Heritage Christian University traces its roots to 1871, when T.B. Larimore opened Mars Hill Academy on land inherited by his wife Esther Gresham Larimore. Located along Cox Creek near Florence, Alabama, Mars Hill Academy equipped ministers and other Christian leaders for service in the Churches of Christ. Students trained at Mars Hill established hundreds of congregations in Florence and surrounding communities in North Alabama and southern Tennessee. Initially housed in Larimore’s home, the Academy closed in 1887 in order for Larimore to devote himself fully to evangelism. The 12-room house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Among those educated by Larimore at Mars Hill were notable restoration preachers F.D. Srygley and J.C. McQuiddy.
Locally organized Christian education for the Churches of Christ resumed in 1947 when Mars Hill Bible School, an elementary and secondary school, began on the site of the old Mars Hill Academy. Property for the school was purchased by William Wallace Alexander, a local physician, from T.B. Larimore’s son, Virgil, who still resided on the land where his father had operated the original academy. Mars Hill Bible School continues to provide excellent preschool through high school education.
In November 1965, noting an extreme shortage of preachers, a number of Shoals area church leaders proposed to the Mars Hill Board of Directors the establishment of a school to help prepare men for ministry. A steering committee, functioning under the Mars Hill Board of Directors, quickly assumed responsibility for the promotion of the school, curriculum planning, and the selection of teachers. Supplementing the work of Mars Hill Bible School, the new T.B. Larimore School of Evangelists was seen as a restoration of the the type of preacher training accomplished by Larimore in the late 19th century.
Opening in January 1966 with 70 students enrolled, the T.B. Larimore School of Evangelists followed the model of a non-credit Bible institute or preacher training school. After operating in the spring and fall of 1966, the school’s steering committee, at the direction of the Mars Hill Board of Directors, transitioned from an administrative function to an advisory one. There is no known record of the school meeting for classes after December 1966.
The dream of providing higher education in the Shoals, designed specifically for the training of preachers, did not lay dormant for long. Before the end of 1967, plans were already underway to establish a private college in Florence, independent of Mars Hill, to prepare students for ministry. In 1968, those plans began taking shape, when Malcolm Hill agreed to leave his work as preacher for the Forest Park congregation in greater Atlanta to become the inaugural president of the newly established Southeastern Institute (College) of the Bible in Florence. Inez Alexander, widow of Dr. William Wallace Alexander, donated land for a campus near the old T.B. Larimore home and local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. G.R. Melson, serving as chair of the Businessmen’s Advisory Board, began efforts to establish an endowment for the school. Founded in 1968, Southeastern classes met for the first time in January 1969. The institute would include a three-year program offering bachelor’s degrees in Sacred Literature and Religious Education. No accreditation from secular or academic associations would be sought.
In October 1970, the Southeastern administration and Board of Directors was reorganized and in early 1971, Charles Coil was selected by the new board as the second president of Southeastern College of the Bible. As president, Coil was empowered to establish a program unique among the Churches of Christ – the four-year Bible college. Neither a preacher training school nor a liberal arts college, the coeducational Bible college would have a standardized academic calendar, admissions policies, and curriculum. In September 1971, Southeastern was renamed International Bible College. The new name would reflect a desire and practice to train men and women for service worldwide. In 1989, after serving eighteen years as the college’s chief administrator, Charles Coil announced his resignation as president of International Bible College. He continued to serve as chancellor until his death in 1994. IBC alumnus, Dennis Jones, succeeded Coil as the institution’s third president, taking office on January 1, 1990.
To help meet the need for advanced education for preachers and church leaders, a graduate program offering Master of Ministry and Master of Arts degrees was added in 2000. In January 2001, the institution changed its name to Heritage Christian University to reflect more accurately its status as offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees. In August 2001, the first graduates were awarded their master’s degrees. In 2011, the university initiated a Master of Divinity program with emphasis on small church growth.
Heritage Christian University is properly constituted, authorized, and operated as a non-profit organization and is officially recognized by both state and federal authorities. A Board of Directors governs the university through its Constitution and Bylaws. Heritage Christian University was initially accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education in 1988. Accreditation was reaffirmed for a ten-year period in 2009. In 2011, HCU was acknowledged as a Military Friendly School, one of the Service Members Opportunity Colleges, and as a Yellow Ribbon School. The Internal Revenue Service recognizes the university as a tax exempt organization, 501(c)(3), eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts.
Alumni of the Year
Beginning in 1985, the University’s Alumni Association began to award an annual “Alumnus of the Year” Award. The following individuals have been named “Alumnus of the Year”:
2010 Sara Kathryn Lyne Goldman (2000)
2009 James Robert Hall (1979)
2008 James Waverly “Sonny” Owens (1988)
2007 Nigel Murray Milo (1998)
2006 Myra Wade Underwood (1978)
2005 P. Edmund Cagle (1988)
2004 Jerry Bell (1988)
2003 Steve Vice (1992)
2002 Stanley Hubbard (1992)
2001 Austin Vimba (1995)
2000 Tom Leavins (1977)
1999 David R. Short (1979)
1997 Phillip Hines (1976)
1996 Randy English (1989)
1995 Gary Marshall (1979)
1994 Chris Ward (1984)
1993 Bobby South (1986)
1992 Daniel Frithjof Steinhauer (1988)
1991 Thomas L. Holiday (1985)
1990 C. Wayne Kilpatrick (1974)
1989 Charles Thompson (1972)
1988 Herschel L. McFarlen (1975)
1987 Glenn Russell Nichols (1977)
1986 Subin Panboon (1973)
1985 John Henry (1973)