Since its completion in 1963, the Cone University Center has been a gathering place for students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and guests. As such, it is fitting that the facility bears the name of Bonnie Ethel Cone, the beloved mathematics teacher and visionary administrator who, perhaps more than anyone else, is credited as UNC Charlotte’s founder.
Born June 22, 1907, in Lodge, S.C, “Miss Bonnie,” as she was affectionately called, taught high school in South Carolina for 12 years before moving to Charlotte's Central High School in 1940. A graduate of Coker College, Cone completed a master's degree in mathematics from Duke University. During World War II, she taught math to men enrolled in the navy’s V12 program at Duke University, and she spent a year working as a statistical analyst for the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
Cone’s background made her the perfect person to head one of the new extension centers established in the late 1940s to serve returning war veterans. Cone directed the Charlotte Center and signed on as a part-time instructor in engineering and math.
Always a firm believer that Charlotte needed a public university, Cone was determined to see one built in the Queen City. She helped turn the temporary veteran’s center into a permanent two-year college. In 1963, she played a key role in convincing the North Carolina General Assembly to make Charlotte College a part of the University of North Carolina system. On July 1, 1965, Bonnie Cone stood beside Gov. Dan Moore to ring the bell announcing the official creation of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“Miss Cone has provided the faith on which the college many times found its primary ability to exist,” said J. Murrey Atkins in a tribute. “She has stuck with it and never even thought of giving up when sometimes the sledding seemed pretty hard.”
Cone served as acting chancellor for nine months and remained committed and loyal to UNC Charlotte. She served as vice chancellor for student affairs and community relations until she retired in 1973. On June 29, as part of her retirement service, the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees named the University Center in her honor. In retirement, Cone continued to raise money and support the University until her death in 2003.