BOONE, N.C. — Many of the sculptures that adorn Appalachian State University’s campus were gifted by Irwin “Ike” Belk. The prominent North Carolina business leader and philanthropist died Saturday, Feb. 24, at his home. Belk was 95.
The “Aspire” statue that is the focal point of Sanford Mall was gifted by Belk, as was the iconic bronze Mountaineer statue located at the entrance to Stadium Drive.
The Charlotte native was one of the university’s most dedicated and generous benefactors. “Mr. Belk’s contributions supported our library, our colleges, improved our athletic facilities and culturally enhanced the daily experience of being on our campus,” Chancellor Sheri Everts said. “Mr. Belk was always positive and proud to support higher education. His legacy provides great inspiration to our community.”
Belk’s family name adorns Belk Residence Hall, and Carol Grotnes Belk Library and Information Commons is named in honor of his late wife. He commissioned sculptures for the Reich College of Education and the Belk Library and Information Commons, as well as the mural, “The Quest for Knowledge,” located in the library’s atrium.
Belk provided funding for the establishment of three distinguished professorships at Appalachian. The Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professorship for Library and Information Studies was the first professorship for a library within the University of North Carolina System.
The Anne Belk Distinguished Professorship provides funds that support the research and community outreach of the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection librarian.
The Dr. Daniel B. German Eminent Professorship in Political Science has enhanced teaching in the Department of Government and Justice Studies in Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences.
In addition, Belk created the Dean Mary Reichel and Dr. Rao Aluri Library Student Employee Endowed Scholarship, which affords a student library employee with valuable work experience while in college.
A one-time half-mile state record-holder in North Carolina, Belk was one of the largest individual philanthropists in track and field, donating funds to construct 29 collegiate track and field facilities in North and South Carolina, including the Irwin “Ike” Belk Track at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Athletics Director Doug Gillin said, “We are incredibly grateful for Mr. Belk’s passion and generosity. Our student-athletes, campus faculty and staff and the High Country community are reminded of his influence every time they enter Kidd Brewer Stadium and use the track that bears his name.”
In addition to his philanthropic efforts, Belk served on the Board of Visitors for Appalachian and the Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina. He was a recipient of Appalachian’s B. B. Dougherty Award in 1998 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 2010.
Belk served for more than 50 years as an executive with the then-family-owned Belk department store chain. He was elected to the N.C. House of Representatives in 1959 and the N.C. Senate in 1963. Among scores of other commissions and honors, Belk was a U.S. public delegate to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and a member and former elder and deacon of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. Belk also served on various corporate boards, spanning textile mills and distribution companies as well banks and insurance firms.
Dr. Mary Reichel, retired dean of libraries, shares her personal remarks about Belk
Starting in 1992, Dr. Mary Reichel served Appalachian State University in a number of key roles, including dean of libraries and, for a short span, special assistant to the provost. She retired in December 2017.
She was a recipient of the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professorship — the first professorship for a librarian in the University of North Carolina System. She shared these remarks after learning of Belk’s passing:
“One of my very favorite experiences in my 25 years at Appalachian was to help Ike pack up his and Carol’s collection of books, which he donated to our library. What a joy it was to understand more about Ike’s love of education and learning through his collection of books on history, business, biography, architecture, travel, design and the Olympics. We are honored to have the Irwin Belk Book Collection in the library.
“While I was grateful for Ike’s incredibly generous donations to the library, I also enjoyed his company. He and Carol always were welcoming and gracious whenever we were together. I was invigorated by Ike’s joy in living, his pride in his family, Charlotte and North Carolina, and his support and love of art. Ike was proud that he had known all of Appalachian’s presidents and chancellors, and he was impressed by Appalachian’s continued quality and ongoing growth. His donated sculptures, ‘Aspire’ and the wonderful Yosef, represent Ike’s generous and indomitable spirit. I will miss him.”
About University Advancement
Appalachian State University’s Division of University Advancement supports and encourages the university’s mission by engaging alumni, friends and the greater community. University Advancement staff help connect these constituents with Appalachian through one-on-one contact and special programming, thereby securing the resources necessary to create the best possible learning environment for Appalachian students and to positively impact the community, region and state. The division incorporates the offices of Alumni Affairs, Development and the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc. Learn more at http://give.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.