History of Lenoir-Rhyne University

Old MainThe dream of Lenoir-Rhyne began in 1891 when four Lutheran pastors created a school where young people could 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 opened 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 it 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 and new buildings constructed and others renovated. The campus almost doubled in size and endowment hit new highs.


1891- 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.

1903 – The college starts a baseball team, its first intercollegiate sport.

1907 – The college fields its first intercollegiate football team.

1926 – Professor Pearl Setzer Deal begins the Lenoir-Rhyne Playmakers.

Jan. 6, 1927 – A fire destroys Old Main, a building that includes classrooms, the college library, an auditorium and administrative offices. The insurance is not enough to rebuild.

Jan. 7, 1927 - The college develops a bold strategy. It will start a fund drive to replace the administration building and also build a new women’s dormitory and a dining hall.

Jan. 10, 1927 – The Hickory Daily Record calls on the public to donate books to replenish the college’s library. This community effort meets with a great response, collecting 8,715 books and $900 in cash. Ultimately more than 9,000 volumes are received.

1927 – Joe Bear, at the time a live animal, is introduced as the college mascot.

1928 – Daniel Efird Rhyne, a Lutheran businessman from Lincoln County, gives $150,000 toward the college’s rebuilding effort. The Rhyne Building, one of the first new buildings, is named his honor. The name of the college is later changed to Lenoir-Rhyne College.

1928 – Mauney Hall is completed. The new women’s residence hall is named for the Jacob and Andrew Mauney families of Kings Mountain, who paid for its construction.

1928 – Henry Owl becomes the first Cherokee to graduate from a North Carolina college.

1935 – Professor Kenneth Lee begins the A Cappella Choir.

1942 – The Carl Augustus Rudisill Library opens, the result of a gift of $50,000 from the Cherryville textile executive and L-R alumnus (Class of 1905).

Feb. 16, 1957 – The first basketball game is 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.

1960 – The Minges Science Building opens. It is named for the L.L. Minges family of Rocky Mount.

1963 – The Cromer Center opens. It incorporates part of the original dining hall and also provides space for student activities. It is named for L-R President Voigt Cromer.

1963 – L-R enrolls its first five African-American students during the summer session. Among them is Jerry Shaw, the first full-time black athlete at L-R. After graduation, he becomes a member of the college’s student activities staff. Shaw Plaza and Shaw Center (home of the Black Student Alliance) are later named in his memory.

1960 – The Bears Football Team, under head coach Clarence Stasavich and assistant coaches Hanley Painter and Norman Punch, wins the national championship in its division.

1976 – In this presidential election year, President Gerald R. Ford and presidential candidate Gov. Jimmy Carter speak on campus in the P.E. Monroe Auditorium.

April 25, 1977 – Pulitzer Prize-winner Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” speaks at Lenoir-Rhyne.

1977 – The college begins its Support Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students, designed to make a higher education more accessible.

1981 – Sen. George McGovern speaks at Lenoir-Rhyne. McGovern had been the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 1972.

Nov. 14, 1988 – Dr. Rand Brandes, a recently hired English professor, begins The Visiting Writers Series. Paul Muldoon is the first visiting writer.

2002 – The Charles M. Snipes School of Business is the first school of the college to be named. It is named after banker and alumnus Charles Snipes ’58.

2002 – The McCrorie Center opens. It is named for alumnus Hank McCrorie ’60, who donates the naming gift.

Oct. 1, 2004 – The renovated Mauney-Schaeffer Conference Hall is dedicated.

November 2004 – The Thomas W. Reese Institute for Conservation Studies is established with a gift of $3 million from Thomas Reese ’48, owner of Hickory Printing Group.

2005The Charge, a larger-than-life size statue of a black bear in attack stance, is installed on campus. The statue by noted sculptor John Phelps is a project of the Piedmont Educational Foundation/Bears Club.

2007 – John ’72 and Marilyn ’73 Moretz, two college alumni, give the largest gift in the college’s history, $5.1 million. It will be used for a nursing scholarship and improvements to athletic facilities.

November 2007 – The Board of Trustees appoints the Commission for Lenoir-Rhyne to study the future of the college. The board also approves an aggressive plan for $50 million in expansion and improvement of L-R’s physical facilities.

March 2008 – The Board of Trustees receives the report of the commission and approves the plan to transform Lenoir-Rhyne College into a university.

March 2008 – The Donald and Helen Schort School of Computing Sciences and Mathematics is established with a $2.5 million estate gift from the couple.

August 2008 – The first phase of the Moretz Sports – Athletic Complex is completed, including the Irwin Belk Track and a new soccer field. This is the first track and field complex in the college’s history.

August 2008 – Students move into the new Residential Village on campus and the newly renovated Fritz-Conrad Residence Hall.

Aug. 23, 2008 – Lenoir-Rhyne University is officially created by a vote of the trustees. A celebratory event follows.

October 2009 - Solmaz Institute for Obesity established with $3 million gift from Gungor and Diana Solmaz of Denver, N.C.

October 2010 - A 12' tall statue of Martin Luther is installed on campus, a gift from Irwin Belk.

July 2012 - The merger between Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (Columbia, SC) and Lenoir-Rhyne University becomes official.

August 2012 - The LRU Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville opens its doors to students.

March 2013 - A groundbreaking ceremony is held for the construction of the new Chapel, located in the heart of campus.




Take Charge
of Tomorrow
Apply Today