On a sun-kissed day, delegates of the school and comrades of former President J.R. Burgess gathered outside of the Burgess Administration Building to formally re-dedicate the building and re-hang the Burgess’ portraits inside. For the first time in many years, the Burgess name was added to the stately building at the front of campus.
The ribbon cutting ceremony followed brief speeches. Dr. Burgess (1944-1973) was honored through the memories of the contributors he impacted.
The ceremony started with a word of prayer from President Kina Mallard. After the prayer she introduced top contributors of the school such as Dr. Floyd Falany and Mr. Billy Hasty, chairman of the Reinhardt Board of Trustees, who told of their fond recollections of President Burgess and his contributions to Reinhardt University.
Tim Norton, vice president for advancement and marketing, remembered Dr. Burgess and his wife, Martha, as being quiet and having integrity. Norton spoke with high regard about how the Burgesses were sincere and got along with the students of Reinhardt.
Past President Dr. Floyd Falany spoke of Dr. Burgess’ contribution to Reinhardt that students, visitors, faculty and staff still enjoy about the campus. He joyously recalled of how President Burgess planted all of the trees and plants at Reinhardt and gave them their scientific and common names – now known as the Burgess Arboretum. President Burgess paved the way for students at Reinhardt to have an education because he was the deciding vote to keep Reinhardt open.
“Rowland cast the vote to keep the school open,” said Falany.
Through the last speaker, Dr. Ken Wheeler, professor of history, the audience learned that Dr. Burgess became the president when there were no paved roads in Waleska. The admissions building used to be the president’s home and most of the beautiful pieces of work enjoyed today, like the library, were built by President Burgess and his family. Wheeler also explained how the then-struggling university was kept up alive by the checks given by Dr. Samuel Dobbs, for whom the science building is named.
“The school ran on a shoestring,” said Wheeler.
Reinhardt continued to expand as veterans came because of the GI Bill. In 1954, when the Brown vs. Board of Education law was passed, President Burgess created an integrated Reinhardt. President Burgess went to a local high school and accepted an African-American student (Jay Jordan) who they handpicked to attend Reinhardt in 1966.
His children were overjoyed at this occasion that honored their father, his legacy and all of his successes.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Martha Burgess Blanton, the Burgess’ daughter. “I am glad for their pictures to be put back in the foyer.”
Dr. and Mrs. Burgess’ portraits had been hung in the administration building and were taken down in previous years. On Friday, the pictures were re-hung where they belong inside the administration bearing Dr. Burgess’ name.
“We are so pleased at the strong encouragement of Martha Burgess Blanton who is right here. … And to once again be able to place the portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Burgess inside the lobby,” said Norton.
“I am glad, glad that the photos are back in the administration building,” said Jim Burgess, the Burgess’ son.
Jim Burgess further explained the heart of his father when he said that he loved all types of people. His father went to school and befriended African-Americans, which explained why he stood up for the rights of African-Americans to have an education, by integrating Reinhardt.
In the hearts of his family, associates and all who knew President Burgess, he was a poet, a beloved President of Reinhardt and a man who left a lasting legacy that will pave the way for generations.
Written By: Deborah Dahn. Photos By: Jeff Reed, RU Marketing Dept.