Originally created 11/09/99

Building named for leader



AIKEN -- Amelia Penland remembers what her late husband always said: He never wanted a building to bear his name.

Too bad, Mrs. Penland said shortly after a ceremony Monday to name the administration and classroom building at University of South Carolina Aiken in honor of Robert E. Penland, who died two years ago.

And why not, his friends and family said. He spent countless hours supervising construction of the building -- the first on the campus. He even took a year off work to do it.

"We lived on borrowed money, but we didn't starve," Mrs. Penland said. "He always said, `Don't worry, honey. This is a labor of love."'

Besides, if not for Mr. Penland, USC Aiken might never have been.

In the campus' early years, he led school marches lobbying for a bond bill from the South Carolina General Assembly to build the facility. He talked Gregg-Graniteville Co. into donating land to build the campus library. He persuaded Cecil and Virginia Etherredge to leave their estates to the university, the result of which is Etherredge Center. And even in his later years, Mr. Penland asked people to donate money to the campus.

His friends said Mr. Penland had a gift in his ability to persuade people to support the university.

An example was the Double Knot sculpture in the courtyard of the administration building. Mr. Penland worked closely with artist Charles Perry to acquire the piece. Mr. Penland knew the sculptor's parents.

Mr. Penland grew up in a modest house across from the Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina. At age 10, his father died unexpectedly after a blood transfusion. But Mr. Penland knew what his dad expected him to do -- get a solid college education.

He received a partial scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina to run track and play basketball. But unable to come up with the rest of the money, Mr. Penland enrolled at the University of South Carolina.

"My father once told me that he wouldn't give $1 million for his education," said Mr. Penland's daughter, Peggy.

After receiving a law degree, he worked 11 years as an FBI agent. In the 1950s, Mr. Penland moved to Aiken to launch a real estate development career with $5,000 in borrowed capital. He is known in Aiken for developing the Houndslake country club community.

But Aiken didn't have a university.

"Robert's greatest legacy is his commitment to education," said USC Aiken Chancellor Robert Alexander. "I would have to say that he was like my father in many ways, particularly the way he understood that college opened a lot of doors for him."

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.