NGU News

Dr. Murphree Claude Donnan Tribute

Posted on: February 6, 2024
By Larry Stoudenmire,

Murphee Claude Donnan

Dr. Murphree Claude Donnan

Born January 11, 1892, in Greer, Murphree Claude Donnan grew up in the Pelham community, reared on a farm by his mother and grandparents. By age 11, he was plowing 20 acres on his own. He attended a one-teacher grade school which was in session from December to March, before leaving at age 16 to farm full-time. He owned a 35-acre farm at the age of 22, when he felt God calling him to Christian work. Returning to eighth grade as a 23-year-old, he spent three years at Spartan Academy, briefly pausing his education to serve in World War I. 

He paid his own way through Furman University, renting shares of his farm. After graduating, he married Ernestine Hawkins on August 4, 1924. Donnan enrolled at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, that fall. The Donnans’ first child, Yates, was born in 1926. The Donnans had their second child, Lois, in 1930, and their second son, Hugh, in 1933. 

As he completed a master of theology degree in the spring of 1928, Dr. Donnan received a telegram offering the post of principal at North Greenville Baptist Academy. 

When Dr. Donnan became principal, the academy had 12 acres, an administration building with eight classrooms, a boys’ dormitory, a girls’ dormitory, and use of an adjacent farm. Roads from Tigerville to Greer and Travelers Rest were unpaved, and the party-line telephone system was out of service most of the time. The campus water and electricity services were unreliable. The young principal declared the summer of 1930 brought “the dawn of a new day,” as a power line and gravel roadways reached the campus. That was followed by an economic depression and struggles to keep the academy operating. 

“Mr. Donnan was a real leader in a time of need and he is more responsible than anyone I know for pulling the school through those perilous years.” 

Professor W.D. Mitchell

North Greenville Baptist Academy faculty 

During his second year as principal, Donnan navigated the academy through the discontinuation of Southern Baptists’ mountain mission schools. He and the academy’s trustees pressed forward, supported by the North Greenville Baptist Association. 

One of Donnan’s first capital projects was the erection of a dairy barn on the back of the campus in 1930. He secured donated materials and free labor. There would be an operating dairy on the campus, employing students, until 1957. Many students paid their board and tuition by farm work and other campus jobs. 

“In his early days as head of the school, Dr. Donnan was in direct charge of the farming operation and spent many days in the fields. … His versatility and physical energy have meant the difference between continuing the school or closing it. When he became principal he was in fact chief engineer, caretaker and farm overseer in addition to being the administrative head of the school.” 

Rev. James W. Crocker

Class of 1943
donnan administrative building

Donnan Administration Building

Academy trustees voted August 4, 1934, to offer a year of college work through North Greenville. Dr. Donnan became the institution’s first president and 22 students enrolled for the fall session. The junior college added sophomore class offerings in 1935, and the college’s first graduation, in the spring of 1936, consisted of nine graduates.

The institution grew in physical facilities and academic strength under Donnan’s leadership. A new campus auditorium was built in 1933, connected to the administration building. White Hall for women opened in 1937. Neves Dining Hall was completed in 1944, and a science building was constructed in 1946, along with faculty homes and apartments for married students. A new gymnasium and faculty apartments opened in 1950. Donnan Administration Building was constructed in 1955, followed by Turner Auditorium in 1958, along with Lawton Hall men’s dormitory. A new women’s dormitory, Simpson Hall, was completed in 1961, and Crain Science Building opened in 1962. 

The Donnan Administration Building was critical to the academic growth of the college. With spacious classrooms and a well-equipped library, the building signaled academic stability. The permanent library facilities were the final step in North Greenville earning accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1957.  

“Dr. Donnan enjoys the unique privilege and rare opportunity to be able to build in stone, mortar, and human lives.” 

H.J. Howard

NGJC faculty

Dr. Donnan received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Furman University in 1948. He stepped down from the presidency in August 1962, at the age of 70. During his tenure, North Greenville grew to a college campus of nearly 800 acres, a student enrollment of more than 500, and about 30 faculty. NGJC had 120 graduates in the spring of 1962. Upon reluctantly accepting his resignation, the trustees voted to name Dr. Donnan “President Emeritus.” The Donnans moved to a 32-acre site in Greer. While he did not farm the land, he had pasture with a spring and had “just enough” beef cattle “for a little entertainment.” He died on August 1, 1976, at the age of 84, just three days before his 52nd wedding anniversary. 

“We are grateful to you, Dr. Donnan, for the unending sacrifices you have made – in gathering about you a group of men and women whose hearts God hath touched, who have placed the love of humanity above the love of silver and gold, who have labored tirelessly with you in planting the roots of our school deep in the hears of people. … Thank you for your great faith, our belief in prayer, your kind and sympathetic heart that never turned away a worthy one from your door.” 

Rev. Raymond L. Pinson (At dedication of Donnan Administration Building)

Class of 1940, North Greenville Alumni Association President 
“To think of North Greenville is to think of Dr. Donnan, and to think of Dr. Donnan is to think of North Greenville.” 

Rev. M. Floyd Hellams

Class of 1952
“Murphree Claude Donnan is a man without whom this school simply would not be. … Most of his life he gave to the service of young people, because he believed in young people and he believed the world needed the young people he served. … It was potential that thrilled him, not obvious and completed achievement.” 

Dr. Lloyd E. Batson

Class of 1943
“His relationship with his family was one of warmth and love, for he was not a self-centered person but was always concerned with the needs of others. His love for his family, college students, and north Greenville College could not be expressed in words.” 

Lois Donnan Hinds 

“He will be appreciated and thanked for years to come for his superior qualities of leadership and Christian service, as reflected in the impact that North Greenville students have made throughout the world. … He has guarded our Baptist heritage and has never been apologetic for operating a college which is Christian or Baptist.” 

Rev. A. Howard Wilson

Board Chairman, July 1962
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