Grace University was born in prayer as a group of ten leaders and ministers met in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 1, 1943, to pray and plan for a college-level institution that would be fundamental in doctrine, vitally spiritual in emphasis, and interdenominational in scope. The need for such Bible-centered education became increasingly apparent to these evangelical leaders. A number of them shared this common concern with each other during the commencement activities at the Oklahoma Bible Academy in Meno, Oklahoma, in 1942. So through the providence of God, they selected Omaha as a central location for the meeting that led to the founding of Grace Bible Institute.
From June 1 through September 8, 1943, the Lord opened doors and removed obstacles in such unusual ways that all were convinced that this new venture of faith was from God. At the dedicatory service on September 8, 1943, Dr. C.H. Suckau, chairman of the Board of Directors and later a president of the college, mentioned seven specific answers to prayer:
The Lord definitely led the original group of men to Omaha on June 1 and opened doors for them.
The Presbyterian Theological Seminary was made available for use without any financial obligation other than its upkeep.
The laws of Nebraska were such that incorporation under the existing laws was impossible. But these laws were revised just as the founders were faced with the alternative of having to locate Grace Bible Institute in some other state.
The college opened with a complete staff of teachers, having received the consent of the last needed faculty member by telegram that very day at 7 p.m.
A total of 18 students registered on the first day (and five more a few days later).
In a short time, the Lord sent in more than $7,000 in gifts.
The Lord preserved Stuntz Hall for Grace Bible Institute. On September 8, the Board of Directors signed a purchase contract for the building for $25,000.
Our Prayers Were Answered
In his book, “The Story of Grace”, Paul Kuhlmann documents many of the miraculous answers to prayer evident during the first 35 years of the University’s history. It is a testimony of God’s gracious provision and direction. The student enrollment grew rapidly in the early years so that by 1949 it had reached 331. The diversity of the student body in recent years indicates its interdenominational nature and widespread appeal to students who desire a Bible-centered college education.
Academic programs have been expanded and upgraded to reach each generation; the administrative structure has been revised and faculty has grown in size. Most significantly, the University has remained vigilant in upholding the fundamentals of the faith maintaining, without reservation, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. In 1976, when a change of name was considered, “Grace Bible Institute” became “Grace College of the Bible.”
The campus has been expanded through the construction and purchase of additional facilities. The expansions include Suckau Chapel (basement, 1949; main floor, 1957); Schmidt Hall (1962); Harold D. Burkholder Center (1967); that includes the Jim Classen Gymnasium (2003); and the Donald J. Tschetter Academic Building (1975).
In 1977, the University purchased the St. Catherine’s Hospital Center for Continuing Care. This acquisition added nearly 2.7 acres to the campus and doubled facility space, making it the largest and most significant property acquisition in the history of the University. Three wings—Stanford Hall, Rieger Hall, and Waldo Harder Hall—have been used as dormitory facilities. A fourth wing houses administrative offices, conference rooms, classrooms, music rooms and a fifth wing houses the faculty offices. Additional facilities in the complex have been renovated, as needed, for student housing, classrooms, and offices. Each facility expansion was an adventure of faith and a distinct answer to prayer.
In 1993, President Neal McBride proposed that Grace consider a new identity as “Grace University.” During the 1993-94 academic year, a feasibility study for restructuring was accomplished. In May 1994, the Trustees formally adopted restructuring as Grace University, which consists of three colleges: Grace College of the Bible, Grace College of Graduate Studies, and Grace College of Continuing Education.
On July 1, 1995, the institution’s new corporate identity as Grace University became official. Dr. James P. Eckman became president in 1997 and oversaw significant campus and program upgrades.
In 2003, the Jim Classen Gymnasium was dedicated providing physical fitness and athletic opportunities to the campus community. With this construction, the Duerksen Center was renamed the Harold D. Burkholder Center, and the dining commons was named in honor of Vernon Duerksen.
On November 1, 2013, Grace University was restructured, at the approval of the Board of Trustees, from three colleges into two. This was accomplished by merging the previously separate Grace School of Graduate Studies and the Grace College of Continuing Education into one. The combined college was titled the College of Professional and Graduate Studies to complement the longstanding Grace College of the Bible.
The core values of academic excellence, life change, and world impact continue to shape the vision of Grace. These foundational values stimulate the Power of Grace!
During the past seven decades, more than 9,000 students have studied at Grace University. Many of our alumni are actively involved in full-time vocational ministries. Many are serving in cross cultural and international missions, pastoral ministry, Christian education, music, and Christian radio and telecommunications. Others impact the marketplace for Christ serving as lay leaders in local churches and church-related organizations. Many are educators, business people, farmers and ranchers, and public servants in governmental settings.
The oversight of Grace University is vested to a strong, spiritually minded Board of Trustees, representing various denominations. A variety of advisory teams assist in guiding various operations within the University. Each academic program has a professional advisory team evaluating and guiding faculty in program improvement. The Grace University Foundation works closely with the University Development Department in friend building, fund-raising, and investment management. The Parents Association (GUPA) works with the President’s Office regarding institutional and student support. The Alumni Association, a vital advisory group, connects our strong heritage with our ongoing mission of preparing servant leaders for the home, the church and the world.
Throughout its history, Grace University leadership has been marked by vision and faith. The following have served as president: Paul Kuhlmann (Acting, 1943), Dr. C.H. Suckau (1944-1950), Dr. H.D. Burkholder (1950-1955), Dr. Joseph W. Schmidt (1955-1960), the Rev. D.J. Unruh (Interim, 1960-1961), Dr. Waldo E. Harder (1961-1971), Dr. Robert W. Benton (1971-1984), Dr. Warren E. Bathke (1984-1993), Dr. Neal F. McBride (1993-1997), and Dr. James P. Eckman (1997-2012), and Dr. David Barnes (2012-2016).