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Liberty, Lynchburg College friendly neighbors in higher education

September 19, 2012 : By Mitzi Bible/Liberty University News Service

Liberty's founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr., attended Lynchburg College for two years in the early 1950s. It was founded in 1903.

Long before there was Liberty University, there was Lynchburg College.

In 1903, Lynchburg College was founded as Virginia Christian College by Dr. Josephus Hopwood, a pioneer in Christian coeducation. It is the second-oldest college in Virginia to be founded as a coeducational institution and has maintained its association with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). With its rich history, Lynchburg College, a fellow nonprofit, has helped change and mold the identity of Lynchburg and impact scores of students across generations. In 1952, it impacted one individual who would eventually found a neighboring college that is now the world’s largest Christian university.

Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr., attended Lynchburg College for two years in the early 1950s to study journalism. College life was good to him — he excelled in academics, making the dean’s list and winning a Mathematics Student of the Year Award. When he became a Christian through listening to a radio broadcast during his second year at LC, he felt the call to train for ministry and transferred to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.

That early connection with LC, though, helped strike up a relationship that has grown over the years. Today the two colleges work together to ensure they are meeting the needs of students seeking quality, value-driven higher education in Central Virginia.

Lynchburg College President Dr. Kenneth Garren, now in his 12th year, recalls meeting Falwell, Sr. a few years into his job at LC.

“On my first visit to Liberty University, when Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Sr. heard that I was on campus, he made a special effort to come to the office where I was visiting the president, escort me to his museum and give me a personal tour, and it all concluded by giving me an autographed copy of his book. We continued to have meetings. When I needed something, he was very helpful to me,” Garren said.

That book, Falwell’s autobiography, is a staple in Garren’s office, and he is quick to point out to visitors his favorite quote of Falwell’s printed in the back: “God has a vision for you. Don’t settle for second best. Don’t ever retire. Don’t ever quit. Let your vision become an obsessive reality.”

“I know it (the vision) became that (an obsessive reality) for him and it is for me at my position here at Lynchburg College,” Garren said. “I always want us to be the very best and strive for the very best, so I find the quote very inspirational.”

Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. (left) and his wife, Becki, with Sheila Garren and Dr. Kenneth Garren, president of Lynchburg College, in the Falwells' skybox during a Liberty football game at Williams Stadium.

The two became friends, continuing to work together on community boards and sharing thoughts as their colleges embarked on new programs or building projects.

Garren said he enjoys being able to continue that relationship with Liberty’s current Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell, Jr.

“Jerry and I work well together and we look for opportunities of collaboration and mutual support. He is a really bright guy, not one who looks for publicity, but one who is a strong leader, is very candid and open, and has a tremendously good heart,” Garren said.

Falwell said since he became chancellor, Garren “has gone out of his way to befriend me and to share his wisdom that was gleaned from a lifetime of experience in higher education administration.”

He said his wife, Becki, admires Garren’s wife, Sheila, “as a first lady who is active, visible, and supportive of her husband’s presidency.”

The Falwells and Garrens have gotten to know each other’s families. The Garrens have been guests at the Falwells’ skybox for a Liberty football game. The Falwells have been praying for the Garrens’ grandson, Garren Snow, a 12-year-old from Salem, Va., during his recovery from a MRSA infection in his leg that could have taken his life. The two presidents served together on the Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce board and have attended Town and Gown meetings, quarterly gatherings of city leaders and administrators from the city’s colleges. At a Town and Gown meeting in July 2011, Falwell presented Garren a 1907 Lynchburg College Argonaut yearbook, the college’s oldest yearbook. It was found in some boxes at the Jerry Falwell Museum on Liberty’s campus.

Garren said when he speaks to alumni or travels outside Lynchburg, people often ask him generally about the relationship between the two institutions — and there’s a lot to tell.

Most recently, Liberty came to the rescue of LC students who were left without power after a severe windstorm tore through the campus in July, during some of the hottest temperatures Central Virginia saw this summer. Garren said he immediately thought to contact his friend, Falwell, Jr., who was already mobilizing staff at Liberty to open the school’s doors to the community. Liberty did not lose power, and its facilities, including the dining hall and laundry locations, were made available to the public. LC students stayed in Liberty residence halls until power could be restored to LC. The storm significantly damaged or completely destroyed 94 trees across LC’s campus. At one point, power lines were down on three sides on the perimeter of the campus.

“It’s really great to have that kind of relationship, when you can pick up the phone and call somebody and either offer help or ask for help,” Garren said.

LC has also been on the giving end. In the spring, it granted Liberty permission to install microwave antennas on Schewel Hall, allowing Liberty to boost its Internet connectivity in the area. The agreement cited that LC and Liberty “have a mutual interest in serving the educational needs of the Lynchburg community. Therefore it is fitting that both institutions cooperate, when possible, to further the interests of higher education.”

Garren sees more room for collaboration as LC expands its Burton Student Center beginning in August 2014, with plans for a veterans lounge that could be used by Liberty veterans as well. Garren, who has had an extensive military career himself, recently toured Liberty’s Military Affairs Office with other members of LC administration to learn how Liberty is reaching out to its online military students and veterans.

In turn, developers of Liberty’s new observatory being planned on Liberty Mountain visited the Belk Astronomical Observatory at LC where they collaborated with experts there and drew inspiration for much of its own design.

The crossover between the institutions can also be seen at some of the colleges’ extracurricular events. The LC and Liberty women’s soccer teams have played each other for a fundraiser, and the club lacrosse teams have also faced off in spirited play. LC’s indoor track and field programs have used Liberty’s indoor track facilities and in turn Liberty has used LC’s outdoor track for events. Musical ensembles from the two colleges have combined their talent for LC’s popular “A Night at the Movies” event in the spring.

Several Liberty University alumni are now in Lynchburg College's new Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. Pictured left to right: Wade Roberts, Juliana Ospiana, Dr. Rusty Smith (director), and Joanna Zipperer.

The collaboration extends into academics as well. One example can be seen firsthand at LC’s new Doctor of Physical Therapy facility, where several Liberty graduates are enrolled in each of the three classes. Chancellor Falwell toured the facility in 2011.

“I was very impressed with the state-of-the-art facility. After seeing it, we made a decision not to include a DPT program in our new School of Health Sciences. We decided that, instead of competing with LC for the limited number of PT internships in the area, we would recommend LC’s DPT program to our graduates and focus our efforts in other graduate health programs,” Falwell said.

Caleb Kauffmann, a second-year DPT student and Liberty alumnus with a degree in exercise science, enrolled with three other Liberty graduates.

“Liberty prepared me for it most of the way — it was a good fit,” he said.

Already used to calling Lynchburg their home, Liberty graduates in the DPT program said the transition was a smooth one and they have felt welcomed by LC.

On a recent tour of the DPT facility, located on Lakeside Drive, Garren pointed out the state-of-the-art equipment, from the expansive anatomy labs, a free clinic, and a lab with the latest in motion-analysis computer technology. A professor commented that all of it impressed him when he first came to interview. Garren didn’t hesitate, but with a wink, said, “that’s what that quote is about, of Dr. Falwell’s, we want to be the best at what we’re doing.”