Cornerstone University marks its 75th anniversary


Much of Cornerstone University’s yearlong celebration will focus on the student body. Courtesy Cornerstone University

Cornerstone University is toasting to its ongoing success by recognizing its legacy.

CU, a liberal arts academic institution located at 1001 East Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, is celebrating its 75th anniversary during the upcoming 2015-16 academic year with a number of special events designed to commemorate its history and journey to its current role in the community.

The university has changed both its location and its name since its roots within the Wealthy Street Baptist Church and has greatly expanded its portfolio of academic programs.

Established in 1941 as Grand Rapids Baptist Bible College, the university originally offered only one program: a two-year Bachelor of Religious Education degree.

It wasn’t until the late Dr. W. Wilbert Welch became president in 1959 and advocated for the school to transition to a four-year liberal arts college that the university began providing students an opportunity to pursue business, English, speech, music, religion and philosophy by 1974.

While Welch was president, the university not only moved from Wealthy Street to its current location on East Beltline Avenue but also received its accreditation as a liberal arts college. Today, Cornerstone offers more than 60 majors and six graduate degrees.

Due to the former president’s legacy and influence on the university, CU is dedicating the 75th anniversary to Welch, who died July 16, 2015. CU is also hosting a memorial service on Aug. 31 at 10 a.m. in the Christ Chapel to celebrate his legacy.

Bob Sack, vice president for university advancement, said Welch has stamped his legacy all over the campus and in a sense it is fitting his passing falls as part of the 75th year.

“He was privy to early discussions back around 1940 when the university was being birthed. It was his vision that created the idea of a liberal arts college as opposed to just a bible college,” said Sack. “From the middle of the last century all the way through his presidency, his role as a chancellor bringing the university stability in times of transition, all the way to his presence in the last few years — he has just been here for a long time.”

As the 75th academic calendar kicks off Sept. 8, Cornerstone will launch its commemorative events Sept. 14 with the dedication of the approximately 1,475-seat, $15 million Christ Chapel east of the Gainey Conference Center.

“It is not coincidental the chapel was completed just in time for the 75th anniversary. We saw that possibility maybe two to three years ago when the chapel, in a sense, started to come together as a project and initiative,” said Sack. “We are thrilled and thankful the chapel was able to be completed and is opening in time for the 75th anniversary.”

The dedication portion of the event will begin at 10 a.m., Sept. 14, with students, faculty and staff in attendance, while the open house and celebration will begin at 7:30 p.m. The event will include a short program, information on the nearly $1.2 million-valued stained glass windows designed by world-renowned artist Peter Brandes, and open viewing of the facility.

“In the evening we will have an event that is open to the public but certainly focused on our alumni and the extended Cornerstone community to give them an opportunity to celebrate this new addition to the campus,” said Sack.

The Christ Chapel also provides the university its first facility with a capacity to host large musical and concert events. Cornerstone will launch a four-part Diamond Concert Series as part of the anniversary events, beginning with a concert Oct. 7 featuring Keith and Kristyn Getty, followed by a Christmas Concert Dec. 5 featuring groups such as the Chorale, Credo, Symphonic Winds and Chancel, a March 21 concert with the Majestic Brass of Grand Rapids, and in April, a concert that is part of the Grand Rapids Symphony Sacred Dimensions series.

“The chapel is certainly a fixture, with its opening; therefore, the fact we have a number of different musical events throughout the year is very fitting and special,” said Sack.

Cornerstone is also hosting a family weekend Sept. 25 and 26 for alumni, students and parents. The weekend will feature an Alumni & Friends 5K and a Baseball Throwback Weekend between CU and Calvin College. On Oct. 23 and 24, students and the community are invited for the Women’s Conference with special guest speaker Lina Abu-Jamra, author and pediatric emergency room physician.

Other events include the dedication of a sculpture by Albert Paley in the Christ Chapel lobby at 10 a.m. Dec. 2, a Winter Gala at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Feb. 5, a Men’s Conference featuring Bryan Loritts from Trinity Grace Church in New York City April 8 and 9, and a community event unveiling an exhibit of Torah scrolls in April.

Both the Women’s Conference and Men’s Conference are tributes to a conference series the university used to host, featuring speakers from across the country.

Since the anniversary events are intended to reflect the role and emphasis the university has placed on musical, artistic and social activities, Sack said there are a number of events that harken back to Cornerstone’s history.

“It is a year-long celebration designed to facilitate an appreciation for the past as well as recognition of the current role Cornerstone plays in West Michigan, the state, the Midwest, and global ministry and vocational preparation,” said Sack.

“It is also a celebration meant to be a catalyst of forward thinking as how we grow and evolve to an even more significant role in the culture and the worlds our graduates encounter.”

Sack attributes the mission and foundation of the institution as strengths for the university as it has grown, expanded and evolved throughout its history.

“The foundation has always been a Christ-centered education that has evolved into an institution that prepares students to excel in their fields of work, in their cultures of work, in their communities, and prepares them to be an influence for Christ in the various worlds they transition to after being at Cornerstone,” said Sack.

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