The history behind Hoke O’Kelly

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Reinhardt’s Hoke O’Kelley Auditorium was a generous gift from a World War I and II veteran.

The Hoke O’Kelley Auditorium stands in the rear of the Burgess Administration Building on Reinhardt’s main campus. Like many buildings on campus, the auditorium is named after one of the university’s generous donors. Unlike most, its namesake had little to no connection to Reinhardt prior to donating.

Born in Loganville, Georgia in 1895, Hoke Smith O’Kelley was a devout Methodist who attended both North Georgia College and the University of Georgia. Library archives show he never attended Reinhardt itself. He served in both World Wars and would receive a posthumous Purple Heart, after nearly losing a foot to a landmine during the war, thanks to the efforts of his sister in 1984.

On the home front, O’Kelley would become best known as a politician and lawyer in his hometown of Loganville where he would eventually become mayor and have a public library named for him. Though he would later run for governor on five separate occasions, he never became a contender.

Reflecting his religious affiliations, O’Kelley donated sizable funds to Methodist education, lending his name to Emory’s Oxford campus library until a 2013 renovation, in addition to Reinhardt’s auditorium. Though the auditorium was first constructed alongside the administration building in the 1950s, the space gained his name following O’Kelley’s death in 1969.

“From the beginning in 1951 it was used both as a chapel and auditorium. I know at some point (maybe late 1970s or early 1980s) the Waleska United Methodist Church used it for services, but by the time I came in 1985 they were not using it regularly, and Hagen Chapel was built soon afterwards. The college used it for both campus-wide religious and secular programming on a regular basis until at least the mid-1990s when the student population grew too big to fit. At this time there were several required convocations each term. Up until that time, the seating was wooden pews.” said Reinhardt Historian and Librarian Joel Langford.

More than six decades since its construction, the Hoke O’Kelley auditorium continues to serve the students and faculty of Reinhardt University. Currently, the auditorium serves as a classroom, meeting room and occasional theater space for the campus.

Written and Photos by: Jacob Howard    Research provided by: Joel Langford, Reinhardt Historian and Librarian

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