Kennedy Building honors University’s ‘spiritual father’

Monday, October 1, 2012

The W.A. Kennedy Building was one of the first two facilities on campus. Designed by A. G. Odell Jr., the architect of Ovens Auditorium and Bojangles Coliseum, the building was named for Woodford A. “Woody” Kennedy. Sometimes called the “spiritual father of Charlotte College,” Kennedy was a member of the first advisory board of the institution in 1947. He was named to its eight-member board two years later. Without Kennedy’s perseverance, Charlotte College likely would have remained a two-year community college.

Kennedy believed that Charlotte deserved and needed a great university. He stated that a thousand additional high school graduates could go to college each year if the opportunities available in other parts of the state were available in Charlotte. With a zeal he once termed an obsession, Kennedy worked tirelessly to raise money and support to make that happen.

He encountered a lack of support among many of Charlotte’s business executives and disinterest from politicians. His rhetoric sometimes became strident, characterizing critics of the project as naysayers and deriding the state’s support as a ‘sop.’

At the time, the school operated with a part-time faculty who taught in part-time classrooms, and it was financed almost entirely by tuition paid by student loans until Kennedy pushed for and obtained the initial state funding in 1955.

As a member of the college’s site selection committee, he searched for a scenic location with room for growth and expansion; the committee ultimately settled on the present location of the UNC Charlotte campus. He told reporters, “I may not but you will live to see 10,000 students at Charlotte College.”

The statement proved prophetic. Kennedy died on May 11, 1958, the eve of his installation as a trustee of Charlotte Community College. But his contribution was not forgotten. The trustees proposed that the first building on the new campus be named for him. The building was dedicated on Feb. 16, 1962.

When Kennedy Building first opened, it housed science laboratories (chemistry, physics, biology and geology), as well as labs for a variety of engineering courses. There were 10 classrooms, 12 faculty offices and a lecture room with elevated seating for 100. The building also served as a temporary library; its first floor contained 18,000 volumes while Atkins Library was being built.

Today, Kennedy Building houses primarily administrative offices for  Information Technology Services.

Atkins Library Special Collections contributed information to this article.