Bob Jones University enters its 95th year and its 75th year in Greenville with major plans to continue serving its community. The University plans to complete 75 community service projects in honor of the anniversary during the 2021- 2022 academic year.
The types of planned projects vary widely, and the University is still identifying places to serve. Service projects in past years included places such as Piedmont Women’s Center, Phillis Wheatley Community Center and Miracle Hill Ministries.
David Lovegrove, Chief Marketing Officer for BJU, along with the Student Leadership Council is overseeing the projects. Some service projects will be completed by individual students from across the University, and residence halls and societies will choose their own projects.
Based in Greenville since 1947, BJU is a prominent contributor to the Greenville community. Randy Page, BJU’s chief of staff, said BJU is the only higher education institution in the City of Greenville. BJU is also one of the largest employers in Greenville County, with about 1,100 people employed by BJU, BJU Press or Bob Jones Academy.
Greenville Mayor Knox White recently praised BJU’s service mentality. “That’s what this community’s always really been about,” he said. “It’s about this University and the faculty and the administration, people coming here from all over the United States—all over the world, really—and playing a big role in the community.”
BJU’s community involvement has grown significantly in the past few years with the addition of the Center for Global Opportunities and its coordination and oversight of service and ministry projects.
BJU competes in intercollegiate athletics as an NCAA DIII school, which is also opening opportunities for athletes to serve in sports programs for neighborhood youth. The University is regionally accredited and recently joined a consortium of independent colleges and universities in South Carolina.
The University, then Bob Jones College, relocated to Greenville in 1947 when it outgrew its campus in Cleveland, Tennessee. Thousands of applications from returning soldiers, funded by the G.I. Bill, flooded BJC. The Cleveland campus had no room to expand and was surrounded by houses. BJC had to move.
Cities across the country invited BJC to come.
Dr. Bob Jones III, former university president and current chancellor, recounted that his grandfather, Bob Jones Sr. even visited Knoxville, Tennessee, to sign an option on some property. Right before signing, however, Jones Sr. received a phone call from E. Roy Stone at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. “[Stone] said, ‘don’t sign anything till you come over here,’” Jones said.
Jones Sr. traveled to Greenville to survey the land, a farm at the time, located on Highway 29. The fourlane highway ran from Washington, D.C., through Alabama, providing visibility and accessibility. “They called it a superhighway,” Jones said.
“The thing that tipped the scales to Greenville was those three men [from the Greenville Chamber of Commerce] said, ‘Dr. Jones, we need the Christian testimony of this school in our town.’ And that was the only town that made a Christian appeal,” Jones said.
Moving to Greenville required building 13 buildings in 18 months, an unprecedented project overseen by Dr. R. K. Johnson, university business manager.
The first students were treated to a campus devoid of decorative trees and shrubbery or even grass. Students trekked over boardwalk paths amid a sea of red mud.
Since then, BJU has overcome other challenges throughout its history. Founded in 1927, BJU struggled to survive through the Great Depression. At times, faculty members received $25 per month plus food—often garden produce given by families unable to pay with cash.
BJU’s financial struggles continued. Student tuition and room and board never covered operating costs. And unlike most colleges, BJU did not have an endowment safety net.
Nonetheless, BJU remains open, which Jones said is only because of the miraculous provision of God, for which he is grateful. “I think too much prosperity destroys the ability to live by faith,” Dr. Jones said.
However, after 75 years in Greenville and 95 years altogether, BJU remains committed to its founding principles. That endurance sets it apart from some colleges that have distanced themselves from their religious foundations.
Jones emphasized that faithfulness to scriptural truth has always taken precedence over enrollment numbers. “There doesn’t have to be a Bob Jones University,” he said. “But as long as there is one, it must be faithful to the Lord and to His purpose for which he called us into existence.”