If you know the College of Charleston, you know Ted Stern: If you’ve ever sat through class in Maybank Hall. If you’ve ever been to a commencement ceremony on Mother’s Day. If you’ve ever climbed the stairs to the Robert Scott Small Building. If you’ve ever cheered on a Cougar. If you’ve ever experimented in the labs of the Hollings Science Center. If you’ve ever been to Health Services, the Career Center, the College Skills Lab. If you’ve ever enjoyed a performance at the Simons Center for the Arts. If you’ve ever tripped on the bricks.
This is the College that Stern built. And, when he died on January 18, 2013, at the age of 100, this is the legacy he left.
The College of Charleston was a small, private college when Stern was appointed its 16th president. There were 482 students, 27 faculty members, 11 degree fields, 40,647 library volumes and three intercollegiate sports. Over his 10-year tenure, the student body grew to 5,193, the faculty to 181, the degree programs to 21, the library volumes to 184,587 and the intercollegiate sports to 10. The College went public, admitted its first black students, established a graduate school and increased its budget by $12,534,365. It closed Green and College ways to traffic and laid down herringbone-patterned brick walkways across campus. It purchased more than 100 buildings, built nine structures and renovated/restored six existing buildings – including the Main Building, which was renamed Randolph Hall in 1972. In other words, under Stern, the College became what it is today.
But Stern’s legacy reaches further than the campus footprint. He also became one of Charleston’s most important benefactors, serving the community through a tremendous number of organizations and contributing his drive and vision for a number of projects, including Spoleto Festival USA, of which he was the founding president – and which has changed Charleston’s culture and economy forever.
As immeasurable as Stern’s effects on Charleston may be, they can be counted all over the College campus. From Rivers Residence Hall to Grice Marine Lab to the Stern Student Center itself, Ted Stern is everywhere you look.
A Modern-Day Founding Father
“Although Ted Stern retired more than three decades ago from the College’s top post, his legacy has endured and strengthened over time, with each passing year revealing what an incredibly prescient leader he was during his 11-year tenure. Simply put, Ted Stern was responsible for laying the foundation on which the modern College stands today.”
– President P. George Benson
“Ted Stern’s contributions to Charleston were of historic proportion. Stern was truly one of the most influential leaders in our city’s history. His masterful, strategic and energetic guidance of the College created a physical and educational transformation that will forever positively enhance our city and the College of Charleston.”
– Joseph P. Riley, Mayor of Charleston
“Dr. Stern’s incredible work ethic and dedication to this historic institution, during his tenure and beyond, set the precedent for what this great college is today.”
– Betty Craig, former secretary of President Stern and longtime CofC staff member
“Ted Stern never saw a problem that couldn’t be solved. He would confront situations that would make others throw their hands up. He was a very hands-on kind of guy.”
– Lucille Whipper, former S.C. state representative and former assistant to President Stern
“Without Ted Stern, there’s no question about whether the Spoleto Festival would be here. Simply, it would not exist. As our first chairman, Ted wrestled with many, many challenges – and at a time when there were no guarantees of success. Somehow, though, he always made things work.
“Anyone who met Ted knew right away that he was an extraordinary optimist. He always saw the possibilities in things. You can’t go around Charleston today without seeing something Ted had either done or influenced, from the Coastal Community Foundation, to the Spaulding-Paolozzi Foundation, to even the city’s aquarium.
“We will all miss his enthusiasm and his curiosity. And we will especially miss hearing Ted say, as he often did, ‘Isn’t that something’ in that voice of sheer wonder.”
– Nigel Redden, General Director, Spoleto Festival USA
“Few people have the visionary foresight and leadership of the late Ted Stern. He was very visible on the College campus during the years that I was a student and he always encouraged us to be involved. It is difficult to measure the influence he had over the years on so many young people and the organizations that have benefitted from his encouragement. Dr. Stern was a pillar of strength and optimism and an exemplary role model for philanthropy in our community. He was a true friend and mentor to the entire CofC family.”
– Greg Padgett ’79, Chairman, CofC Board of Trustees
“Ted reminds me of Julius Caesar, who, after taking the city of Zela, said, ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’ Ted Stern, like Caesar, conquered everything he undertook in Charleston. He leaves a lasting legacy. We should all be grateful he chose to live in South Carolina.”
– James Edwards ’50, former S.C. governor, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and former MUSC president
“The College was founded by three men who signed the Declaration of Independence and three other men who were authors of America’s first Constitution. This is literally true. But there’s a larger truth. The real founder of the modern College of Charleston is Ted Stern. As a practical matter, he is our Founding Father.”
– Alex Sanders, former CofC president
“Everything Ted touched in Charleston blossomed.”
– Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, former U.S. Senator and former S.C. governor
“I was arrested more or less for obscenity in an underground newspaper I put out in high school, and when I came, by a process of elimination, to be the editor-elect for the College newspaper, Ted Stern took me aside briefly and said, ‘We wouldn’t have to worry about anything like that again, would we?’ and I said, ‘No, sir,’ and I believe we both chuckled and that was the end of it. I ran a very unorthodox newspaper after that and not a word was said to me. This is what I liked about Ted Stern, more than the admiration you must have for someone who takes a college from 500 students to 5,000 students in five years in a metastasis of five million bricks. He had his private life, you had yours, and there was a manly tacit acknowledgment of the sanctity of privacy. It was a pleasure to refer to such a man as Captain Stern.”
– Padgett Powell ’74, novelist
“Ted Stern was a visionary leader at the College, bringing people together to work and instilling in everyone a vision of where the College could go. As student body president, I learned from him that leadership is not only about getting people to work together, but having a common goal to achieve.”
– Glenn McConnell ’69, S.C. Lieutenant Governor
“The growth of the College and the success of Spoleto changed the face of Charleston more than anything else in the twentieth century. Ted Stern was the mastermind behind both.”
– Nan Morrison, professor emerita of English