Mars Hill University President Dan Lunsford (left) receives the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities President Hope Williams.
Mars Hill University President Dan Lunsford received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian award presented by the governor of North Carolina. Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, presented the award this week during the organization's annual meeting. It recognizes Lunsford's 48 years of service to the state, first in the public school system and later in private higher education. He will retire in the spring of 2018.
“It was my honor as a member of the Governor’s Education Cabinet, to present the Order of the Long Leaf Pine to President Lunsford on behalf of Governor Cooper," said Williams. "I have worked with Dr. Lunsford since he came to Mars Hill University in 1998 as dean of the School of Education and Leadership and throughout his presidency. He has been an outstanding leader for the university and for all private higher education, including serving as vice chair of NCICU. We will miss his sound advice and insight about the needs of our sector of higher education and of our state.”
"This award is most significant and I will treasure it for the rest of my days," Lunsford said. "The previous recipients truly are noteworthy in their fields. "I'm surprised and humbled by this recognition. He said it was particularly special because it came almost two years to the date after his father received the same award. (Fred Lunsford was honored in 2015 for his long service as director of missions for the Truett Baptist Association in Cherokee County.)
Lunsford is a 1969 graduate of Mars Hill College, earned his graduate degrees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and participated in postdoctoral study at Vanderbilt University and the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Government. He began his career as a 6th grade teacher in Durham, N.C.; was a principal, director of instruction, associate superintendent, and assistant superintendent for Orange County Schools before serving that district as superintendent from 1983-1990; and was superintendent of Henderson County Public Schools from 1990-1998. He began his employment at Mars Hill in 1998 as dean of the School of Education and Leadership. He became president of the institution in 2002.
Among other awards in his long and storied career. Lunsford was recognized as Outstanding Young Educator in 1973, Administrator of the Year in 1987 and 1989, Western Region Superintendent of the Year in 1997, and UNC Chapel Hill School of Education Distinguished Leadership Award in 2004.
He serves, or has served, on many regional and statewide committees and organizations, including Kiwanis, Rotary, and United Way, and serves in leadership roles for North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the Appalachian College Association, and the South Atlantic Conference.
According to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society, the award was first presented in 1963. It is awarded "for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina. "