category: Faculty Emeriti - Presidents

A. Frank Bonner

Twelfth President, 2005-2019

Born in Durham, N.C. (May 18, 1947), Frank Bonner grew up in Greenville, S.C. The son of Francis Wesley Bonner and Nilaouise Carnes Bonner, he was raised in a college environment, almost literally in the shadows of the campus of Furman University.

His father served Furman for more than 30 years in various roles including professor, chief academic officer and vice president and provost. “My parents instilled in me the values I still hold dear. To this day, my father was for me the model of everything that a teacher, academic leader and university administrator should be.”

Bonner graduated in 1969 from Furman with a BA degree in English. Coincidentally, his major professor was Dr. Phil L. Elliott, son of the legendary president of Gardner-Webb from 1943 until 1961, Phillip Lovin Elliott. After Furman, Bonner earned the MA from the University of Georgia in 1971, and the PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977. His specialty was Victorian literature, primarily the poetry of Alfred Tennyson, and eighteenth century British literature, with a special interest in Jonathan Swift.

Bonner is married to the former Florence Delle Black (Flossie), also a Furman graduate and a native of Chester, S.C. They have two daughters, Alison Bonner Dalton and Florence Bonner Crawford.

In 1974 Bonner began his academic career as a faculty member at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C. He was particularly active in civic life in Anderson, most notably as chairman of the Board of Trustees for Anderson County School District Five. Bonner was assigned various administrative responsibilities at Anderson University and prior to coming to Gardner-Webb was associate dean for Special Programs and was president of the Greater Anderson Rotary Club.

He came to Gardner-Webb in June 1987 as vice president and dean of Academic Affairs before becoming vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, and then provost and senior vice president. He was elected the 12th president of Gardner-Webb in May 2005 and began work in that position on July 1.

In his inaugural address, Bonner identified his goals for the University, including improving academic quality, committing to a Christian foundation, striving to be student centered, strengthening athletic programs, and continuing to foster campus life and community. Bonner stated, “I envision Gardner-Webb as a highly respected leader in Christian higher education—and even widely regarded as one of the very finest Christian universities in the nation. It will be the graduates of Gardner-Webb who will bring about that reputation through their character, their accomplishments, and their service.”

During his time in the greater Gardner-Webb community, he served as chair of the Board of Directors of the Cleveland County Chamber and president of Cleveland Tomorrow and Shelby Rotary. He also served on several boards, including United Way, YMCA, and Communities in Schools. He has served as a Sunday School teacher and deacon at First Baptist Church, Shelby, N.C. Bonner is also a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

In his academic professional life, he served on numerous accreditation committees, most of those as chair, for the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. He has also chaired four recertification visiting committees for the NCAA, and in 2017, he was appointed to the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. He also served on the NCAA Board of Directors and the Division I Committee on Academics. In addition, Bonner was a member of the Executive Committee of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU). He was also a past president of the Big South Conference and a former chair of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities.

Numerous accomplishments were made during Bonner’s tenure as President of Gardner- Webb: record enrollments; the Higher Ground strategic plan; the largest fund-raising campaign in the institution’s history, which raised $46 million in contributions; a strengthened financial position of the University from 2005 to 2014, with endowment increased by over 88 percent and net assets increased by over 94 percent; the largest donations by living individuals in GWU’s history; a new relationship with the North Carolina Baptist State Convention; establishment of the Undergraduate Research Program (supported by an endowed fund); establishment of an endowed fund to support the Joyce Compton Brown Lecture Series; the Interdisciplinary Studies program; establishment of the summer study abroad program; and the expansion of Service Learning.

Major beautification and improvements to campus facilities took place during his presidency, including the construction of 110,000-square-foot Tucker Student Center, Frank Nanney Hall, John Henry Moss Baseball Stadium, the Science Laboratory Center, the Bridges Gate, Brinkley Softball Stadium, and several residence halls, along with the purchases of the Charlotte Center and the Crawley Hospital facility now in use for the College of Health Sciences.

Under Bonner’s watch, the following new academic schools and programs were launched: the School of Psychology and Counseling, Doctor of Educational Leadership, Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling, Doctor of Education, School of Performing and Visual Arts, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Family Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistant, Accelerated Pastoral Ministries Program, the naming of the Hunt School of Nursing, and the naming of the School of Business—the Godbold School of Business. The following centers and offices were established: the Center for Innovative Leadership Development, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, the Center for Continuing Professional Education, the Center for Christian Ethics and Social Responsibility, the Student Leadership Development Program, the Office of Community Engagement, and the Office of Christian Life and Service.

Dr. Frank Bonner listens during a ceremony to rename and dedicate the Frank and Flossie Football Center/Athletics Facility when they retired from their roles as President and First Lady of Gardner-Webb University.

During Bonner’s presidency, Gardner-Webb maintained all national accreditations and attained the national accreditation of CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) while earning several national recognitions. Those include: The University’s Online Graduate Business Program ranked No. 1 in the nation for “Student Services and Technology” by U.S. News and World Report.Gardner-Webb steadily moved up in U.S. News rankings. Core curriculum ranked in the nation’s top two percent for quality and breadth by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). GWU was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll from 2008 to 2015 for engaging in service that achieves measurable results in the community. The University was recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 schools for mobilizing student missionaries through the North American Mission Board and awarded the Courts Redford Award for Excellence in Student Mobilization.

During his tenure, the men’s soccer team achieved Gardner-Webb’s first appearance and first victory in NCAA Division I post-season competition. On Nov. 7, 2007, the men’s basketball team defeated the nationally-ranked University of Kentucky in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

In 2011, the Lady Bulldogs women’s basketball team won the Big South Conference tournament and appeared in the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament. That same year, the University was represented in Washington, D.C., as part of its participation in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

Prior to his retirement, the Gardner-Webb football complex was named in honor of Bonner and his wife, Flossie. 

Dr. Frank Bonner smiles during his retirement celebration.

Bonner said many times that he believed “the best days are ahead for Gardner-Webb. We must strive to really reach the full potential of this institution,” Bonner asserted. “Although we have made some great progress, we’re not there yet. This university has unlimited potential. It’s got all the right ingredients. It’s got all the right people, the right purpose, the right mission, all the right programs, a beautiful campus and infrastructure, facilities (and more). We will never stop improving and growing. It will take commitment from everyone who loves Gardner-Webb to ensure that we live up to our potential.”

Sources:

University files, Gardner-Webb The Magazine, Dr. and Mrs. Bonner (1st edition); Doris Banner and Darlene Gravett (2nd edition)

Updated: Matt Renfer, 2015

Updated: Professor Emeritus Frank Bonner Biography, 2019

Updated: Noel T. Manning II, December, 2022

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