Our Story

History & Traditions

The university opened the doors to its one-room school, known then as Highland Academy, in 1891 with 12 students.

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.

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.

Name Origins

Four months into being known as Highland College, the school was chartered under the name of Lenoir College in memory of Walter W. Lenoir and his donation of the land. In 1923, the college became Lenoir-Rhyne, 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.

School Growth

With the end of World War II came 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. Some of major improvements included changes to the academic calendar, 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.

In March 2008, the board of trustees for the college approved the plan to transform Lenoir-Rhyne College into a Lenoir-Rhyne University. This name change came to help better reflect the growth being made in enrollment, faculty and staff.

Lenoir-Rhyne University Today

Lenoir-Rhyne University has developed into a nationally recognized liberal arts university of choice – with nearly 2,700 students and 140 full-time faculty.

The university has reached new heights in education and continues to provide an intimate class atmosphere for our students to become passionate leaders of tomorrow.

Today, more than 130 years after its founding, Lenoir-Rhyne continues to follow the heart of its mission – as a community, helping students in the pursuit of becoming a whole person who promote responsible leadership and are clarified in personal faith.

Lenoir-Rhyne Through the Years

Explore Lenoir-Rhyne's past, traditions and highlights as shaped by students, faculty, staff and alumni.

  • 2010-Present

    Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University announced accreditation had been reaffirmed by the Association of Theological Schools for 10 years.

    To support campus safety, Lenoir-Rhyne University partnered with the City of Hickory to place officers from the Hickory Police Department on campus full-time beginning in February. Other recent collaborations include improved crosswalks and enhanced lighting around campus.

    To provide transformational opportunities for students and enhance the previous academic structure, LR reorganized to a six-college format.

    The Graduate School announced record enrollment for 2020-21 with 903 students officially enrolled.

    LR launched the Lenoir-Rhyne Equity and Diversity Institute certificate program. A 30-hour program, LREDI provides participants 16 hours of coursework focused on leadership with 12 additional hours of strategy geared toward company-specific solutions. It culminates in a session that allows participants to explore equity as it relates to real-life scenarios.

    The Doctor of Nursing Practice program received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education for a five-year term.

    To offer half-off tuition statewide, the university expanded its Catawba County Promise program to provide the same tuition benefits statewide. Now called Lenoir-Rhyne Promise, the program, which covers tuition only, applies to new and full-time undergraduate students starting fall 2020.

    On April 12, 2018, LR held an inaugural Giving Day Challenge, Bears Have Heart, 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, LR'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.

    The freshman class of more than 500 was the largest class in LR history.

    Launched Catawba County Promise, an innovative program to provide a minimum of 50 percent off tuition for any first-year undergraduate student with a 3.5 or higher high school GPA who is a Catawba County resident or to a transfer undergraduate student from Catawba County with more than 30 attempted hours from an accredited college and a 3.5 GPA.

    In December 2018, LR 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.

    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.

    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 spirit 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.

    The University Rising campaign finished in March 2015 with $66 million raised.

    In August, 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.

    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 merger between Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina and Lenoir-Rhyne University became official in July 2012.

    In August, the LRU Center for Graduate Studies in Asheville, North Carolina opened its doors to students.

    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.

  • 2000-2010

    The Solmaz Institute for Obesity was established in October 2009 with $3 million gift from Gungor and Diana Solmaz of Denver, North Carolina.

    In March 2008, the board of trustees approved the plan to transform Lenoir-Rhyne College into a university. On August 23, 2008, Lenoir-Rhyne University was officially approved.

    The Donald and Helen Schort School of Computing Sciences and Mathematics was established with a $2.5 million estate gift from the couple.

    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.

    Students moved into the new Residential Village and the newly renovated Fritz-Conrad Residence Hall.

    John ’72 and Marilyn ’73 Moretz gave the largest gift in the college’s history, 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.

    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.

    Renovations and dedication of Mauney-Schaeffer Conference Hall.

    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.

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

    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.

    Lenoir-Rhyne’s Friends of Music was established 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, named for alumnus Hank McCrorie ’60, who donated the naming gift.

  • 1980-1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 1960-1979

    In April 1977, Pulitzer Prize-winner Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” spoke at Lenoir-Rhyne.

    The College began its support services for deaf and hard of hearing students, designed to make higher education more accessible.

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

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

    President Gerald R. Ford and presidential candidate Gov. Jimmy Carter spoke on campus in the P.E. Monroe Auditorium.

    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.

    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.”

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

    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 Cromer Center opened, incorporating part of the original dining hall, while also providing space for student activities. It is named for former Lenoir-Rhyne President Voigt Cromer.

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

    The Bears football team, under head coach Clarence Stasavich and assistant coaches Hanley Painter and Norman Punch, won the national championship.

  • 1940-1959

    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.

    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.

  • 1920-1939

    Professor Kenneth Lee began the A Cappella Choir.

    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 in his honor. The name of the college was later changed to Lenoir-Rhyne College to reflect his contributions.

    Mauney Hall, the new women’s residence hall named for the Jacob and Andrew Mauney families of Kings Mountain, who paid for its construction, was completed.

    Henry Owl, the first Cherokee to graduate from a North Carolina college, earned his degree.

    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.

    Joe Bear, at the time a live animal, was introduced as the college mascot.

    Professor Pearl Setzer Deal created the Lenoir-Rhyne Playmakers.

    A Raleigh News & Observer sportswriter, reporting on the 1924 Lenoir College baseball 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.” The nickname bears stuck after that.

  • 1900-1919

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

    At the annual banquet, the alumni association selected as speaker Virginia pastor A.L. Boliek, who 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.”

    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!”

    The college awarded its first honorary doctorates.

    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).

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

    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.

  • 1891-1900

    Highland Academy was founded by four Lutheran pastors and opened as a co-educational place of higher learning. The doors opened on September 1, 1891 with a student enrollment of 12.

    Four months into its founding, the college was renamed to Lenoir College in honor of Walter W. Lenoir, a Wilkes County lawyer and judge, who donated the property for the college in his will.

    The first college president was the Rev. Robert Anderson Yoder, who served from 1891 to 1901.

    The college assumed its first official synodical sponsorship (which continues today) with the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

News & Events

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