On Friday, students, staff and faculty, community members and others will come together for the Juanita Lark Welcome Center dedication and celebration.Lark was Goshen College’s first African American graduate, receiving her diploma in 1943 with a major in education. Lark spent part of her college years at Hesston College, as well as Howard University, before graduating from Goshen.
According to Jim Caskey, vice president for institutional advancement and an organizer of the dedication on Friday, President James Brenneman is the force behind the dedication. Brenneman wanted to recognize “luminaries” who helped make Goshen College an “inclusive educational environment.”
Brenneman wanted a tangible way to identify important persons, such as Lark, who bettered the Goshen College community.
During a speech written by Brenneman and read by Caskey, Brenneman said, “The names given to spaces and to buildings across our campus should be more reflective of the diversity that is present-day Goshen and the collective history that has brought us well into Goshen’s second century. We will continue to create a campus, among the most inclusive educational environments in the world, so that all who join our college community understand – and are enabled to take the fullest advantage of – everything that Goshen offers.”
“We need some of those markers… of people other than the Mennonite founders of [Goshen College],” Caskey said, “and Juanita Lark, the first African-American graduate, was an obvious one.” Caskey and Brenneman hope that by dedicating the Welcome Center to Lark, guests and prospective students can see that Goshen College is an inclusive community.
Lark represents, to Caskey, “forward-thinking and pushing boundaries. Perhaps even pushing the Mennonite Church at the time…. She represents the pioneering spirit that Goshen College has.” Lark’s time at GC is listed as one of the 10 moments that shaped the African American history of Goshen College.
Other moments include the creation of the GC Afro-American Society, which later became the Black Student Union, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presenting a lecture in 1960.
Friday’s dedication will begin at 10 a.m. with a convocation for faculty, students and members of the Lark family. Linda Lyons, Lark’s niece, will tell stories of Lark’s time at Goshen College and how that shaped her family. Students are encouraged to attend Friday’s convocation and fellowship with Lark’s family. Then, at 10:45 a.m., the official dedication ceremony will take place at the Juanita Lark Welcome Center.
For the rest of the day, 16 members of Lark’s family will be guided around campus, meeting with faculty and staff as well as dining with Brenneman and his wife, Terri.
The evening will end with a performance by Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Reith Recital Hall.
“It’s a part of [Goshen students’] history, it’s a part of [Goshen College’s] history,” said Caskey. “The Juanita Lark family… will be anxious to meet students, to see what they care about today – which are some of the very same things Juanita cared about…. It’s a great time to celebrate this pioneering in Goshen’s history.”