Posted by William Nunnelley on 2007-10-20

Samford University dedicated its imposing new Pete Hanna Center with a salute to the past and present, pausing during Homecoming Weekend to reflect on the generosity that made the project possible.

"We come to give thanks to Pete and Barbara Hanna and to the many men and women who have turned a vision into something greater than our dreams," said Samford President Andrew Westmoreland during Oct. 19 dedication ceremonies for the $32-million facility.

"Lectures have been heard here (the previous night's talk by Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson), games will be played here, lives are being changed here, and we give thanks for all of it," he said. "Our gratitude is heartfelt and complete."

The 132,000-square foot multipurpose facility is the largest single construction project in Samford history. A 5,000-seat arena for basketball and volleyball is the centerpiece, and capacity will grow to 6,000 for concerts, graduation ceremonies and other programs with the addition of 1,000 seats on the arena floor.

"Twenty-five words provide the rationale for hundreds of people to gather tonight to celebrate the opening of a magnificent facility on our campus," said Dr. Westmoreland. "Twenty-five words that changed Pete Hanna's life and gave him reason for hope. Twenty-five words that bring humility and inspiration . . .."

Westmoreland referred to Hanna's favorite Bible verse, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Hanna, the Birmingham businessman and Samford trustee for whom the center is named, said the completion of the structure was proof that dreams come true.

"I have three best days in my life," he said, "the day I gave my life to Christ, the day I married Barbara and today."

Following the dedication in the building's east plaza, Samford unveiled the arena in grand fashion with its traditional candlelight dinner. More than 500 alumni, donors and other friends of the university attended the gala on a night devoted to "celebrating traditions," said master of ceremonies and board of trustees chairman Bill Stevens.

Noting that 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of Samford's Shades Valley campus, Stevens recognized donors that made possible the continuing growth and progress of the campus.

"This has been an extraordinary year for Samford, and we are grateful for each of you and the thousands of others who provided financial support to help Samford achieve so many good things," he said.

At Hanna's request, the arena within the center is named for Samford President Emeritus Thomas E. Corts and his wife, Marla H. Corts. During the gala dinner, Samford Alumni Association President Mark Davidson of Mobile, Ala., also recognized the Cortses as honorary Samford alumni.

James A. Head of Birmingham, who served as fundraising chairman for the Samford campus during the early 1950s and laid the cornerstone for its first building, Samford Hall, in 1955, was also made an honorary alumnus. Head will turn 103 Saturday, Oct. 20. He was in attendance with his daughter, Virginia Gross of Birmingham, a 1961 graduate.

A high point of the annual Homecoming dinner is the recognition of Samford Alumni of the Year. Davidson and Westmoreland presented the annual awards to four graduates-Birmingham insurance executive Walter Barnes, class of 1956; retired Samford religion professor Sigurd Bryan, class of ´46; U.S. Senate aide Carol Guthrie of Washington, D.C., class of ´93; and renowned cardiologist George Irons, Jr., of Charlotte, N.C., class of ´52.

Earlier in the day, Davidson presided over the annual Homecoming meeting of the Samford Alumni Association, and alumni and others enjoyed an evensong performance by the Samford A Cappella choir in A. Gerow Hodges Chapel.

Students, alumni and others capped off the big day with a pep rally, bonfire and fireworks following the gala dinner.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.