A growing metro area with a rural feeling, Harnett County serves as a link between two of North Carolina's major cities, has a population of approximately 102,000 people and shipped over $600,000 worth of goods to other parts of the country in 1997. And the future looks bright with the announcement recently that AU.S., a company that services industries worldwide, has chosen Harnett County as its Southeast hub. But in 1862, the year Campbell University founder James Archibald Campbell was born, the picture was far from bright. The Civil War was still raging and every third person in North Carolina was a slave. North Carolina had lost more men than almost any other state in the Confederacy and the aftermath of the war was even harder on the state. Where North Carolina had once been considered one of the most progressive states in in education, its nearly 3,000 schools lay prostrate like its businesses and farmland. Progress would remain protracted for the next 35 years, but in 1886 a providential meeting between young J.A. Campbell and Squire Pearson of Buies Creek spurred hope. That summer, Campbell, a pastor and book salesman, walked through the gate of prominent community leader Pearson. He was canvassing for books and because there were no hotel accommodations Pearson invited Campbell to spend the night. During that evening's conversation, Pearson explained the need for a good school in the Buies Creek area, with a keen interest in educating his own children, Elizabeth, William, John and Cornelia, who would later become Campbell's wife. Campbell had been offered pastorates in four churches and a school in the eastern part of the state, but he considered the offer and an agreement was reached in which, instead of a salary, the community would build Campbell a school and he would get his income entirely from tuition. Although Pearson's expectations for Campbell's monetary gain under this agreement were low, he was surprised when, after the school opened on Jan. 5, 1887, with 16 students, enrollment had grown to 92 students by the end of the term. "James Archibald Campbell had a high and firm allegiance to Jesus Christ," said J. Winston Pearce in his book "Big Miracle at Little Buies Creek." "It is necessary to keep this in mind or there will be no real understanding of the man or what he did." That summer, the community added a wing to the original building to accommodate new students and for a time in 1888 Campbell left the school due to financial reasons to become pastor of the Baptist Church of Dunn. Although his pastorate was successful and he was elected superintendent of schools of Harnett County during that period, Campbell realized that his life's work must include teaching or he would not be pursuing his passion. Therefore, he decided to combine the two—preaching and teaching—and the foundation for the mission of Campbell University was established. Buies Creek Academy was destroyed by fire in 1900, but was rebuilt with the support of the community. In 1925, the school partnered with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and has operated as a denominational institution since that time. Campbell advanced to junior college status in 1926 and received senior college designation in 1959. It became a university in 1979, currently offering over 100 tracks and concentrations and five professional schools, including law, pharmacy, business, divinity and education. Only three presidents have succeeded James Archibald Campbell—his son Dr. Leslie H. Campbell, Dr. Norman Adrian Wiggins and Dr. Jerry M. Wallace. Each has continued Campbell's work and perpetuated his philosophy. "He was concerned for the moral, physical, religious and intellectual health of the student," Pearce wrote. "He was concerned for the welfare of the whole person. The purpose of the student's presence in the school was that he might learn and that he might be prepared, first, to make a life and, second, to make a living—both, but in that order." Campbell University will celebrate its 120th Founder's Day, Tuesday, January 31, at 11 a.m. in Turner Auditorium. Fred H. Taylor, chairman of the Board of Trustees, will deliver the Founder's Day address.
Photos: James Archibald Campbell, founder of Campbell University;