news-category: Founders Day

Gardner-Webb Founders Day Celebrates Contributions of University’s Visionary Leaders

family members of J.D. Huggins pose after the medal presentation
The family members of J.D. Huggins pose after the posthumous presentation of the Founders Medal. Holding the medals, are J.D.'s granddaughter, Rachel “Gin-G” Hedrick Edwards, left, and Teresa Huggins, whose husband, Sonny, was J.D.'s grandson.

J.D. Huggins Recognized Posthumously with Founders Medal

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Gardner-Webb University celebrated Founders Day on Nov. 30 by honoring the names and legacies of the persons and groups who played formative roles in the University’s development. The day of celebration was highlighted by the posthumous presentation of this year’s Founders Medal to J.D. Huggins, the first principal of Boiling Springs High School. Huggins, who was affectionately known as “Professor Huggins,” steadfastly lived his charge to care for the welfare, encouragement, and growth of the students.

Teresa Hamrick Huggins accepted the award on behalf of the Huggins family. Also attending the medal presentation was Rachel “Gin-G” Hedrick Edwards, the granddaughter of J.D. Huggins. Teresa Huggins, a 1962 alumna of GWU, is also a member of the Board of Trustees. Her late husband, Sonny, was also J.D. Huggins’ grandson.

Vice President of Advancement Nate Evans speaks with Teresa
Huggins, right, and Rachel “Gin-G” Hedrick Edwards at the Founders
Day Dinner and Medal Award Ceremony.

After presenting a brief biography of Huggins, Gardner-Webb President Dr. William M. Downs, summarized his impact, “J.D. dedicated his entire professional career to leading and serving our institution. In the classroom, he was known for being kind but firm. His desire was to see all students be successful and achieve their goals. Throughout his career he personally mentored countless students and encouraged them to follow their dreams. Huggins’ desire to build a community of learning and service at the school had an impact that extended across our region.”

Downs affirmed, “The effect J.D. Huggins had on Gardner-Webb University remains evident today. The granite arch that is still a part of our campus today has the words Pro Deo et Humanitate inscribed on it, the original motto of Boiling Springs High School from 1905. In the conference room of Webb Hall, a portrait of J.D. hangs on the wall. For us, it is a reminder of the vision, values and dedication of those who came before us. It underscores the importance of pausing each year on Founders Day to remind ourselves that we are stewards of an impressive and distinctive historical legacy. We do stand in awe of those who came before us.”

Accepting the Founders Medal, Teresa Huggins, talked about going through family memorabilia and looking at what others had said about Professor Huggins, “He was praised for his love and interest in students. One of his peers said, ‘Professor Huggins comes near of being like Christ than any man I’ve ever seen. He never boasts. He never makes a claim of honor for himself. He’s always the same, a good, patient, humble man.’”  

The family members of Seaton Allen Washburn, who gave the Washburn Building, which served as Gardner-Webb’s first library.
President Dr. William M. Downs speaks during
the historical marker ceremony at the
Washburn House.

Earlier in the day another founding family was recognized in a ceremony to place a historical marker at the Washburn House. Located at the corner of Huggins Street and West Branch Avenue, the Washburn House served as the first free-standing library on campus. Boiling Springs Baptist Church donated the land, and the Washburn family of Shelby provided monetary donations. The building was erected in 1940 and was dedicated during the 1943 commencement at which former Gov. O. Max Gardner was present. North Carolina’s Governor at that time, Joseph Broughton, was also at the dedication and provided the Commencement Address. The building was dedicated by Seaton Allen Washburn in memory of his wife, Mintie Hamrick Washburn, and his two daughters, Sarah Washburn and Mae Washburn McMurry. Each had passed prior to the dedication of the library.

Before Downs unveiled the marker with the help of Board of Trustees Chair Gary Smith, he stated, “By placing this historical marker here today, we recognize the indelible impact that Seaton Allen Washburn and his family had on this University.  Through their selfless contributions, their legacy has an enduring significance for all who walk our campus.”

Downs continued, “This marker is a public expression of our gratitude. Our university and our community are inspired by their generosity and we will continue to work together to sustain and build on their legacy.”

The Founders Day Historical Exhibit in the Dover Library Main Gallery will run through Jan. 30, 2024. University Archivist and Dean of the Library Dr. Natalie Edwards Bishop noted that they exhibit is designed to educate students, alumni, and the community on key figures who have had a lasting impact on the culture of Gardner-Webb. In addition to recognizing Huggins, the exhibit includes a special focus on founding students in GWU’s history. Bishop noted that this year the formation of the Student Government Association in 1943-1944 is highlighted. She added, “Formed by an inaugural group of 13 young women, SGA is one of the longest running student-led organizations on our campus.”

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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