category: Faculty Emeriti - Presidents

E. Eugene Poston

Eighth President, 1961-1976

Before becoming the eighth president of Gardner-Webb, Dr. Eugene Poston had served as chairman of the religion department of the College. Dr. Phil Elliott had announced that he would retire on Aug. 1, 1961. A selection committee had recommended to the trustees that Poston become president upon Elliott’s retirement. The trustees unanimously approved the recommendation; however, with the sudden death of Elliott on April 4, 1961, Poston immediately assumed the position.

Poston (1918-2003) had been a busy man for many years. While a student at Shelby (N.C.) High School, he had worked an eight-hour shift at Dover (later Doran) Mill. While a student at Gardner-Webb, he continued his work at the mill. While a student at Wake Forest College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he served as pastor of several churches. After graduation from the seminary, he served as pastor of a number of churches before coming to Gardner-Webb from the pastorate of the First Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Ga.

Poston was a very active and energetic president at Gardner-Webb. During his administration, the college grew in many ways, including the size of the campus and the size of the student body. Poston also promoted spiritual growth among students, faculty, and staff. Often when he spoke, he emphasized that the purpose of the school was “…to develop quality Christian students.”

Soon after assuming the responsibilities of the presidency, Poston presented the trustees with his plan for the Decade of Advance: 1961-1971. The following goals were set to be reached by 1971:

  • To enroll a student body of 1,000
  • To enlist a faculty of 75
  • To reach an endowment of 
$3 million
  • To build the following buildings: 
chapel, auditorium, classroom building, fine arts building, campus center, four dormitories, and a stadium
  • To reach senior college status 

As was true with many of Poston’s projections for the school, the College did become a four-year school, graduating the first class as a four-year college in May of 1971. The change in status from a junior college to a senior college has been considered as one of the most
 significant events in the history of the school.

During the 1960s, riots
 and protest movements
 relating to the Vietnam
 War and the Civil
 Rights movement were 
prevalent on many
 campuses. Early in his
 presidency, Poston and
 the trustees issued
 statements explaining
 some of the activities that would not be tolerated on campus—violence or force in connection with protests and heckling of speakers. Poston and his assistant, Mr. Thomas McGraw, sought strict disciplinarians to oversee student activities. Partly because of this code of conduct, the campus was basically free from riots and other disturbances during this period. It was during the Poston administration that African-American students were admitted to Gardner-Webb for the first time. In his inaugural address, Poston commented that the school must be open to students of all races.

Intercollegiate sports received much attention and brought much publicity to the school during the Poston presidency. Norman Harris coached football, baseball, and basketball. Then Eddie Holbrook came as basketball coach and Jerry Bryson came as baseball coach. The basketball teams had high-percentage winning seasons and were nationally-recognized during the Holbrook era. Some of the basketball players went on to professional basketball careers like Artis Gilmore, John Drew, and George Adams. It was also during this time that Gardner-Webb would establish itself as a Golf national powerhouse (with two NAIA National Championships). 

Poston had a close relationship with the Dover family, and the Dovers increased their contributions to Gardner-Webb. Among the buildings built during the Poston presidency were the John R. Dover Memorial Library, Charles I. Dover Jr. Memorial Chapel, Charles I. Dover Campus Center, Lutz-Yelton Hall, Mauney Hall, Myers Hall, Nanney Hall, Ernest W. Spangler Stadium, and Spangler Hall for men.

Several significant academic programs were started or strengthened during this period. These included computer programs, nursing programs, and programs for the sight impaired and the deaf and hard of hearing communities.

After leaving Gardner-Webb, Poston entered the business world as well as serving in many areas of education, and was a long-time Rotarian. He lived in Boiling Springs during his retirement. Poston passed away in July 28, 2003.

Source: Personal Interview

– Lansford Jolley

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