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Claflin president retiring in 2019, leaving legacy of visionary leadership

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Claflin University President Dr. Henry Nehemiah Tisdale stepped onto Claflin's campus in 1994 with a vision and what he considered a calling from God to make a difference in the lives of students.

With the a Tuesday morning announcement of his retirement effective June 30, 2019, the legacy of Tisdale and his wife of more than 40 years, Alice Carson Tisdale, will likely never be forgotten. They have left an indelible mark on campus and community development.

"I am honored to serve Claflin in this leadership role. I am thankful for the Claflin community that embraced my hopes, dreams and vision for the university. I never felt alone in the process to move the university forward," Tisdale said.

"This has been a rewarding journey and a mission to make a difference," he said.

Tisdale was named Claflin University’s eighth president in 1994.

Before coming to Claflin, he worked at Delaware State for 24 years, teaching and eventually working his way up to senior vice president and chief academic officer. He began his teaching career in the Philadelphia public school system.

He graduated magna cum laude from Claflin in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. At Temple University, he was awarded a master’s degree in mathematics in 1967, then a master’s degree in mathematics from Dartmouth College in 1975. This was followed by a doctor of philosophy in mathematics from Dartmouth in 1978.

But that wasn't the end of his story. While working in Delaware, Tisdale stated there was something calling him back home to South Carolina and his alma mater, all part of what he considered God's plan.

The Kingstree native went on to use the strong work ethic he attributed from growing up in the cotton fields of rural Williamsburg County to transform his alma mater into a center of visionary leadership for students, faculty and staff.

Tisdale and his wife, who took the reins as director of Claflin's Honors College -- renamed The Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College by the university's trustees in 1996 -- turned their passion for the university into action with numerous achievements.

Under Dr. Tisdale’s leadership, Claflin has seen an increase in faculty with terminal degrees, federal funding for research, endowed scholarships, partnerships with other leading institutions, student enrollment and nationally accredited academic programs. The university has also enhanced student learning through its improved technological infrastructure.

Under his guidance, facilities across the Claflin campus have been added, improved or enhanced. To highlight a few, the new Student Residential Center, University Dining Center, Molecular Science Research Center and the James and Dorothy Z. Elmore Chapel were built; Legacy Plaza and the Arthur Rose Museum were established; and the Tingley Memorial Hall, Lee Library and Ministers’ Hall buildings were restored.

Tisdale has said the university had a history of working to transform Goff Avenue from what he initially saw as a less-than-aesthetically pleasing part of the community.

A molecular science research center was built in 2010 as one of several buildings that have helped change the neighborhood and make the street more of a part of the growing campus.

A research greenhouse and garden were also developed on Goff Avenue in 2010, along with a new student health center in 2013.

The completion of Claflin Commons, a new 64,000-square-foot residential living complex, was the most recent development along the street in 2014.

Before Claflin Commons, the university built its Living and Learning Center and Kleist Hall in 1998, while its Student Residential Center including four residence halls and the dining hall was completed in 2004.

Claflin most recently held a groundbreaking for a new health and wellness complex in 2017. That dream began in 1980 with the construction of the current Kennedy Center, with the new complex representing a long-awaited health and wellness component.

The 33,000-square-foot facility will serve as a new gateway to Claflin, with spaces for programs for not just students, faculty and staff, but the whole community.

The Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Wellness Complex will extend all the way to Clark Street and include an auxiliary gym, indoor walking track, healthy cooking training kitchen, group fitness areas, cardio and weight machine fitness areas, intramural sports and faculty and staff offices, as well as a kinesiology lab.

Guests will have access to programs promoting well-being through exercise, nutrition, health coaching, group fitness classes and personal training. There will also be space for a farmers market.

Tisdale and his wife, a native of Montgomery, Alabama, were honored for their achievements on campus and beyond by The Times and Democrat as its 2013 People of the Year for their extraordinary transformation of Claflin’s historic 50-acre campus with many new buildings and facilities, and the important partnerships the university and its students have forged with a number of charitable, cultural and civic organizations and schools in the Orangeburg area.

In addition to his contributions to Claflin University, Dr. Tisdale has served as a member of the board of the United Negro College Fund and the American Council on Education Commission on Effective Leadership, and was a member of Gov. Nikki Haley’s Transition Team. He is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.

Under Mrs. Tisdale’s direction, the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College has been strengthened and expanded to reflect Claflin’s commitment to cultivating academically outstanding students. Measures were taken to enhance the honors students’ experience on every level to prepare them for success in graduate and professional schools, and as leaders in their profession and society at large.

Mrs. Tisdale was appointed to serve on the Governor’s Mansion Commission, and has served as president of the Orangeburg County Salvation Army Board of Directors, as national secretary and treasurer of the National Association of African-American Honors Program and as a board member of the Orangeburg Community of Character initiative. She is the co-founder and director of Praise Kids, the children’s Christian theater at Trinity United Methodist Church in Orangeburg, where she and Dr. Tisdale are members.

Further cementing their commitment to Claflin, Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale donated $250,000 to the university’s Capital Campaign in March 2013. The gift served to fund an endowed professorship in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – disciplines, support the Alice Carson Tisdale Endowed Scholarship in Education and the Henry N. Tisdale Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics, and provide scholarship support for students in other disciplines and student athletes.

Claflin has garner national recognition under Dr. Tisdale’s vision and leadership. Washington Monthly has ranked Claflin University the top liberal arts college in South Carolina. And U.S. News and World Report has consistently ranked Claflin among its “America’s Best Colleges.”

In its 2012 ranking, Claflin reached a new plateau. For the first time, it was ranked in the top tier of national liberal arts colleges and universities. Claflin was also ranked No. 1 in alumni giving among HBCUs.

Dr. Tisdale’s inaugural pledge to place Claflin among the premier liberal arts institutions in America was achieved in August 2008 when Forbes.com listed the university as the top Historically Black College or University in the country and ranked it in the top 4 percent nationally in its first-ever rankings of “America’s Best Colleges.”

The Tisdales have two children, Danica Camille Tisdale Fisher and Brandon Keith Tisdale, and two grandchildren, Asa and Theodora Fisher.

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Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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Staff Writer

Dionne Gleaton has been a staff writer with The T&D for 20 years. She has been an education reporter, regional reporter and currently writes features with an emphasis on health.

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