When students arrive on campus in Fall 2019, Rochester College will be celebrating its 60th anniversary and finishing up its transition to Rochester University.
After six decades of providing a Christian education and several name changes, the institution still aspires to the core values and traditions that set RC apart from others in its region.
The Start of Something Special
In 1954 with a growing number of Churches of Christ in the metro Detroit area, a group of church leaders came together to create North Central Christian College. These founders believed that a college with its foundation in the Churches of Christ should be established in the northern United States so that they could send their children to the institution.
Other colleges and universities with a Church of Christ heritage spanned the country, such as Lipscomb University in Nashville, founded in 1891, to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, founded in 1937. Many sister institutions existed in the south, such as Abilene Christian University in Texas, found in 1906, and Harding University in Arkansas, founded in 1924.
But a void existed in the Midwest for a Church of Christ-based college. Area congregations joined together in 1958 to hold rallies and awareness for the plan to start a college in Michigan. Every rally grew larger as the word about the college plans spread.
“My parents were on the board of fundraising for the college and I was at the first rally when they announced that they were going to create North Central Christian,” 1967 alumnus Betty Dunlap recalls. “I had come down with the measles the night before and begged my mom to take me to the rally. She let me go and we sat all the way in the very back.”
In 1957, the college broke ground after the Board of Trustees purchased the Maxon estate on Avon Road in Rochester. The Maxon Estate included what now is the Gallaher Center, which alumni from the 1950s and 1960s often called “the mansion.” Chapel and other classes were held in Gallaher and the library was located there too. The first class in the fall of 1959 included 54 students.
“We became this big family since there weren’t that many of us,” Dunlap said. “Some of my best memories were from my time at Michigan Christian.”
Spiritual Growth on Campus
Alumni from other eras of the school recall similar memories to Dunlap’s. 1982 alumnus Jody Fleischhut said her memories of Michigan Christian include “laughter” and “deep relationships.”
Fleischhut also cites Michigan Christian to her spiritual growth. “I was still finding my way when I was at MCC, and being a student there really helped me grow in faith and grow as a Christian.”
A 1978 newsletter from the college quotes a student with a spiritual journey close to Fleischhut. “There has been a lot of talk around campus about this time in our lives being one of the greatest opportunities of our spiritual lives. I realize now that I can’t pass it up.”
Spiritual growth has been a root of the college since its founding. Many have passed through the college to preach the gospel, or even learn about Christ for the first time. Sometime after the opening of the college, some students attended Rochester Church of Christ, which at the time, was down the road from campus. This provided a way for students to engage with those outside the institution.
Community has been a large part of the culture the college has created over its time. Through social clubs, chorus, athletics and volunteer work, students have not only been apart of the culture on campus, but have made contributions to the greater Rochester community.
Whether it was a trip around the globe to Vienna or Uganda, or the basketball team helping a little boy with a terminal illness, the spirit and community of the college has spread to thousands of people. From the first class of 54 students in 1959, to current enrollment totaling over 1,000 students, the college has grown with the community surrounding campus.
“From the beginning, we have been open to students with all kinds of different faiths. The name change in 2000 (to Rochester College), made us more open to the community I think and made people realize that we weren’t just a Bible school,” Dunlap said.
When North Central Christian College opened its doors to the first students in 1959, the college was a two-year school. Many students transferred to other colleges or some of the sister institutions, such as Lipscomb or Abilene Christian. Associate degrees during that time included general education classes, such as science, history, English and math. Of course, students were required to take religion classes as well.
With advances made in the school with help from founders and various presidents, the college expanded into a four-year institution in the early 1996. Offering many degrees ranging from a variety of subjects, the college has propelled its students to advance into the working world.
As Rochester College celebrates 60 years, every student has the chance to write his or her own chapter. In the coming years, students will open more doors, learn new things, travel the world, and expand on the legacy of Rochester College.
President Dr. Michael Westerfield, who served from 2003 to 2008, once said, “This is your story. All of us have had a part in making Rochester College who she is today. God bless her continued journey.”