RU celebrates 101 years of history, local heritage

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Travis Handy

Courtney Earll - The Tartan

Radford University celebrated Charter Day on Wednesday, March 30, 2011, recognizing RU’s 101st anniversary. Members of the surrounding community were also in attendance for the celebration and to witness the commemoration of Lovely Mount Baptist Church, one of the first African American churches in the area.

The day’s special events began with a reception in the Douglas and Beatrice Covington Center for the Performing Arts to welcome faculty, staff, students and guests of the university.

The gathering moved into the Covington Center performance hall, where RU President Penelope Kyle welcomed the guests and introduced the RU men’s choir and members of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, who started off the event with the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The anthem was followed by an invocation delivered by Reverend Corwin Coles Casey, pastor of Radford’s First Baptist Church.

RU President Penelope Kyle spoke about the significance of the day and the process that brought the dedication of an historic landmark onto RU’s campus; a process that began more than a year ago during the planning of RU’s centennial celebration.

Nathan L. Bishop, a Radford alumnus who is now the president of the Jefferson College of Health Sciences, delivered the keynote address. He shared stories about the experiences that led to his success and the pride he takes in his history and roots in the New River Valley. Much of his address was about giving back to the community.

“All of us can mentor,” Bishop said. “That’s the gift we can bring. Each of us in our own way can make a difference.”

Sarah Carter, a local historian and member of RU’s African American History Task Force, was credited by Kyle as a driving force in bringing to light the connection between the university and the church that was commemorated that day.  Carter is also a member of First Baptist Church.

“I would like to thank the university and President Kyle for embracing us and helping us move forward for this day to exist,” Carter said.

Carter gave an account of the history of Lovely Mount Baptist church, which later became known as First Baptist Church. The church had a humble beginning on Rock Rd. in 1869, and relocated to Fairfax St. in 1898, near the site where Peters Hall is now located.  The church was torn down in 1961 in order to expand Peters Hall.

After the university bought the church on Fairfax, the congregation relocated to West St. and within the coming weeks they will move once again to their new location, back on Rock Rd.

Due to the weather, the dedication of the marker was moved indoors, where a likeness of the marker was unveiled before the audience.

“The most impressive thing about this marker is the sheer number of people who came together to make it happen,” said Thomas Klatka, a representative of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “This is a story of great historical significance and we are grateful to help tell it.”

One particularly special guest at the celebration was Walter A. Price, Jr., a 92-year-old local resident who grew up attending Lovely Mount Baptist Church.

“At 92 years old, I’m so glad to be able to be here and see this happen,” Price said.

The historical marker is located outside Peters Hall, near the original site of the Lovely Mount church.

“We have made a lot of friends through the centennial process,” Kyle said. “We are going to continue working with the local groups and supporting them and having them support us.”

Kyle stressed the importance of the surrounding community to the university, and vice versa.

“I’m sure the students recognize that we have strong relationships with everyone in this community,” Kyle said. “Radford University is special in that the campus community and our larger community are almost one in the same and I think we all work together extraordinarily well.”

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