Young, Crounse, Sutcliffe, Breckinridge . . . today these names are simply places where we go to learn chemistry or philosophy, to work out, to meet a professor or hang with a friend. But before they were attached to particular buildings, these names belonged to real people whose close ties to Centre reveal fascinating stories.
As the College wends its way toward its bicentennial in 2019, it seems timely to recall the people who lent their names to campus landmarks.
Centre opened its first student center in 1961 and named it to honor then-board chair Elbert Gary Sutcliffe-1917 and his wife, Edith McClure Sutcliffe-1912. Their $100,000 gift (nearly $800,000 today) toward the project was at the time both anonymous and the largest individual gift from a living donor in College history.
Known for her sparkle, warmth, and wit, Edith McClure Sutcliffe-1912 came from a long line of prominent Danvillians and Centre alumni. Her Illinois-born husband, Elbert Gary Sutcliffe-1917, was a modest and unassuming man who in later years liked to tell people that he was just “a retired farmer.”
He joined the Centre board in 1935, became chair in 1960, and was instrumental in developing Centre’s ambitious 1959 campus master plan. Just three years later that plan led to the remarkable dedication of seven buildings—including Sutcliffe Hall—in a single day.
Although he never graduated—he and Edith married in 1914 and moved to Chicago, where he was working at a U.S. Steel subsidiary—the College awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1968 when he retired as board chair. Four years later he was elected Centre’s first life trustee.
The Sutcliffes would eventually move to Louisville, where he was a director of First National Bank, on the board of Norton Children’s Hospital, and an early backer of the restoration of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. In 1960 he joined 10 other Louisvillians—some with Centre connections—to form a syndicate to support the young Louisville boxer Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) after he won the Olympic gold medal. Sutcliffe’s grandfather was Judge Elbert Gary, a founder of U.S. Steel and for whom Gary, Ind., is named.
Edith Sutcliffe attended Caldwell College from 1902 until 1912. In her day, the school offered elementary and college prep classes as well as junior college work. (It was renamed Kentucky College for Women in 1913, before becoming the “woman’s department” of Centre from 1926 until female students moved to the main campus in 1962.) She was president of the board of visitors (an alumnae advisory group), received a Distinguished Alumni Award, and, like her husband, was both a president of the Alumni Association and the recipient of an honorary Centre degree.
Sutcliffe Hall officially opened in December 1961 with a ribbon cutting and a dance in the new ballroom. The renovation and expansion turned the old Boyle-Humphrey gym into a modern student center/gym complex complete with game room, conference room, publications room, and “record-listening rooms,” along with a snack bar that replaced the old Hangout, according to a long story in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
No part of the original Sutcliffe student center remains after the 2005 expansion of the athletic facilities. The building name, however, continues to honor two of Centre’s most enthusiastic and devoted benefactors.
Elbert died after a long illness in 1979 at the age of 85. Edith died nearly a decade later at 94, survived by their only child, Elbert Gary Sutcliffe Jr., and four grandchildren.
Their generosity made possible not only campus structures, but also the educations of many deserving students through the two Sutcliffe scholarships they endowed.
“Centre has done much more for me than I have ever done for the College,” she once wrote. “If I have ever contributed anything, it was for love—not reward. After all, I did meet my Elbert there, besides receiving an excellent education.”
by Diane Johnson
April 14, 2016
Article featured in the spring 2016 edition of Centrepiece magazine.