The University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College has achieved several accomplishments since first opening in 1876. To commemorate the dedication put into building and opening the institution, and the people who have helped it to thrive along the way, Rio hosted its annual Founders’ Day celebration. This year, Founders’ Day took place two days short of the 142st anniversary of the first day of class at Rio Grande College Wednesday, September 13, 1876. Director of Alumni Relations Delyssa Edwards said Founders’ Day recognizes Rio’s history and celebrates how successful the institution has been in the community.
“Today we pay tribute to those responsible for establishing a place of education for young minds. Because of a dream and a promise made, 10 acres of farmland was transformed into the grounds of Rio Grande College,” Edwards said. “Those in attendance today are now part of that history.”
Rio’s story began when Freewill Baptist Minister Reverend Ira Haning persuaded affluent residents and entrepreneurs Nehemiah and Permelia Atwood to establish a college. After Nehemiah’s death, Permelia began the work to make Rio a reality, establishing an endowment and deeding 10 acres of land to the future site of the institution that would become “the Lamp of the Hills.” Since opening in 1876, Rio has grown from the small college to include several new degree programs, buildings and athletic teams. After becoming the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College, the institution developed off-site centers in Meigs, Vinton and Jackson Counties to cater to a larger demographic of potential students. Interim President Dr. Catherine Clark said that it is impressive to watch Nehemiah and Permelia Atwood’s dream continue to grow as a reality and to see how far it has already come in the past 142 years.
“The college was founded as an opportunity to bring higher education to a rural region. It is so important that we continue to honor the Atwoods’ dream by enriching the lives of our students because they are the next chapter in Rio’s legacy,” Clark said.
For the event, Rio Alumnus Dr. Robert L. Lawson ’73 returned to his alma mater to share words of wisdom with the current students. Since graduating from Rio, Lawson has become a renowned speaker and author twelve books in the field of self-development. He has also been an educator in high schools and universities for over 40 years, recently retiring from Chillicothe High School. Lawson said he believes the current students at Rio will continue the Rio Legacy by becoming great leaders in their academic and career fields.
“I get excited when students I know choose to attend Rio, because I know that means they are going to get a quality education. When students are motivated, enthused about learning, willing to take action, and make a commitment to their education, they have the potential to achieve great things,” Lawson said. “It takes a team to build a dream and make things happen. We don’t get where we are without a lot of help from a lot of people, and I’m grateful for the people I met at Rio who supported me during my time here.”
As part of the festivities, Rio recognized three Alumni Award Winners for 2018. They are Chad Lambert ‘94, Distinguished Alumnus Award; Jessica Wickline Lawhon ‘12, Atwood Achievement Award; and Ellen Brasel ‘93, University of Rio Grande Alumni Award. In addition two former professors, Linda Bauer and Dr. T. Michael Rhodes were inducted to the Educators’ Hall of Fame. Vicki Crabtree also received the University of Rio Grande Faculty Award. Crabtree will be the last recipient of this award, as the Rio Grande Alumni Association will be introducing a new award for young alumni in 2019. Edwards said these individuals embody Rio Pride through continued service to the institution and their communities.
“We thought Founders’ Day would be the perfect time to honor this year’s Alumni Award recipients. This is a great way for our students to meet some of our alumni and learn how Rio helped them to succeed in their careers,” Edwards said. “Rio holds a special place in the hearts of our alumni, so it’s important to carry on this tradition and recognize their accomplishments.
These individuals are examples of Rio Pride, devoting themselves to education and leadership and demonstrating what it means to be part of the Rio Legacy by serving as role models in their communities.”