NGU News

Grocery Industry Icon Alumnus Passes Away

Posted on: February 2, 2021
By LaVerne Howell,

Headshot Thomas HaggaiTigerville, SC (March 30, 2020) Dr. Thomas S. Haggai, a 1949 North Greenville graduate who became a grocery industry icon, died Friday, March 27. He was 89.

A native of Kalamazoo, MI, Haggai started preaching at the age of 13. After completing degrees from North Greenville and Furman, he served as a pastor in Baptist churches. In 1963 moved from full-time church ministry to speaking to businesses.

An obituary noted he “had an innate ability to uplift others with his Christian and motivational speeches.  His speaking schedule became so demanding that he stepped down as pastor … so that he could focus his efforts on reaching not only those in church or educational settings, but also a broad base of world business leaders.” At its height, his international speaking schedule included approximately 250 speeches annually.

He began serving on the Independent Grocers Alliance board in 1972, becoming the first non-food industry person to be on the management board. He fully transitioned to the grocery industry in 1986, becoming chairman and CEO of the company. Over the next 30 years, he led IGA to create and maintain a global brand. He was named chairman emeritus in 2016.

Returning to the NGU campus in May 2009 as Commencement speaker, Haggai noted the impact North Greenville had on his life as a student. An NGU news release quoted him referencing three people he encountered while attending North Greenville Junior College whose influence he still recalled.

The first was I.W. Wingo, the “house mom” for the boys’ dormitory. “Mrs. Wingo didn’t show her religion; she lived it. She encouraged me to read the Bible in the morning, because there is no use to sharpen your sword after the battle has already been fought,” Haggai said.

Elsie Tuttle taught sociology and led student orientation. “Mrs. Tuttle taught me how to study, how not to procrastinate, and how to take the toughest subjects first,” said Haggai.

Haggai said M.C. Donnan, the first president of North Greenville, believed the school could send out more ministers and missionaries than any other Baptist school in the state. He believed people should be able to obtain an education even if they couldn’t afford it, and made a way financially for hundreds of students.

NGU presented Haggai with an honorary doctorate in Christian leadership. The noted international business leader received honorary doctorates from 12 other universities, and numerous awards for humanitarian service and philanthropy.

The published obituary noted Haggai is remembered for sharing his favorite prayer with friends and associates. “Since 12 years of age, my every morning prayer is, ‘O God, don’t let me die until I’m dead.’”

Haggai was a resident of High Point, NC. He is survived by his wife, Buren; four children; seven grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a brother, John Edmund Haggai.

In light of Dr. Haggai’s scholarship support for NGU ministry students, memorial gifts may be made to the Christian Ministry Scholarship Fund online at; by mail to NGU Advancement, PO Box 1892, Tigerville, SC 29688, or by phone at 864.977.2093.

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