Students at Wingate take classes at the Charles A. Cannon College of Arts & Sciences and play sports or cheer on the Bulldogs at the Charles A. Cannon Athletic Complex. Many have spent at least a semester living in the dorm named for his wife, Ruth Coltrane Cannon. And everyone passes under the shadow of Mr. Cannon’s statue near the heart of campus.
Even so, few may understand the driving force behind the industrialist and philanthropist, whose gifts to Wingate University over the past 64 years have totaled some $34 million. A documentary film, “Charles A. Cannon: A Mind for Business, A Heart for People,” could rectify that.
The hourlong movie will be shown Sunday, Oct. 15, at the Gem Theatre in downtown Kannapolis and on campus in November as a Lyceum event.
Meeting the man behind the industrial powerhouse that became Cannon Mills and finding out what motivated him is central to the film, according to Bill Cannon and Robin Hayes, Cannon’s grandsons.
“Our grandfather’s story is rooted in a commitment to a vision of success for a small southern town,” said Bill Cannon via a press release about the movie. “That vision, along with his business acumen, forward-thinking approach to industrialism and true concern for his employees, left an indelible mark on the world of manufacturing, branding and distribution.”
Charles A. Cannon’s philanthropy continues to leave a mark on Wingate. His relationship with the University began in 1953, when then-president Budd Smith came to him for help with the junior college’s $16,000 debt.
Rather than write him a check for the full amount, Cannon gave Smith advice on how to turn the school’s finances around, donated $5,000 and advised him to come back in a year or two if he could demonstrate his ability to operate Wingate successfully. Two years later, Smith returned with compelling evidence that he had used the gift wisely, and Cannon issued a challenge.
Trustees were told that May that an anonymous donor would give $100,000 to the struggling college, but only if they could raise a like amount by year’s end.
According to Hubert Hester’s book “The Wingate College Story,” with only 16 days remaining in the year Smith made an impassioned plea to trustees telling them that only $39,000 had been collected and that unless they could meet the challenge the school could not continue to operate.
Newly inspired trustees pulled together another $26,000 that day, and by year-end, they had raised $139,000. Cannon not only honored the $100,000 match but kicked in another $75,000 to top off the successful campaign.
Hester characterized the donation as an example of Cannon’s reputation for helping those who helped themselves.
Smith would later write of Cannon, “Wingate College is indeed grateful to have had a friend such as Mr. Cannon because he gave new life to a good institution that then was unable to continue to serve effectively.”
“The hundreds of young people who enjoy the opportunities of Wingate College through the years can know well as they sit in the classrooms that here was a man who was a dedicated American businessman believing in everything that was good and also willing to participate in making it better,” Smith wrote.
Over the years, Wingate has received numerous gifts from the Cannon Foundation, the Charles A. Cannon Charitable Trusts Nos. 1 and 2, and the Mariam and Robert Hayes Charitable Trust. Mariam Cannon Hayes, for whom Wingate’s Hayes building was named, was Charles and Ruth Cannon’s daughter. The University is also the caretaker of the Charles A. Cannon Collection of personal papers.
For more details about the Charles A. Cannon documentary or to view the trailer, see the movie website.
Oct. 10, 2017