As alumni filled in the front rows of Union University’s G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel Friday morning, some joked that when they were students they gravitated toward the back. Alongside hundreds of current students, they sang the same congregational hymns they sang during the campus dedication service in 1975: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”
Union celebrated Founder’s Day and the 40th anniversary of the campus move from downtown to North Jackson. Bob Agee, vice president for institutional advancement, remembers playing a key role in the campus relocation alongside then President Robert Craig. The executive cabinet worked to adapt students to the new campus and form its early days well, he said.
“I think part of the reason I was brought on in 1975 was because they needed young backs,” he said. “We packed up and moved the campus. The idea of relocating a 150-year-old campus was crazy to some people.”
Soon after Craig became president, he launched an effort to buy a piece of land in North Jackson. What he lacked in resources, he made up for in vision, Agee said. A dream became a reality as students started classes in the new space.
The future ministers, doctors, lawyers, scholars and CEOs in those classrooms were shaped with the potential to be more than they ever dreamed possible, Agee said. Within five years, Union became the fastest growing private university in the Southeast.
Agee urged students to learn, grow and dream during their time at Union so they can become part of the legacy of alumni not just making a living but making a difference.
“There’s more to this than a history lesson, I assure you,” Agee told students. “I want you to know that Union is a place that nurtures dreamers and visionaries.”
President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver hosted a reception honoring the class of 1976, the first to graduate on the new campus.
Deborah Murray, class of 1976, remembers climbing countless flights of stairs as an art student before the campus installed elevators. Sitting in the university’s recently opened $20 million library, she said a lot has changed.
“Be prayerful and see where God leads you,” Murray offered as advice to current students. “Make your mind up you’ll stick to it no matter how hard it gets.”
Charles Baldwin said when he joined Union’s faculty as a chemistry professor in 1970, he didn’t look much older than the students. One of his fondest memories from his early years was playing pool with his students.
Alumnus Richard England of Henderson said he will always admire the “wonderful faculty” he studied music under. The development of the campus in the last 40 years is amazing, he said.
“Everything was under one roof when we came,” he said. “For us, everything started here.”