category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Dr. Franki Bailey Burch

Professor Emerita of Education

A portrait photo of Franki Burch
Franki Burch

During her 26 years at Gardner-Webb University, Dr. Franki Bailey Burch, was a faculty member, dean of Graduate Studies and associate provost for Professional and Graduate Studies. She retired in 2023 as coordinator of the Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership program and was named Professor Emerita of Education. The daughter of Elizabeth “Betty” Flanagan and Rodger Francis Bailey, Burch was born on Feb. 24, 1958, in Glenn Mills, Pa.

She played lacrosse in high school and at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. Because of her passion for physical fitness, exercise, and function of the musculoskeletal system, she considered pursuing a career in orthopedic medicine. However, raising a family was important to her, so she chose athletic training instead. In this field, she would still have an opportunity to work with athletes, but experience a better work-life balance.

Burch majored in health, physical education, and recreation and dance at Lock Haven with an emphasis on Sports Medicine. “At that time, athletic training wasn’t a designated major, students did apprenticeships with the athletic trainers,” she noted.

She obtained her national certification as an athletic trainer in 1980. Burch had been offered a graduate assistantship at Columbia in New York when her mentor at Lock Haven received a call from the athletic trainer at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, who was president of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). He was looking for a graduate assistant. Burch decided to forego the Columbia position, because she believed that learning and networking under the NATA president was a better move for her career.

Burch’s decision to go to Eastern Kentucky was life changing. There, she was introduced to Chuck Burch, and they were married on Aug. 7, 1982. Chuck served over 25 years as Gardner-Webb vice president for Athletics and was named Athletic Director Emeritus in 2023.

Before their wedding, Chuck accepted a position at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., as assistant director of Sports Information. He received several promotions at Liberty and was the director of Athletics there in 1996, when he was hired by Gardner-Webb.

While they were still at Eastern Kentucky, Franki had decided that her passion was more for teaching health education than athletic training. In Lynchburg, she taught elementary physical education and started working on her doctorate in health education/health promotion at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.

Franki Burch receives an honor at the commencement in 2022
Dean of the College of Education Dr. Prince Bull honored Dr. Franki Burch at the College of Education’s graduate recognition ceremony in 2023.

In 1983, she was hired as an assistant professor of health and physical education at Liberty, where she taught until 1988, when the couple’s first child, Travis, was born. “I taught one more year after he was born and then stayed home for 14 years — my greatest privilege in life,” she affirmed. “Then, when we moved to Boiling Springs, I taught adjunctively for a couple of years before joining the GWU faculty full-time in 2000.”

Franki loved the faculty position and her department. Many of her former students went on to work as physical therapists or athletic trainers. One of those students, Dr. Jonathan Ahearn, joined the faculty at Gardner-Webb in the exercise science program.

In 2007, when the Department of Exercise Science was created, Burch was asked to step into the role of dean of the Graduate school. After the death of Dr. Gayle Bolt Price in 2012, Burch was named associate provost for Professional and Graduate Studies.

When she accepted the position, Burch stated, “I support and value the mission of the institution and hope I can make a significant contribution to advancing the academic excellence and service commitment of Gardner-Webb. It is, however, with mixed emotions that I assume this role. Former Associate Provost Dr. Gayle Price was my mentor and friend, and I would trade it all in a second to have her back with us. It is my commitment to the Gardner-Webb community and to the memory of Dr. Price to lead with a spirit of kindness and integrity.”

Franki Burch at commencement in 2017
Dr. Franki Burch at commencement in 2017

While she was associate provost, four notable graduate programs were started by the University: Physican Assistant Studies, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Master of Business Administration, and Doctor of Business Administration. Burch began working long hours to make sure each program received national accreditation and highly-qualified faculty and staff.

Burch missed the interaction with the students. In 2017, she went back to teaching and was named coordinator for the Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership program. Chuck was recovering from a serious accident, and she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. The slower pace allowed them both time to recuperate. She stayed in this position until her retirement in 2023.

After retirement, Franki and Chuck have remained in Boiling Springs and are enjoying spending more time with their grandchildren.

Sources: Personal Interview by Jackie Bridges (2023), GWU files

Posted: January 2024

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