BANGOR, Maine — A 90-year-old local businessman who went from peddling trinkets on horseback as a child to owning a successful insurance agency took part in a ceremony Saturday afternoon that officially transformed Husson College into Husson University.
Woodrow Cross, founder of the insurance agency that bears his name, graduated from the Shaw Business College in 1938. The school was renamed Husson College in 1947 and moved from Park Street in downtown Bangor 22 years later.
“Husson has meant a great deal to the Cross Agency,” Brent Cross said on behalf of his father and the family. “It has provided an education not only for our family, but also for our employees. My father has often talked of the courses he took and the lessons he learned at [what became] Husson.”
The college gave Woodrow Cross the skills and the confidence to open his own insurance agency, Brent Cross said. The company now has offices in three states and employs more than 350 people.
In honor of the elder Cross, the Husson Board of Trustees voted to rename the entrance road onto the campus Cross Lane.
Surrounded by elected officials, including Gov. John Baldacci and Rep. Michael Michaud, Cross cut a gold colored ribbon stretched across the road that now bears his name.
“There was an old sign over the door of the entrance at the Park Street location,” Husson President William H. Beardsley said in introducing member of the Cross family. “It said ‘Make good not excuses.’ Woodrow Cross symbolizes what Husson College always has been and what Husson University means to be.”
Referring to himself as the “token UMaine” graduate at the event, Baldacci congratulated the school on its contribution to the city he grew up in and still considers home and the state he now governs.
“I was on a trade mission in Tokyo,” he said Saturday, “and we hosted a reception. People introduced themselves to me there who had gone to Husson, but now lived in Japan. I was amazed to see how small the world really is through the eyes of Husson graduates.”
The 30-minute ribbon cutting ceremony was a small part of events planned to mark Husson’s name change. A fireworks display was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Saturday to top off two days of activities involving alumni and community members.
Recent milestones that the board of trustees considered in making the name change, Beardsley said, included:
ä the awarding in May of Husson’s first professional doctoral degrees in physical therapy.
ä the scheduled opening in fall 2009 of the School of Pharmacy.
ä the construction of the Meeting House, scheduled to open in February, that will house the School of Science & Humanities, an alumni center and the 500-seat Gracie Theater, a performance and teaching center.
ä the number of entering students this fall exceeded 1,000 for the first time.
ä total enrollment surpassed 3,000 in September.
Beardsley said the name change represents not what the institution hopes to be but what it already has become.
“We intend this to be a seamless transition,” Beardsley said in announcing the name change. “Aside from this ribbon cutting, we’ll be the same old Husson. It just seems the right time for the new name.”
A dinner attended by about 300 people on campus Friday night honored nine alumni and a long-time supporter whose family owned the former dairy farm where the campus is located. Five people were inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame and five others were inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame.
Judson “Bud” M. Grant. Jr. of Bangor was made an honorary Husson alumnus and inducted into the Hall of Fame even though he was unable to attend the event.
“He’s been a friend of five presidents at Husson,” Beardsley said of Grant, whose uncle owned the dairy farm that originally sat where the campus does today. “He personifies the self-made man. He a classic entrepreneur who’s always conveyed trust in his neighbors.”
Grant went from peddling vegetables and eggs in the Great Depression, the Husson president said, to selling real estate, mobile homes, furniture, and overseeing restaurants and shopping malls.
“This means so much to us,” Grant’s sister, Cheryl Noyes said in accepting the award on his behalf. “This is a grand time now as Husson becomes a university. We will always continue to be a part of this school.”
Amy Dyer Kelley played basketball in her high school team in Belfast but had never played in a tournament until she went to Husson, her former coach, Kissy Walker, said in inducting Kelley into the Sports Hall of Fame.
Kelley, who graduated in 1995, is a paramedic but coaches girls basketball at Searsport District High School.
“I want to say a special thank you to my parents Lewis and Margo Dyer,” Kelley said Friday. “Without their support and encouragement, I would not have gone to college. I’d still be working at the local nursing home. I would not be coaching and I love coaching.”
Stephanie Laite Lanham of Bangor earned a master’s in supervisory nursing from Husson in 2003. As her thesis project she wrote “The Veterans and Families’ Guide to Recovering from PTSD.” Now in its fourth edition, more 600,000 copies of the book have been distributed throughout the country. It is designed to help veterans and their families recognize and cope with the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome.
Lanham asked all the people in the audience who had served in the military to stand so those attending the banquet could recognize them.
“Please remember to say thank you to all those in the military service,” she urged the audience.
Husson is the largest private educator of Maine students in the state. The university offers more than 25 graduate and undergraduate degrees and certificates through the Schools of Business, Health, Education, Pharmacy, Science and Humanities, the Boat School and the NESCOM.
The main campus is located on College Circle between Broadway and Kenduskeag Avenue in Bangor. Husson also has campuses in South Portland, Presque Isle, Calais and Eastport.
Husson was founded in 1898 as the Shaw Business College and School of Penmanship. It became Husson College in 1947 and moved to its current location in 1969. The Eastern Maine Medical School of Nursing that was started in the 19th century as the Bangor General Hospital School of Nursing, merged with Husson in the 1980s.
NESCOM became and affiliate in the 1990s and three years ago, the Bangor Theological Seminary moved to the College Circle Campus. The Bangor Symphony Orchestra last month moved its offices to Husson.