Converse College announced today the establishment of The George Dean Johnson , Jr. Chair in History. The position was made possible by a $2.5 million gift to the Converse endowment by Stewart and Ann Cobb Johnson of Spartanburg in honor of Stewart’s brother, George Dean Johnson, Jr.
“It is our great pleasure to honor George by giving and naming a history chair for him at Converse College. Over the years, George has bestowed much of his time and resources to enhance the education of the students at Converse. This gift will further enable Converse to continue on the road of excellence,” stated Stewart and Ann Johnson.
Earnings from the endowment gift will be used to support the chair holder’s salary and to launch a Research and Development Fund for Converse’s Department of History and Politics. This fund will support innovative academic projects that further the study of history and politics at Converse. Such programs may include a visiting scholars lecture series, new course development and student-faculty collaborative research.
Dr. Melissa Walker, associate professor of history at Converse College, will be the first member of the Converse faculty to hold the George Dean Johnson, Jr. Chair in History. Walker’s tenure at Converse began in 1996. Since that time, she has received top teaching honors at Converse, including the O’Herron Award for Faculty Excellence (2002) and the Kathryne Amelia Brown Award for outstanding teaching (2001). Walker has authored several books which explore the lives and experiences of Southern rural women. Additionally, she has written 12 articles for academic journals and edited collections, 15 encyclopedia articles and 28 book reviews. In July 2007, Walker led two week-long seminars funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities which attracted to Converse and the Upstate over 100 K-12 teachers from throughout the country to learn about the critical role that South Carolina played in the American Revolution.
The Importance of Endowed Chairs
“This gift is incredible for Converse and our pursuit of excellence. The most prestigious academic distinction that any institution may bestow on a faculty member is an endowed chair,” said Converse President Dr. Betsy Fleming. “It supports talent in exploring and enriching research and scholarship and the capacity to make a major contribution within a teaching program. Such endowed academic chairs as the George Dean Johnson, Jr. Chair in History challenge an institution and its faculty to perform at the highest possible level. It is an investment that rewards excellence—in teaching students, in writing and lecturing, and ultimately in expanding an academic discipline through creative and critical thinking.”
Regarding the specifics of the gift and the appointment of Walker to the position, Fleming stated that “This gift is philanthropy at its finest, honoring commitment and passion in hopes of inspiring more. Dr. Walker has certainly earned this honor. We look forward to her continued success as historian, mentor and colleague as the George Dean Johnson, Jr. Chair in History at Converse.”
George Dean Johnson, Jr.
A native of Spartanburg, SC, George Dean Johnson, Jr. is one of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs and a leading philanthropist for education in South Carolina. Currently Chairman of Johnson Development Associates, Inc., Johnson is a former member and a past chair of the Converse College Board of Trustees. Johnson and his wife Susan Phifer Jo