By David Rogers. September 8, 2017. HICKORY, NC — Dr. Fred Whitt may very well have gone down different paths since his boyhood days fishing along the banks of Dutchman’s Creek in the shadow of Mount Holly Cotton Mill, but just about everything in his life seems to now be pointing him down his current path as the twelfth President of Lenoir-Rhyne University.
“L-R,” a moniker to which the university is colloquially referred, is now celebrating its 126th anniversary since being founded in 1891 on 56 acres just north of Hickory’s business district by Captain Walter Lenoir. It is sometimes easy to forget the people and events that have gone before that shape an institution, but Whitt isn’t one of them. Advising the estimated 1,500 listeners attending the inauguration ceremony to, figuratively, remember the “well diggers” who made possible the water they are now drinking, Whitt embraced the history and traditions of the Lutheran Church-rooted university — even outlining many of the school’s major events and accomplishments over the years — while extending the promise of even better days yet to come.
Ms. Margaret Jackson (Class of ’69) was speaking on behalf the Lenoir-Rhyne alumni in telling the dignitary-filled crowd that she had the pleasure of serving as Secretary of the L-R Board of Trustees and also was a member of the Presidential Search Committee. She described Whitt as “authentic,” “genuine,” and “sincere,” character traits that were evident from the very first interview. “When he entered the room,” Jackson recalled, “he took the time to greet every one of us personally and knew something about each of us.”
Jackson said that Whitt’s engaging personality was also evident in the many times he is seen eating with students in the campus dining hall, which prompted Whitt, sitting behind her, to rub his stomach and break into a big smile.
That cotton mill on Dutchman’s Creek where Whitt fished as a boy? It turns out that Daniel Rhyne, a Lincoln County-based industrialist, built and owned that Mt. Holly Cotton Mill, the same fellow of Lutheran faith who committed substantial financial resources to the school around 1928 and after whom the college added his name in honor of his largesse.
And Whitt’s mentor when he was teaching at Kennesaw State University was Dr. Betty Siegel, the first woman president in the Georgia state university system. Her first professorship was at Lenoir-Rhyne College, dating all the way back to 1956.
Whitt is the former founding Dean of the Appalachian State University Beaver College of Health Sciences, a post he gave up this past February to become President of Lenoir-Rhyne University. Ms. Jackson noted, “Fred wasn’t looking for a new job. He wasn’t looking for us, but we were looking for him.”
Dozens of Blowing Rock and High Country residents were on hand for Whitt’s “blessing” in the campus’ Grace Chapel and, later, made the short trek over to the P.E. Monroe Auditorium. With wife Donna, Whitt was once active in Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church of Blowing Rock, so many in the audience were on hand as friends to participate in the celebration. Former associates on the faculty and staff of Appalachian State University, including university leadership, were in attendance, too. Almost 100 colleges and universities were represented by faculty members, chancellors, college presidents, or distinguished alumni, in addition to the Lenoir-Rhyne faculty members, all wearing their respective alma mater’s robes and regalia.
Choirs sang, bands played, and the student body president solemnly rang the university bell. Hickory City Council member Brad Lail presented Whitt with a symbolic “key to the city” — of course made out of hickory wood in a Hickory woodworking shop.
While he has been on the job since February, Friday’s official inauguration of Dr. Fred Whitt as President of Lenoir-Rhyne University was a big occasion, with an appropriate amount of pomp and circumstance.
Looking down on his family in the front row of the auditorium, Whitt reported that this is the first time they had all been together in several years. One son and his wife and young offspring came all the way from Nepal for this occasion.
“This event is a lot like planning a wedding,” Whitt observed to a chuckling audience. “But I look at it not really to be about me, but a celebration of Lenoir-Rhyne University….I am beyond excited about this extraordinary opportunity at Lenoir-Rhyne. I have always had great respect for this university. The bedrock principles that are unique to Lenoir-Rhyne are values I enthusiastically embrace and support. I welcome this incredible opportunity to work with faculty, staff, students, alumni and the greater community to advance the strategic plan of Lenoir-Rhyne and lead the University to an even higher level of excellence.”
Dr. Whitt earned his Doctorate from the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) and his Master of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees from Appalachian State University. Prior to joining Appalachian State as the founding Dean of the Beaver College of Health Sciences, he served as the Dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences at Georgia Southern University from 1992 to 2010 and has held academic administrative appointments at Kennesaw State University (GA) and Coker College (SC).
A native of NC, Whitt grew up in Mt. Holly. His wife, Donna, is also a North Carolina native and a nurse educator. They have been married for 39 years and are the proud parents of two adult married sons, Matthew and Daniel. In his spare time, Whitt enjoys landscaping and yardwork, music, the arts, following college sports, and spending time with family.
About the installation of Whitt as the 12th President, Boyd George, Chairman of the L-R Board of Trustees and Chief Executive Officer of Alex Lee, Inc., noted, “Dr. Whitt has the talent, experience, and enthusiasm to lead Lenoir-Rhyne to new levels of achievement. I am excited by the potential growth (of the university) under his leadership and look forward to what the future will bring.”