Officials rename two buildings to honor alumni

The Commons Building is a well-used area on campus for students to get food and hang out with friends. In 2018, university officials will re-name the building after Wendall Wilkie Gunn, the first African-American student to attend UNA.

To honor two alumni, the Commons and UNA Science and Technology buildings will receive new names in 2018.

The Commons will become the Wendell W. Gunn University Commons in honor of Wendell Wilkie Gunn, the first African-American student of UNA (then Florence State College).

Despite having to have a court order to enroll, Gunn’s transfer from Tennessee State University went smooth. In spring 1964, he received the university’s Physics Achievement Award.

After he graduated the following year with degrees in math and chemistry, Gunn went on to serve under U.S. President Ronald Reagan as a special assistant and in the U.S Office of Policy Development as assistant director for commerce and trade. He also founded Gunn Solutions, an investment firm consulting business.

Gunn returned to UNA May 13, 2017 to speak at the spring commencement, where he received an honorary doctorate degree from the university.

“Gunn epitomizes the traits of perseverance and integrity that cross social, racial and cultural backgrounds,” said members of the UNA Board of Trustees in a resolution.

The Student Government Association is also petitioning to honor Gunn with a statue on the lawn of Bibb Graves Hall.

“For many reasons, Wendell is a symbol of the determination and pursuit of scholarly achievement, which is at the center of this institution,” said SGA President Hugo Dante. “He strove and defeated every barrier put up against him.”

The UNA Science and Technology Building will change to the Mitchell Burford Science and Technology Building in honor of Alexander Mitchell Burford, Jr.

Before coming to UNA, Burford enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Serving as a Medical Corpsman inspired him to study medicine, according to his obituary.

He enrolled at UNA (then Florence State Teacher’s College) after ending his military service to complete a degree in biology. He later went on to continue his studies at the University of Tennessee’s College of Medicine.

After becoming medically licensed, he worked as a pathologist at Eliza Memorial Hospital for 36 years. After retiring in 1996, he returned to UNA’s Institute for Learning in Retirement, which he had previously participated in during his college years, as an instructor in public health and world history.

During his life, Burford also donated more than $4 million worth of financial gifts to the university, becoming the largest individual private donor in the college’s history. He passed away March 7, 2017, at the age of 87.

His estate gift supported the Science and Technology Building, which had its official grand opening Sept. 10, 2015.

“We continue to applaud and be thankful for Dr. Burford’s philanthropic spirit,” members of the UNA Board of Trustees said.

Dante said renaming the building after Burford is the least UNA should do to honor him.

“He is the symbol of success and lifetime achievement, which all UNA students should strive to achieve,” Dante said.