He calls it “WWW” — “what was where.”
Earl Danieley, president emeritus and adjunct chemistry professor at Elon University, offers an unrivaled campus tour full of passion and humor. Danieley has witnessed both prosperity and hardship in his 70 years on Elon’s campus.
As an Alamance County native, he has seen sprawling cornfields become academic buildings and the homes of old friends make way for the classrooms of thousands of students. The result is a campus rooted in tradition, history and a relentless need for growth.
Danieley’s personal walking tour, a marriage of engaging anecdotes and factual accounts, provides a vivid picture of life at Elon. In a way, nothing is as it was when Danieley graduated from Elon College in 1946. In another way, it hasn’t changed at all.
“I’ve had alumni talk with me about their feeling that we’re getting too large,” Danieley said. “My response has been that as long as you have the community spirit, as long as you have small groups, as long as you have living, learning communities, then you’re not too big. It’s not a matter of numbers, it’s a matter of attitude. And I think we still have that knowing people is important to us, being friends with people is important to us.”
He admits that the graduates are not wrong — the campus has grown tremendously. When Elon College was built in 1889, only two buildings christened the campus. The administration building, affectionately called Old Main, and East dormitory were the only two buildings standing when the college opened its doors to 76 students.
Today, the 600-acre campus hosts more than 40 major buildings. But according to Jo Watts Williams, Class of 1955, the growth has improved the university.
“The diversity of the students, it’s almost miraculous the way the institution has emerged,” she said. “I think it’s enhanced (the campus). There were probably 450 on-campus students, maybe 250 commuters. It’s amazing. It’s almost hard for me to remember or believe that that was the case.”
Building a legend, family
When Danieley began teaching at Elon College in 1947, the rural town was quintessentially American, according to Danieley. Although many of the homes he often walked past are no longer there, he can still name each of the families that lived on Haggard Avenue and the surrounding sidestreets, describing their personalities, hobbies and occupations.
Where McMichael Science Building now stands was the home of W.P. Lawrence, English professor and part-time dean. Next door lived Professor Ned Brannock and his two daughters.
“My first two years as a professor here, I rented a room in their house,” Danieley said. “I paid $10 a month rent, and I ate my meals in the dining hall on campus. At the end of those two years, I got a permanent roommate.”
Danieley married Verona Daniels Sept. 1, 1948. She was serving as secretary for President Leon Smith when the two met. Together they purchased the land adjacent to Professor Lawrence, which became the family’s orchard and garden.
“I grew up on the farm, and wherever we lived, I always had to have a garden — except for the one nine-month term where we lived in Baltimore while I was working at Johns Hopkins,” he said. “I needed very much to have that, having grown up with the garden.”
The Danieley family lived in multiple homes in Elon, including six years in an old frame house next to the current Elon Community Church, followed by the former president’s home, now called Holland House. Despite these various locations, Danieley always spent time in his garden.
“In 1963, I built my house next door to (the garden),” he said. “I had plenty of land out back, so I had over 100 rose bushes back there. I had an orchard back there with apples, plums, peaches, nectarines, figs, pears, apricots, grapes and Lord knows what else. I grew lots of things; I would plant so much that I would have to have help. I would hire one of the boys from school to be my helper.”
In the mid ’90s, Danieley sold his home on the orchard to Elon College to make room for a new science building. He now teaches chemistry in the building that sits where his home once stood.
A struggling institution
As Danieley raised his three children, he similarly watched Elon College grow. The campus was accepting more and more students, as it built academic buildings and residence halls. But incredible growth was not the only type of transformation Elon witnessed.
Following the fire of 1923, Alamance, Duke, Mooney, Carlton and Whitley buildings were built, and the college was more than $500,000 in debt.
“There was no way in the world we could raise enough money to pay for the interest, let alone the debt,” Danieley said. “In the spring of 1931, (President Harper) resigned. In December 1931, the college was bankrupt. There were debts we could not pay, we had only 80 students and we lost our accreditation. It was just about as low as an institution could be. You would expect, given those facts, the institution would close down.”
Leon Smith became president in 1931 and successfully restored the institution.
“He took over at that point and saved the college,” Danieley said. “Knowing where we were in 1931, and aware of where we are now, I say this: There is no more remarkable story in the history of American higher education than the story of the growth and development of this institution. I’d put it up against any institution anywhere in the country.”
And Danieley had a lot to do with that growth and development.
If we hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t believe it. But we did it, and it’s been
a great story to see it grow and develop over the years, and it’s not done yet.
-Dr. Danieley, president emeritus
Danieley’s passion for farming brought him closer to his neighbors. The relationship he built with those in town eventually helped bolster the university.
He befriended A.L. Rich who lived in the house now occupied by the Financial Planning Office.
“(It’s) the only one from that era that’s still around,” he said. “Rich worked in the textile mill, and his wife was an Elon graduate. Mr. Rich and I would garden together. He was a master gardener and a great friend.”
According to Williams, Rich’s farm was a major part of the community.
“There was a wonderful grape vine back in the vicinity of Belk Library, where I’d pick grapes,” Williams said. “Mr. Rich lived in that house and he had cows. There was a barn right where Belk Library sits. He delivered milk to the residents of the little village.”
Danieley bought Rich’s property, but included a life estate which allowed the family to live there until they passed away.
The acquisition of Rich’s property marked the beginning of exponential growth for Elon College. It included a large cornfield, where a powerhouse was built in the ’40s. Danieley then converted the space into a parking lot. President Fred Young finally made the space Moseley Center and Young Commons, bringing the hub of student activity from Long Hall to the opposite side of Haggard Avenue.
During his time as president, Danieley oversaw the construction of Hook, Brannock and Barney residence halls, as well as the McEwen Library — now the School of Communications — and Powell building. Students took part in the first study abroad trip, and the first national fraternity and sorority came to campus.
Through his dedication and commitment, Danieley has helped Elon become a home for thousands of men and women. He both contributed to and witnessed the development of a university that has risen from the ashes.
“We have come from nothing to national prominence, and it’s so incredible,” Danieley said. “If we hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t believe it. But we did it, and it’s been a great story to see it grow and develop over the years, and it’s not done yet.”