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Former Mars Hill President Max Lennon Dies at Age 76

Max LennonA. Max Lennon, former president of Mars Hill College (now Mars Hill University), died Tuesday, November 29, 2016. His funeral will be Monday, December 5, 2016, at 11:00 a.m., at Asheville First Baptist Church.

Lennon was a 1960 graduate of Mars Hill College, receiving his associate's degree in agriculture. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in animal science from North Carolina State University and operated a farm for several years before returning to N.C. State to earn his Ph.D. He began his education career in 1970 as an associate professor at Texas Tech University, followed by teaching and administrative positions at the University of Missouri and Ohio State University. He became president of Clemson University in 1986, and served there until 1994. His presidency included Clemson's first multi-million-dollar capital campaign, which raised $101 million; an increased focus on research and graduate programs; significant growth in enrollment during a time of severe state budget cuts; and a major building program. After leaving Clemson, Lennon became president and CEO of Eastern Foods, Inc.

In 1996 Lennon was selected to succeed retiring Mars Hill College President Fred Bentley, who had served in the position for 30 years. Besides his own time as a student, Lennon had many family ties to Mars Hill. His mother and all seven of his siblings attended the school, as did several nieces and nephews, and his brother Bernard served on the college's board of trustees in the 1980s. He met Ruth Ann Carter, a fellow student and a descendant of one of the institution's founding families, during his freshman year at Mars Hill. They married in 1961.

Under his leadership Mars Hill experienced strong growth in fundraising; secured a $10 million bond issue from the State of North Carolina; more than doubled its endowment; developed a $5 million capital improvement fund; and implemented a 10-year strategic planning process. Lennon's time as president saw major repairs to Harrell Pool, installation of new lighting around campus and new roofs on several buildings, and the initiation of the complete overhaul and renovation of Brown and Turner (formerly Melrose) residence halls. He resigned in January 2002 and became president of the Education and Research Consortium of the Western Carolinas (ERC), which worked to bring the communities of Western North Carolina the advantages of high speed computing and internet access. 

In retirement, Lennon remained a staunch supporter of Mars Hill University and was very active with the institution and the Mars Hill community. He and Ruth established a scholarship in his mother's memory, and were regular contributors of money, time, and talent to the university's advancement efforts. Lennon received special recognition in 2010 for his efforts around the 50th reunion of his graduating class of 1960, receiving the Class Reunion Fundraiser of the Year Award.

Lennon was succeeded by current Mars Hill University President Dan. G. Lunsford.