Former Chancellor Honored | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Patricia Earnhardt Tyndall.

Former Chancellor Dr. Dick Eakin speaks during the dedication where a plaque was unveiled at the Richard R. and JoAnn M. Eakin Student Recreation Center at East Carolina University. (Photos by George Crocker)

    A long-delayed in-person tribute was held Nov. 18 to celebrate the naming of the Richard R. and JoAnn M. Eakin Student Recreation Center at East Carolina University. A plaque dedication ceremony honored the former chancellor and his wife for their unwavering commitment to student recreation and wellness.

    The center was renamed in the Eakins' honor in 2020.

    As university leaders, staff members and former employees gathered in the center's rotunda to celebrate with the Eakins, a prospective student tour group walked through, machines whirred as members exercised, and students checked in at the desk for programs.

    It was just as it should be - a campus resource that thousands of students utilize every day.

    "It is a special day to be celebrating this place where students come to relax, workout and manage stress," said Dr. Lynn Roeder, ECU Dean of Students. "I can tell you, now more than ever, we need a place like this."

    The building name is about more than the former chancellor and his wife being integral parts of East Carolina and Greenville.

    For Nance Mize, former assistant vice chancellor of campus recreation and wellness, "it is about the right name being on the right place."

    Mize shined a light on former Chancellor Eakin's focus on the hearts, spirits and minds of the people in this community. Mize and Eakin were both new on campus in 1987 when a recreation and wellness facility was proposed.

    Mize recalled knowing that for the idea to succeed, it would need the support of the administration. Eakin agreed to take it to the Board of Trustees if Mize and a group of students would draft the resolution requesting the project.

    Trustees who visited Eakin at Bowling Green State University in Ohio had seen a similar facility on the campus. Eakin had played a key role in opening the facility.

    Through a decadelong effort, the team persevered in working with the trustees amid the challenges of lost parking and construction delays.

    "Dr. Eakin was always in our corner," Mize said. "He was always there with us."

    When it came time to break ground for the facility, planners worried about how to accommodate such an event in a parking lot. Mize pitched Eakin the idea of having him shoot a basketball layup instead of turning a shovel of dirt.

    A basketball goal was installed behind the chancellor's residence on Fifth Street, where neighbors heard regular basketball practice before the groundbreaking.

    Known for wanting to be the very best he could be, "Eakin practiced there under cover of darkness to be ready," Mize said.

    On the day of the groundbreaking, the chancellor picked up a basketball and made a perfect layup in the goal set up on the future site of the recreation facility.

    The $18 million, 150,000-square-foot facility opened in 1997.

    Today it features an indoor and outdoor pool, a 12,000-square-foot weight and fitness area, an indoor running track, a 27-foot climbing wall, six basketball courts, three fitness studios, and a new athletic training facility.

    Eakin and his wife were known for their nightly walks around campus. After the opening in 1997, Mize said the Eakins visited the recreation center every night, taking pride in seeing the joy of the students using the facility.

    The Eakins enjoyed being around students once again during the dedication. "I don't quite know what to say about the thrill this is for Jo and me," Eakin said. "We are in love with ECU and are just so delighted to be part of this with all of you."

    For 25 years, the center has benefited students and the campus community as Eakin knew it would.

    Campus and Recreation Wellness Director Willie Ehling highlighted the center's importance in campus life and the vision it took to create it.

    Because of the center, "students go out making a difference and understanding the importance of recreation and wellness," Ehling said.
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