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During the early nineteenth century, Catawba County
’s Lutheran population sought to establish a school in the area. However, it was not until the close of the century when Catawba citizens received a academic institution. In 1891, four Lutheran pastors opened a one-room school, the Highland Academy in the town of Hickory. According to the Lenoir-Rhyne web page, the original school was founded so “young people could receive a sound education based on religious principles and Christian values” (History of Lenoir-Rhyne University
The land that Highland Academy rested upon was donated by a Watauga County
attorney, Walter W. Lenoir. Although the original Highland College opened September 1, 1891, four months after the school started it became known as Lenoir College in honor of Walter Lenoir. Reverend Robert Yoder, one of the founding members of Highland Academy, served as the school’s first president until 1901. Some of the early accomplishments of Lenoir College was the addition of baseball (1903) and football (1907) as part of the school’s extracurricular programs.
As the college continued to grow and as construction of a gymnasium occurred in the early 1920s, Lenoir College experienced a lack of funds due to its building program. The school needed a new library and residence hall, and someone to fund the project. The college’s deliver was Daniel E. Rhyne, a wealthy Lincoln County
businessman and textile manufacturer. Rhyne gave $200,000 to the school if the trustees would be able to match his gift; eventually the school was able to garner $850,000. In honor of the the benefactor, the school changed its name to Lenoir-Rhyne College in 1924.
Following World War II, Lenoir-Rhyne’s enrollment increased as many other universities such as UNC-Wilmington brought in servicemen and women students. In response to the growing number of students, the college expanded in the late 1950s and later in the 1970s. Some improvements included the construction of the Shuford Gymnasium in 1957 and Support Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students opens in 1977 to allow more students the opportunity to attend the college.
Since its inception, the school has remained dedicated to its Lutheran background. Having entered a sponsorship with the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the year 1895, Lenoir-Rhyne’s mission statement centers on a service to God and the world. According to the university’s website the school remains “open to people from all religious backgrounds” (The Low-Down on L-R
Some important events exist in Lenoir-Rhyne’s history. The first Cherokee to graduate from a North Carolina higher education was Henry Owl; he graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne in 1928. In the year 1960, the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears football team won the NCAA Division II national championship. Lenoir-Rhyne College became Lenoir-Rhyne University in 2008.
Lenoir-Rhyne University enrolls almost 1,900 students and the school offers some 60 different majors in science, liberal arts, and preprofessional programs. The school boasts in a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and Lenoir-Rhyne offers 50 different clubs and organizations to its students.
“Lenoir-Rhyne College.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“Lenoir Rhyne.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed February 1, 2012).
“History of Lenoir-Rhyne University and The Low-Down on L-R.” Lenoir-Rhyne University website. http://www.lr.edu/visitors/history-of-lenoir-rhyne, (accessed February 1, 2012).
By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project
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