Southeastern University Celebrates 85th Anniversary WithOpening Of Welcome Center
by James Coulter
Dean Johnson was an esteemed member of Southeastern University (SEU). He coached for 40 years at the private Christian college. Not only was he a legendary soccer coach, he was also inducted into the Hall of Fame of Coaches in Florida.
Dr. Bethany Thomas, his daughter and the Vice President of Student Development, remembers always seeing him every morning in his personal corner of the house studying scripture. His influence allowed her and her brother to grow their love for the Christian faith and lead them to becoming SEU staff members.
When Johnson passed away two years ago, Dr. Thomas remembered seeing many of the people he helped through his life attending his funeral. She was touched by just how many people her father had touched through his life, and she was only sorry that he was not alive to see them all there, she said.
“I wished that day would never end,” she said. “For me, hearing the story after story, I love hearing people talk about my father. I was grateful to be raised by a man who believed in me, who believed in family, and who believed in raising the next generation. I pray for decades to come, the memory of his life and legacy will live on forever.”
Johnson’s memory and legacy will live on through an eternal flame set outside the new SEU Welcome Center. The flame was lit by college representatives during the dedication ceremony for the new facility on Wednesday.
The 27,000-square-foot Welcome Center, set between Addison Hall and Lake Bonny, now serves as the “front door” to the university for prospective students and guests alike. Upon passing by the torch and entering through the doors, they will be able to learn more about SEU and its rich history and legacy.
“Once inside the Welcome Center, guests will be greeted by a 12-foot LED wall and interactive displays that will share the SEU Experience with visitors,” its website states. “Administrative offices will be housed on the second floor. The third floor will feature a banquet and catering facility that will be able to serve up to 400 guests.”
The Welcome Center was officially dedicated during the “Lighting of the Torch” ceremony on Wednesday evening. The date of the event proved especially significant, as it also marked the 85th anniversary of the university.
On Nov. 4, 1935, SEU first opened its doors in New Brockton, Alabama as the Shield of Faith Institute. The university later relocated to Lakeland in 1946. Since then, the school has experienced significant and extensive growth.
10 years ago, SEU had 2,400 students; this year, they have 9,546 students enrolled. Since 2010, the university seen unprecedented growth in unrestricted education. This semester sees 175 extension campuses around the nation, with students nationwide “studying in their communities God’s call for their life,” said SEU President Kent Ingle.
The eternal flame outside the welcome center not only serves as a monument to the life and legacy of Dean Johnson, but will also represent the burning spirit of the university and its commitment to spreading the Christian faith, Ingle explained.
“This facility represents the culmination of an era of incredible God-ordained guidance, leadership, and growth that He has placed within our lives,” he said. “[It will fuel] a desire to fulfill a destiny of this university, to come alongside students, to help them to discover to develop their divine design. This building will allow that gateway for our students, the entrance to the first steps to a journey of a lifetime. A journey of discovering divine destiny.”
SEU prides itself in raising up the next generation of Christian leaders to fulfill Christ’s commandment to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” To help them develop a love for the communities they will serve upon graduating, the college inspires them to serve the local Lakeland community.
“We teach them to love Lakeland,” Ingle said. “Because if they learn to love Lakeland and to serve Lakeland and to be part of this great community no matter where God takes them across the globe, they will love those communities and they will serve those communities.”