University of NC SystemOne of Governor Gardner’s many accomplishments while in office was the consolidation of the University of North Carolina, State College, and the North Carolina College for Women. The Consolidation Act was designed as an economic measure to cut costs during the depression and to reduce duplication. The reform was enacted by the General Assembly in 1931 and Gardner regarded this act as his most significant as governor. Gardner then focused on securing Frank Graham as the new President because he “knew that Frank Graham, with his fair sense of justice and fair play, would be the ideal man to weld consolidation into an effective instrument of higher education.” Dr. Frank P. Graham became the Consolidated University’s first President.
Gardner’s support of the University system even continued after his death with the creation of The Gardner Award. Given annually since 1949, it was established by his will to recognize faculty who have “made the greatest contributions to the welfare of the human race.” It is the only award for which all faculty members of the 16 UNC campuses are eligible. Recipients are nominated by their chancellors and selected by the Board of Governors. The recipient is given a cash award.
Gardner Hall opened when NC State began to recognize Biology as a highly significant teaching and research discipline. Since then, the building has been expanded to match the rapidly increased numbers of students and faculty that have joined the interdisciplinary program. The building is named after O. Max Gardner (1882-1947), provider of the prestigious award by that name which is granted for “outstanding service to mankind.”
At only 16, Gardner had fought in the Spanish-American War. During his undergraduate years at NC State, Gardner was active in campus politics. After graduating, he was elected to State Senate, to speaker pro tem, to lieutenant governor, and finally to governor. He served as Undersecretary to U.S. Treasury for President Roosevelt, and as an unofficial advisor, offered many of the ideas for the Fireside Chats. Gardner died shortly before his appointment began for “loafing around the throne,” as he called it, as ambassador to England. He had received an honorary doctorate of law from NC State in 1932.
The Arch at GWU has been a campus landmark for more than 70 years. For many years, all graduates marched through the Arch on their way to the graduation ceremonies. The Arch was dedicated by Governor Gardner in memory of Professor J. D. Huggins. Huggins was the first principal of GWU when it was a local high school and the first dean of the institution when it became Boiling Springs Junior College. He served the institution in various capacities for more than 25 years.
In 1942, Boiling Springs Junior College became Gardner Webb College in honor of Governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Lamar Webb Gardner. Three buildings on the campus are named for members of this family: the O. Max Gardner Building; Decker Hall (named for James Webb Gardner) and the Webb Administration Building (named for the family of Fay Webb Gardner).