100-year-old alumnus returns to campus 

Jim White ’40 visited Whitley Auditorium July 19, returning to the site of his first solo as a tenor in the Elon College choir.

When you are 100 years and 10 months old, even a trip across town is a production. Alumnus Jim White ’40 returned to campus July 19, more than 75 years after graduating from Elon College with a degree in chemistry. White is in a wheelchair and needed oxygen while outdoors in the heat and humidity of a July morning, but he had the full support of an entourage of helpers from the Village at Brookwood who were determined to grant his wish to visit his alma mater.

Most of the visit took place in Whitley Auditorium, a building that is especially dear to White. He said Whitley was where he sang his first solo on campus. Asked if he remembered the song, he didn’t hesitate: “‘Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart.’” He claimed that it wouldn’t sound like much, but he was finally persuaded to sing the first lines:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art,
And make me love thee as I ought to love.

His voice is soft, but still sweet and moving.

A native of Charlotte, White was recruited by Landon Walker ’39 to come to Elon; it seems the college choir needed a tenor. A music scholarship made it possible for White to enroll. Even though he later changed his major to chemistry—the precursor to a 40-year career as a chemist for Glen Raven Mills—White has remained completely devoted to Elon’s music program.

April West ’18 and Jim White ’40
As part of a 100th birthday celebration last September, family and friends surprised White by announcing the creation of the James W. White ’40 and Sara R. White Music Scholarship. The endowed scholarship provides assistance to Elon music students with financial need. It was the perfect gift for White, who said more than once during his visit this week, “I want to give back to Elon.”

He has already given back in a big way. Two offices in the Center for the Arts were named by White and his late wife, Sara. One honors his friend and fellow alumnus Landon Walker and another honors former Elon College dean and longtime music department faculty member, Fletcher Moore ’34. White is also a member of the university’s Order of the Oak, which recognizes donors who make planned gifts.

Elon named the first White Music Scholar, April West ’18, earlier this month. West, who plays flute and has performed on the piccolo with the Fire of the Carolinas Marching Band, met White during his visit. She told him of her plans to teach music after graduation, and she told him that she hopes her junior recital next spring will be held right there in Whitley, where he sang his first solo.  

If his health permits, White will be in the audience.