Professor, administrator and University Historian George Troxler dies

Troxler, a recipient of the Elon Medallion, served Elon in many capacities across five decades and was the author of “From a Grove of Oaks: The Story of Elon University."

George Troxler, who both shaped and chronicled Elon’s history for nearly five decades while building countless relationships with students, faculty, staff and alumni, has died. He was 77.

George Troxler received the Elon Medallion, the university’s highest honor, in 2012.

A professor of history, dean of cultural and special programs and the university historian, Troxler passed away Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, surrounded by his family. A recipient of the Elon Medallion, the university’s highest honor, Troxler mentored generations of students, oversaw scores of performances, commencements and high-profile speakers, and headed the university’s 125th anniversary Founders Day commemoration. His celebrated book, “From a Grove of Oaks: The Story of Elon University,” stands as a definitive history of Elon.

“George Troxler lived the values of Elon University, through his devotion to his students, his commitment to expanding the horizons of the campus community and his dedication to documenting the history of an institution he loved,” said President Connie Ledoux Book. “Throughout his career, he worked to move Elon forward and the impression he has left on this university is a deep one.”

Troxler arrived at Elon in 1969 after receiving his master’s degree and doctorate in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A native of Greensboro, he received his undergraduate degree from Guilford College before heading to Chapel Hill to begin graduate studies. During three decades in the classroom at Elon, Troxler taught courses in American history, North Carolina history, U.S. diplomatic history and in his field of American Colonial and Revolutionary history.

George and Carole Watterson Troxler with President Emeritus Leo Lambert in 2014 when a seminar room in Linder Hall was dedicated in their honor.

“History is nothing more than a story, and I enjoy telling the story,” Troxler told the Magazine of Elon in 2004.

Troxler contributed to his academic discipline, writing more than a dozen articles, including one focused on Elon’s history, for the “Encyclopedia of North Carolina,” the first comprehensive reference of North Carolina’s people, places, history and culture. He and his wife, Carole Watterson Troxler, an accomplished scholar and professor emerita of history at Elon, were honored with the Christopher Crittenden Memorial Award from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association and the Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies for lifetime contributions to the advancement of North Carolina history.

In 1985 Troxler was named director of cultural programs and led Elon’s efforts to bring internationally acclaimed speakers and performers in music, dance and drama to the campus. In 2009 after 40 years of service to the university, Troxler was praised for his leading role in bringing notable speakers to campus, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, and Queen Noor of Jordan, to name just a few. “Through his many duties — as scheduler, promoter, stage manager and even chauffeur, George has expanded the vision of thousands of Elon students who never imagined they would share a room with a queen, a former president or an astronaut,” read his 40-year service award citation.

Troxler at opening reception in November 2013 for an exhibit that highlighted the milestones and people of Elon’s 125-year history in the Isabella Cannon Room

Beginning in the early 1990s, Troxler served for more than a decade as chief graduation marshal, bringing a commitment to excellence to managing Commencement, convocations and other major campus events. Each spring, Troxler oversaw the placement of 10,000 chairs Under the Oaks for the undergraduate commencement exercises he ran with military precision and attention to detail. Over time, the number of commencement exercises he planned and orchestrated each year grew to five as Elon expanded and added graduate degree programs.

As a historian, Troxler turned his attention to his own institution. He was instrumental in researching the history of two of Elon’s most important artifacts: the bell that hung in the Main Administration Building, which was destroyed during the 1923 campus fire; and the bell from Graham College, the predecessor institution to Elon, which is kept in the university’s archives and rung at the opening of the school year each August.

Troxler partnered on the effort to restore and display the famous bells with his former student Raymond Beck, who served as North Carolina State Capitol historian and site manager. The two collaborated again to research and restore a chandelier that had hung in Old Main before the fire, and later ended up in a church in Whynot, N.C. In October 2017, the restored chandelier was returned to campus and now hangs in the Archives Room in Belk Library, thanks to the work of the pair.

George Troxler in an undated photo

During his meticulous research for “From a Grove of Oaks: The Story of Elon University,” Troxler pored through primary source materials in the university’s archives. The book provides thorough documentation and outstanding analysis of the daily operations and milestones in the university’s 125-year history, including the first comprehensive record of Elon’s growth under the leadership of President Emeritus J. Fred Young and President Emeritus Leo M. Lambert. Troxler worked with former archivist Katie Nash to review the visual history of Elon and choose photos for the richly illustrated volume.

“One volume with 400-plus photographs cannot tell 125 years of Elon history,” Troxler said in 2014 about his recently published book. But, he added, “I hope people would find something in it that they didn’t know, a photograph they haven’t seen, and they would enjoy the retelling of what is a very amazing story of a college that survived and transformed itself.”

In addition to witnessing the growth of Elon’s campus over the past four decades, Troxler was part of the institution’s most significant programmatic changes, providing leadership three times across three decades for the institution’s major, and successful, reaccreditation visits by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

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Two years after his retirement from the university in 2010, Troxler was awarded Elon’s highest honor, the Elon Medallion, for his meritorious service to the institution. In 2014, Troxler was named Elon’s first University Historian and was charged with leading efforts to document and interpret the evolution of university for future generations. The Troxlers have been philanthropic supporters of the university, establishing the Troxler-Watterson Endowed History Scholarship and the Watterson-Troxler Scholarship to assist students studying history. The Department of History seminar room on the first floor of Lindner Hall was named and dedicated in honor of George and Carole Troxler in 2014.

Beyond academia, Troxler was actively involved with the Boy Scouts of America. A scout himself, he started as a cub master for the local Pack 51 in 1975 and his work resulted in leadership positions, recognitions and awards at the local, regional and national levels throughout his decades of service. For his service to the Boy Scouts as well as with local historical organizations, Troxler received the Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility from Elon in 2005.

“I benefitted a lot from scouting, including understanding how to work with my peers and learning leadership,” Troxler told the Magazine of Elon in 2004. “I think it’s important to be of service to your community.”

A memorial service will be held Friday, Nov. 1, beginning at 3 p.m., at the Elon Community Church, 271 N. Williamson Ave. in Elon. There will be a reception in the Community Life Center following the service.  The family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Lowe Funeral Home & Crematory at 2205 S. Church St. and other times at the residence.