Wingate University president announces retirement

Wingate University President Jerry McGee announced Tuesday he will retire in May 2015 after leading the university through major changes for nearly a quarter century.

McGee is the longest-tenured university president in the state, according to Wingate University, and will have led the school for 23 years by the time he retires. During his tenure, Wingate achieved university status, saw its enrollment nearly triple to 3,000 students and added numerous buildings and programs.

The university said it will immediately begin looking for a successor and hopes to find one before McGee leaves.

When he retires, McGee will be the longest-tenured president in Wingate’s history.

The Union County university has campuses in Charlotte and Hendersonville in addition to its 400-acre main campus. The private university was founded in 1896.

In an interview, McGee, 71, said the timing felt right to step down. He said his health is good, he wants to spend more time with his family, and he feels that he is leaving the university in good shape for his successor.

“Being president of Wingate was something I never expected but thoroughly enjoyed,” he said. “We’ve reached and surpassed many goals. … It just seems like a good time.”

Much of the student population growth has occurred in the past decade, McGee said. That was fueled in part by the university adding health science programs, including pharmacy, nursing, physician assistant studies and physical therapy.

One of the major projects McGee remains involved with is a $100 million capital campaign that began in 2010 and is scheduled to conclude around the time he retires. The campaign, the largest in school history, will help with many needs, including housing and academic improvements as well as adding to the endowment.

McGee estimated he will need to help the school raise about $1 million a month to help the campaign meet its ambitious goal.

He originally planned to retire in December, but the board of trustees wanted him to stay on until the end of the academic year next May. Board of Trustees Chairman Joe Patterson praised McGee’s work, saying he has done an excellent job improving academics and fundraising at the university.

In 2006, McGee received North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, in recognition for his service to the state.

The university also made news recently when it saved the town’s 122-year-old paper, the weekly Home News, which was scheduled to be closed. Instead, the university will publish the community paper and communications department students will produce it.

McGee plans to move to Charlotte during his retirement to be close to family.

One thing McGee won’t be doing, however, is officiating any more college football games. He did that for 36 years, including three Division I national championship games.

“Those days (on the field) are gone,” he said.