SPRINGFIELD – Hannibal-LaGrange College officially became Hannibal-LaGrange University after an appeal to retain the institution's historic name resonated with messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention's annual meeting.
Messengers voted 593 to 360 to retain the Hannibal-LaGrange name as the school takes on university status.
College trustees proposed changing the name to the University of Hannibal, a decision they approved at a board meeting last November.
The MBC Inter Agency and Administrative committees discussed and approved the change, with approval by the Executive Board in July.
The MBC's current constitution requires charter changes to be brought to the convention for approval.
Sarah Miller, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Paris, and an HLG sophomore nursing student, brought the motion to the convention floor to amend the Executive Board's recommendation.
Many students did not want the trustees' choice, she explained, offering a 200-name petition. She asked why trustees would want to remove the history the Hannibal-LaGrange name reflects if they want to build from that history.
HLG Trustee Chair Terry Buster noted board members viewed the University of Hannibal name as a way of looking to the future and a means of attracting additional students to the private school.
Ilda Kennon, who served as an HLG trustee from 2000 to 2009, noted that board members had never had a unanimous vote on the issue during her tenure. Even though the possibility had been discussed informally for years, she questioned why the possible change had not been included in the institution's strategic plan.
Some alumni weighed in on the issue through a site on the social network Facebook that 1990 grad Melissa Hawker set up. The site attracted more than 300 alums opposed to the administration's choice.
However, other alumni supported the change. Steve Leffler, an HLG graduate and a Marine, argued that to question decisions by elected leaders would "undercut the mission."
"We appreciate the passion of our alumni and the leadership of our trustees," HLG President Woodrow Burt said after the amendment passed.
Messengers overwhelmingly approved the school's request for university status, which became effective immediately.
"The alumni were interested in keeping 'LaGrange' in there. They felt that to remove it was removing part of the history of the institution," Burt later told the Quincy (Ill.) Herald-Whig. "We felt that 'University of Hannibal' would have made it a clearer articulation of who we are and who we have become."
The current name stems from the college's two physical locations. Founded in LaGrange as the LaGrange Male and Female Seminary on Sept. 15, 1858, the institution moved to Hannibal in 1928.
Administrators had argued that the "LaGrange" portion of the name is associated with a casino in the northeast area of the state, and that it is often confused with LaGrange College in Georgia.