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History of the University
Olivet Nazarene University’s origins can be traced to the first decade of the 20th century and to the resolve of several families in east central Illinois who were committed to providing a Christian education for their children. In 1907, classes were begun in a Georgetown, Illinois, home. A year later, the founders acquired several acres of land in a nearby village named ‘‘Olivet.’’ There, they constructed a modest building and added the secondary level of instruction. A liberal arts college followed in 1909, along with the first name for the fledgling, but ambitious, institution: ‘‘Illinois Holiness University.’’
By 1912, the founders and trustees were aware of the school’s need for a wider constituency and offered to give their educational work to the Church of the Nazarene. The young denomination accepted the school with a pledge to support and promote its ministry of Christian higher education. That early commitment is still being perpetuated by the more than 700 Nazarene congregations throughout Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The school grew slowly during the next decade. There were several acting and short-term presidents; the campus of 19 acres contained only a few small buildings; the first yearbook, the Aurora, was published in 1914; a new school name followed in 1915: ‘‘Olivet University’’; and the name was changed to ‘‘Olivet College’’ in 1923. Decades later, a devastating fire destroyed the main campus building in November 1939, prompting the newly elected president, A.L. Parrott, and the trustees to consider locating a new campus as an alternative to rebuilding at their rural site. They found and purchased the present campus in Bourbonnais in 1940 and moved the college in the summer of 1940. ‘‘Nazarene’’ was added to the college’s name that same year.
At the time of the college’s move to Bourbonnais, the campus consisted of 42 acres that had been the site of St. Viator’s College from 1868 until it closed in 1938. Four of the buildings purchased then are still in use today.
A major milestone for Olivet occurred in 1939, when the University of Illinois formally recognized the school. The college catalogs of the 1940s reflected a school of liberal arts, a school of music, a school of religion, and a high school academy. In 1953, all areas of study were grouped into curricular divisions which remained the model for Olivet’s academic organization until 2005. Academic restructuring into colleges/schools was initiated in 2005.
Dr. Harold W. Reed, president from 1949 to 1975, led Olivet through a period of remarkable growth, including the construction of 20 major buildings to keep pace with increasing student enrollments.
Dr. Leslie Parrott Sr. continued this focus on campus expansion, development, and beautification during his 16-year tenure, as he led the campaign to elevate Olivet to university status. In 1986, the school’s name was changed to ‘‘Olivet Nazarene University’’ to reflect the diversity of academic programs and graduate studies.
Since assuming the presidency in 1991, Dr. John C. Bowling has continued to lead the University in its growth, effective ministry, and pursuit of ‘‘Education With a Christian Purpose.’’