall of 2005, the college received a $550,000 challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation toward construction of the Science Building addition, and construction began on the Science Building addition, the fitness and wellness center, and Creekside Apartments. Helped by four $1 million gifts between 2003 and 2006, the “Seeds on Good Soil, A New Season” campaign exceeded its revised goal by $1.5 million, reaching a grand total of $14.7 million in gifts and pledges. Creekside Apartments opened in August 2006, bringing total residential capacity to 956 students. On November 1, 2006, the 50th anniversary of Methodist College, Dr. Hendricks announced that by a unanimous vote of the trustees, the College would change its name to Methodist University.
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