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Concordia celebrates 80 years

f some people had had their way, Concordia College would not be celebrating its 80th anniversary on Saturday.

During the 1931-32 school year, the Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America decided that the college, then known as Alabama Lutheran College and Academy, would close at the end of the year. It was the middle of the great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt was months away from being sworn in as president.

But those who went to school and who taught there did not want to go down without a fight. It was a small school, which was started in a residential home in 1922. The first real campus buildings were dedicated three years later.

They caused enough of a stir that the Synodical Conference decided to just reduce the school to 8th and 9th grade classes and dismantle the exisiting college and high school, according to &uot;Miracle on Green Street,&uot; a history of the college.

And a miracle did occur. The school survived.

Gradually, the school began to grow.

As it did, it began to come into its own. By 1940, the high school was reinstated. Junior college classes were offered. In 1981, the high school closed and the named changed to Concordia College, joining a system of 10 schools around the nation headed by the Lutheran-Missouri Synod, which had taken over the school in the 1960s.

By December 1983, it received accreditation so students can receive associate degrees. In 1994, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools gave Concordia accreditation for bachelor’s degrees in early childhood and elementary education. Three years later, they got accreditation to offer a business degree.

Today, Jenkins walks outside of his office at Thompson Hall and sees only a couple of the original buildings that were part of Concordia in the late 1920s and were there when he arrived as a high school student in 1962.

He oversees a campus that has blossomed from less than a hundred students from when he attended school to 972 registered for this semester. Of those students, 9 percent are from other states and 5 percent come from places like Vietnam, Haiti and Africa.

The campus has also grown. The single residential home that started the school is gone, but 12 major buildings take its place. And Jenkins envisions more.

As he walks the campus, he points out various improvements and expansions he wants to do. He wants to add a swim team to take advantage of the year-old Julius and Mary Jenkins Fitness Center. He wants a track and field team and hopes to bring football to the school within the next three to four years.

He wants to build a large athletic field by 2015, tennis courts, and a business and fine arts center. There are plans to expand the cafeteria and build another female dorm.

Plus, with expansion of the campus, there must also be expansion of property.

Jenkins paused by the black ornate gates that mark the boundaries of Concordia. He pointed to different houses beyond the gates that the college owns, hoping to eventually acquire more property at a reasonable price so the school can expand down to First Street.

The money for this expansion will be raised in a fund-raiser that will kick off at the anniversary celebration Saturday. Known as &uot;Expanding the Circle,&uot; Jenkins hopes the college will be able to raise $12 million by 2007.

The appeal will also involve a publicity campaign that will let more people know about the type of school Concordia has developed into since its early days of struggle and questionable survival.

The author of &uot;Miracle on Green Street,&uot; Rev. Dr. Richard Dickinson, will be the guest speaker. The services start at 11 a.m.