JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 8, 2010 – Two years to the day after an EF-4 tornado caused massive destruction to its campus, Union University celebrated the opening of the facility that completed its rebuilding process.
More than 500 students, faculty and staff gathered Feb. 5 in the Bowld Student Commons for an evening of praise, Scripture reading and prayer as they remembered God’s protection the night when no students lost their lives despite the collapse of several buildings on campus.
The service was part of Union’s annual Founders Day observance. In a chapel service earlier in the day, the university installed biology professor Jennifer Gruenke as director of the Edward P. Hammons Center for Scientific Studies. Union Provost Carla Sanderson discussed some of the major calamities in Union’s 187-year history in her Founders Day address.
One such calamity was the Civil War, when both Confederate and Union troops disrupted the university’s operations by taking control of the campus to use as a hospital and for other purposes. In 1873, a cholera epidemic struck what was then Union University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., causing that institution to close and consolidate with what was West Tennessee College in Jackson.
A third disaster was a major fire Jan. 20, 1912, that destroyed the two main buildings on Union’s campus near downtown Jackson. But Union students responded in heroic ways by evacuating nearly all of the library’s holdings, and West Tennessee churches responded with tremendous financial support to help the university rebuild, Sanderson noted.
She also showed photos from the 2008 tornado that caused so much damage to the campus. Again the Union community rallied to support each other, and the churches responded with generous financial gifts.
Throughout the darkest days in Union’s history, Sanderson said the one consistency over the years was the providence of God, and the way students, faculty and staff relied upon him during times of need.
“We are struck most not by what is different, but what is the same – Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever,” Sanderson said.
Gruenke, who joined the Union faculty in the fall as associate professor of biology, earned her doctorate in cell biology from the University of Virginia. The Hammons Center, established by Edward P. Hammons, a physician from Forrest City, Ark., and a Union trustee who died in 1998, was established to encourage excellence in scientific research and publication and to examine the interaction and compatibility between science and Christianity.
At the worship service in the Bowld Commons, Union University President David S. Dockery in a devotional address outlined his vision for the facility, the last of the structures to replace what was lost in the tornado. Dockery said he desires the commons to be a place characterized by worship, and one that reminds the Union community how it needs to draw near to God.
He also said the commons should be characterized by hope in a faithful God, and should be a place where members of the Union community can care for, serve and encourage one another.
The 30,000-square-foot facility includes apartments for two residence directors, a large multi-purpose room, three classrooms, two kitchens, game room, conference rooms, piano room, band practice room, TV rooms and gathering areas, outdoor built-in grills and outdoor patio space on both the first and second floors.