Free Will Baptist Seminary at Ayden
08/01/2011 - 8:00am
Eureka College at Ayden
At the beginning of the twentieth century public education in North Carolina was in a sad state due to very weak support from both local and state revenues. For this reason private and church interests were trying to fill the gap and Free Will Baptists were part of that effort. But by 1918 support for public education had increased greatly and many more school age children were enrolled in primary and secondary public schools. Therefore, the board of trustees of the Ayden Seminary launched a campaign to sell bonds for the erection of a new building that would provide facilities for the opening of a college. Meanwhile the seminary continued to operate on its campus in Ayden. The board understood that more funds would be needed to develop a college but they were hardly prepared for the challenge that lay ahead. In 1920 it was decided that the sale of bonds should be dropped in favor of an effort to raise cash and pledges for the proposed building. A goal of $250,000 was set by the board and M. C. Prescott was employed as financial agent to promote the campaign. A site for the new campus, consisting of fourteen acres on the east side of Ayden, was purchased and an architect was employed to prepare the plans for the new building. Work on the building was begun under the direction of a building committee chosen by the board. A sketch of the proposed building on the new campus was published in The Free Will Baptist paper and announcements concerning plans for building a college were sent to the public press.
It was the hope of many that the first building would be ready for use in the very near future, but construction was brought to a standstill because the funds were not available to complete this first phase of development. One reason for this was the economic recession that had its greatest impact in farming income in the early 1920s and most people in this area depended on agriculture for their livelihood. Despite this fact enthusiasm was still high among those who felt that a college was needed by the denomination. The State Convention of churches as well as the conferences endorsed the campaign for funds. Plans were made for a public meeting at the new building site in November 1921 when the Central Conference was in session at Elm Grove Church near Ayden so that everyone could see the work in progress. In 1922, Miss Nancy Dail of Ayden addressed the Convention of churches on the necessity of Free Will Baptists working to see that the college is built and equipped for the prosperity of the denomination. Other advocates of Christian higher education spoke in behalf of the college in succeeding years. The Rev. W. B. Everett, who was employed as financial agent for the college from 1921 until 1926, worked untiringly in the interest of raising funds for the college. There were those who did not see the need for a college and even some ministers failed to lead their congregations to support the cause.
In the summer of 1925 the board of trustees decided to begin offering the first year of college while continuing to offer a high school curriculum, using the seminary building until the building on the new campus was ready for occupancy. Professor R. B. Spencer was chosen to serve as the first president of the college and under his leadership plans for development of the college were finally being carried out. It occurred to someone that the college had not been given a name and the public was invited to send in suggestions to the board. By a unanimous vote the name Eureka was chosen and this became its official name.
Although the building on the new campus was not completely finished, it was decided that enough space was available for it to be used by the college at the opening of the 1926–1927 school year. A mass meeting and picnic was held on the new campus on September 10, 1926 to celebrate the opening of school and to generate support for the college campaign. A special issue of The Free Will Baptist was published on December 15 with stories about the seminary and the founding of the college, including an article by President Spencer about the aims and future prospects of the college and those whom it served. Tributes were paid to those who had made great sacrifices for the school, some of whom lived either in Ayden or its vicinity. It was an upbeat issue aimed at winning the support of every loyal Free Will Baptist for this educational endeavor.
Despite the enthusiasm of the friends of the college during this first year o the new campus, there was not a record enrollment and not enough students for a sophomore class. This had a negative effect on revenues for the college. Income from tuition and gift support was not equal to the costs of operation with the result that the school could not balance the budget that year. Nevertheless, a dormitory for boys was built in 1927 and other campus projects were undertaken. The total amount of indebtedness as reported to the Convention in September 1928 was not large by modern standards but it was more than enough to disappoint the friends of the college. It seemed to many that the denomination as a whole had not yet awakened to the need for a college or that church leaders had failed to teach the stewardship of resources for the support of such enterprises. A resolution adopted at the 1928 session of the Convention called for a budget of $35,000 to be raised for the college by January1, 1929, and for each pastor to be required to spend not less than one week in solicitation of funds for this purpose. Since the Convention itself depends upon voluntary support for its programs, not enough pastors responded to this call. Letters were sent to each pastor and each church, stating the amount apportioned to each church to be raised to meet this budget, but this also failed to receive the desired results. More than anything else was the fact that Free Will Baptists had never before this decade been called upon to give large sums of money toward any cause. Very few churches were supporting full-time pastors, and although there were Sunday schools that gathered every Sunday, most rural churches met for worship on one or two Sundays each month.
The college failed to open at the beginning of the 1929–1930 school year because of insufficient funds and would never again offer a program of education. The fact that the Great Depression fell upon the entire country that year had forced many colleges to close their doors. Eureka College suffered a second blow when in November 1931 a disastrous fire destroyed the main building on the new campus. The opening of Mount Olive Jr. College in the 1950s was a new effort on the part of Free Will Baptists to have a second program of Christian higher education.