State-of-the-art science facilities, new dorms, and the construction of a $13 million student services center are just some of the noteworthy changes on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
For over 80 years, the institution’s alumni have witnessed similar transformations and some of them will return to UALR this weekend to reconnect with former classmates, remember shared experiences, and reunite with an Alma matter that once carried a different name.
Little Rock Junior College started offering 4-year degrees in 1957 when it became the private Little Rock University, or LRU. Alfred Williams arrived on LRU’s campus as a student in the fall of 1962.
“I remember a lot of pine trees, several small buildings, and a small college community,” said Williams. “In a very short period of time you felt like you knew everybody and everybody knew you.”
Alfred studied history, political science, and economics at a tumultuous time in Arkansas and America.
“In the community and in the state there was a lot of prejudice and bigotry that some of us were working, even at that time, to try to overcome. It was a different place, but there were some good people,” Williams said. “I can remember sitting in the student union building [with classmates] when the Cuban Missile Crisis was going on worrying what’s next. Another part of my collegiate experience was the early Kennedy years before he was assassinated – there was a lot of hope and a lot of frustration.”
Alfred admits he wanted the complete college experience – the academics and the good times. However, he didn’t always want the faculty to know who he was related to. His father, Grainger Williams, was deeply involved with the campus. As a matter of fact, Grainger is the oldest known living graduate of Little Rock Junior College. He turned 100-years old back in July. Grainger Williams was also chairman of the Board of Visitors of LRU when it became UALR in 1969.
“There is a picture in the alumni center showing my father when Governor Rockefeller signed the legislation that took it from Little Rock University to a division of the University of Arkansas,” said Williams.
Christian O’Neal is executive director of the UALR Alumni Association, which is preparing to welcome LRU grads back home.
“I was looking at a campus map just the other day from LRU and my how things have changed. The original map includes just five or six buildings,” O’Neal said. “We will actually go back to the original campus at the old Student Union Plaza South on Friday, September 30 for a nice reception from 6-8p.m. On Saturday night, we will have a formal dinner and a full program at the Jack Stephens Center in the Legends Room.”
Alfred Williams graduated from LRU in the spring of 1966 and says he relished every moment of student life. There were only about 900 students at LRU when Alfred started school and 4-years later there were about 3,000 when he finished. Today, UALR has 13,000 students and Alfred has made it his mission to increase those enrollment numbers through scholarships. In 2006, he became President of the UALR Alumni Association and through many of his efforts the association now awards upwards of $27,000 in scholarships each year.
“My education was you get it and you give it, because it’s a really good feeling to watch somebody you’ve helped get their college education," said Williams. "If we don’t do it, who will?”
What was once Little Rock Junior College 84 years ago is now UALR - a large metropolitan university with a diverse student body and over 100 academic programs. LRU graduates can register for this weekend’s special slate of events by contacting the alumni office. Click here for more information.