Dalton McMichael Sr. remembered for support of Elon

Described as “talented at business and a genius at friendship,” a North Carolina textile magnate was honored for Founders Day 2012.


The campus community gathered to celebrate Founders Day 2012 on Tuesday morning during a special College Coffee in front of Alamance building, where the family and friends of Dalton L. McMichael Sr. heard stories of how the North Carolina businessman’s legacy continues today at Elon University.

McMichael and his family have been supporters of the university for two decades with gifts that have benefited generations of Elon students, both undergraduates and, most recently, students at Elon University School of Law.

McMichael’s spirit was captured in keynote remarks offered by Elon President Emeritus J. Fred Young, who led the school for more than a quarter century. “It’s a great joy for me (today) because I was so fond of him,” said Young, speaking from the steps of Alamance. “Dalton McMichael Sr. practiced the values we cherish here at Elon.”

But it wasn’t McMichael’s business acumen that Young remembers first. “His great passion was collecting friends,” the former Elon president said. “He had an amazing capacity for friendship. He was talented at business, and a genius at friendship.”

And McMichael’s generosity continues to reverberate in the Elon University community more than a decade after his death in 2001. “Perhaps Dalton’s greatest contribution to this university was his family,” Young said. “The leadership, the values, and the support of Dalton McMichael and his family have been absolutely critical for the advancement of Elon.”

McMichael’s contributions to Elon include major gifts to support Rhodes Stadium, the Frank S. Holt, Jr. Professorship, and the Kresge Endowed Science Fund, which provided the latest technology and equipment for the science center. Following in his footsteps, his daughter Gail and her late husband Richard Drew made a $1 million gift to Elon. A plaque in the McMichael Science Center lobby recognizes the couple for their contribution. Gail’s sisters and brothers have also made gifts to Elon throughout the years.

Continuing the McMichael family’s rich philanthropic tradition at Elon, the McMichael Family Foundation committed $2 million in 2009 to fund three full-tuition scholarships annually at the Elon University School of Law, establishing the largest scholarship endowment at the school. Since then, the McMichael Law and Leadership Fellowship has been awarded to talented students who have high academic abilities and significant life or educational leadership experiences.

The foundation board includes Elon trustee Gail M. Lane of Paris, Ky., and her siblings, Elon trustee Dalton (Mac) McMichael, Jr., of Stoneville, N.C., and Flavel Godfrey of Jacksonville, Fla. Also serving on the board are three grandchildren of Dalton McMichael, Sr. – Whitney Heard of High Point, Anna Kirk of Wake Forest, and Andrew Miracle of Chapel Hill, all in North Carolina.

Mac McMichael shared a brief story at College Coffee about his father. When the elder McMichael was a student at UNC Chapel Hill in the 1930s, he initially had plans of entering medicine. However, with an inability to control his hands from shaking, a science professor took note – and promptly told McMichael Sr. that, no, he wouldn’t be going into medicine.

The audience laughed at the anecdote.

Preceding College Coffee was a special tree planting outside the front entrance to the McMichael Science Center, named for McMichael in recognition of a $3 million gift to the university in 1997. At the time it was the single largest gift in school history.

In brief remarks prior to the planting, Elon President Leo M. Lambert welcomed visitors to campus and lauded McMichael for his eagerness to support education.

“When you encountered Dalton McMichael, you knew you were meeting one of the best, most genuine and golden people you’d ever have the privilege of meeting in your lifetime,” Lambert said.

McMichael began working in the textile industry shortly after graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1938. He soon began his own textile empire, founding, often in partnership, a number of textile industries, beginning with Madison Throwing Company in 1946. Madison Throwing was followed by MacField Texturing, which merged with Unifi in 1991; Vintage Yarns, which also was bought by Unifi in 1993; Mayo Yarns; and Dan Valley Yarns. During his 60-year career in the industry, McMichael transformed the man-made yarn preparation industry and become its worldwide leader.

McMichael supported many North Carolina universities, colleges, and public schools throughout his lifetime. He served as chairman of the Madison and Madison-Mayodan school boards for more than 15 years, and Dalton L. McMichael High School in Mayodan was named in his honor.

His interest in giving to Elon grew from stories told by Lane and his three grandsons — Bill Drew ’96; Andrew Miracle, who attended Elon from 1995 to 1997; and Paul “Brack” Brigman III ’99.

The Dalton L. McMichael, Sr. Science Center houses the biology, physics, and chemistry departments. The 81,000-square-foot facility includes 17 teaching labs, 14 student research labs, 11 reading and conference rooms, classrooms, a greenhouse, the Hampl Engineering Workshop, a molecular biology lab, a computerized human physiology lab, and a robotic observatory.

“I was sold on what my gifts would mean to this college,” McMichael said in 1999, two years before his death. “What I have given to Elon has had a real impact… That makes it more meaningful to me.”

About Founders Day:

On Sept. 14, 1939, Elon established Founders Day to honor significant figures from its then 50 years of existence. Today, the annual Founders Day celebrations continue to commemorate the lives of administrators, faculty and trustees who impacted the growth of the institution.