Wingate University has lost one of its biggest supporters. Irwin “Ike” Belk, who funded generations of Belk Scholars at the University, died on Feb. 24, at the age of 95.

For over 50 years Belk served as an executive with Belk Stores, the company his father, William Henry Belk, started in 1888 in Monroe, N.C., alongside his brother, John Montgomery Belk. He also served on the boards of several other corporations throughout the years.

Irwin Belk and Jerry McGee cut ribbon on Irwin Belk Track in Wingate.

Irwin Belk and Dr. Jerry McGee (right) cut the ribbon on the Irwin Belk Track and Field Complex at Wingate University in 2013.

Irwin Belk’s support of Wingate University has ranged from athletic facilities and maintenance projects to adult education and scholarships for undergraduate students.

“Ike Belk was not only generous with his sustained support of Wingate over the decades, but he spread that generosity over several areas of the University and had an impact on nearly every aspect of the Wingate experience,” says Wingate President Rhett Brown. “Union County has always been important to the Belk family, and Ike played a big role in making sure that higher education was a factor in the county’s success.”

Between 1996 and 2011, Belk gave more than $1.7 million to the University. Monroe Hardware, where Belk served for many years on the board of directors, gave over $319,000 to the school between 1956 and 1996.

The Belk name can be found in various spots around the Wingate campus. In recognition of Belk’s giving, in 1997 the university named its new 3,500-seat football venue the Irwin Belk Stadium. The track complex, dedicated in 2013, also bears his name, and a bust of Irwin Belk can be found outside the Efird Memorial Library. Belk Hall is named after Irwin Belk’s wife, Carol Grotnes Belk, who died in 2014, and the Anne R. Belk Music Center honors his daughter-in-law, the late wife of Carl Belk.

The Irwin Belk Scholarship Fund endowment is valued at just over $1 million. Proceeds from the fund, coupled with University-budgeted dollars, were used to award the University’s highest academic honor to 108 incoming students during the 2017-2018 school year.

Irwin Belk also established the Carol Grotnes Belk Scholarship in 2000. That scholarship was awarded to 28 recipients this year.

Belk attended Davidson College before transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill, where he majored in business. He also served two and a half years in the Air Force during World War II. He later served four terms in the North Carolina legislature, introducing legislation to create UNC-Charlotte. In addition, he served two terms as a United Nations delegate and served on the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“Mr. Belk was one of Charlotte’s most respected and generous businessmen,” said Dr. Jerry McGee, Wingate University’s president from 1992 to 2015. “He was a constant source of inspiration and grace to those he encountered. His leadership in the Olympics, American Cancer Society and United Nations truly made the world a better place.”

March 1, 2018