Benjamin Conrad Sutton, Sr. Honored with Spirit of Chowan Award
During the 175th Anniversary Gala Celebration on October 7, 2023, President Charles E. Taylor honored Benjamin Conrad Sutton, Sr., with the Spirit of Chowan Award. President Taylor shared, “I first heard the name Ben Sutton when my father came home from work one evening and announced that he had gotten an order for a classroom full of typewriters from Chowan College. That was a big thing for our household. But what has stuck with me all these years were the words of praise my dad had for the College’s business officer, Ben Sutton. He told us what a kind and sincere man Mr. Sutton was. Those words made me want to meet this man. Little did I know that years later, our paths would cross when Ben and I met at a Baptist Business Officers conference. I was a rookie, but Ben was the undisputed dean of North Carolina Business Officers. Over the years, Ben became a mentor for me and many others. After all those years, my dad was right: Ben Sutton is a man of impeccable character, humble, full of wisdom, and possessed of an infectious smile.”
Sutton was born in Burlington, NC, one of two sons of William Conrad Sutton and Alene Thomas Sutton. He grew up in the Burlington and Mebane area and graduated from high school in Mebane in 1949. He began his college studies at Wake Forest University, and after a two-year stint in the Korean War (1952-54) he was awarded his B.B.A. degree in 1956 in business. He and his father operated a laundry and dry cleaning business in Mebane until 1961.
In 1961 Dr. Bruce Whitaker, President of Chowan College (now University), needed an able chief financial officer to help his dreams for the institution to become reality. He found that person in Ben Sutton. Sutton joined Whitaker’s staff as the chief financial officer in 1961 and held that position for 30 years until his retirement in 1991. One of Sutton’s proudest accomplishments is that Chowan had a balanced budget every year during his service. Under his leadership, the endowment grew to about 12 million.
Along with President Whitaker, Sutton’s hand can be seen all over the campus, for numerous capital projects were completed. The first was the men’s residence hall, now known as Dunn Hall, which was built in 1961. Other significant building projects included Robert Marks Hall (1964), Thomas Cafeteria (1964), Belk Residence Hall (1965), the Whitaker Library and Daniel Music Hall (1966-67), Parker Residence Hall (1970), Lake Vann (1970), Camp Hall (1972-73), the Helms Center, now the Hawks Athletic Center (1978-80), the Horner Graphic Communications Hall (1982-83), and the remodeling and construction of the Camp President’s Home (1989). Virtually every other structure on campus was completely remodeled during these years. Even with the financial stability the institution enjoyed and the significant campus expansion, Sutton’s favorite memories of his years at Chowan remain the people he worked with—students, faculty, and staff. After 25 years of service to Chowan, Sutton was inducted into the Order of Lux et Veritas.
Sutton was very active in Murfreesboro and the surrounding region. He served as president of the Exchange Club, was active in the Masonic Lodge, served 14 years as a member of the town council, was a deacon at Murfreesboro Baptist Church, was a Governor James Martin appointee to the Murfreesboro Historical Commission, and served on the board at Ridgecroft School (including two years as board chair). He was one of the founders of the Committee of 100, a regional economic development task force. For more than 20 years, he was a committeeman with the regional accrediting agency, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Following his tenure at Chowan, Sutton served as chief financial officer for Fork Union Military Academy and Greensboro College. He then served as Executive Vice President of ISP Sports, Ben Jr.’s college sports marketing company, assisting with finances, building management, and Human Resources. The company is based in Winston-Salem, NC, with offices in 37 cities nationwide. Even today, in retirement, Ben Sutton is the personification of a servant-leader. He is the patriarch of his family and continues to serve his local church.
The Spirit of Chowan Award is intended to honor extraordinary individuals who so embody the heart and soul of the University that they warrant recognition by the University community. This may be a student, faculty, staff member, or friend of the university who has overcome significant adversity, who has displayed the characteristics of a servant in the model of Christ, who has remained committed to the mission of the University and his or her personal relationship with God; or who has embodied the spirit of the history, mission, and perseverance of the University. Since its establishment in 2002, only thirteen other individuals have been awarded this honor.
Although Mr. Sutton was unable to attend the event in person due to illness, he learned of this honor in real time via FaceTime, and the attendees were able to congratulate him with an extended round of applause. Join us in congratulating Mr. Sutton on receiving the well-deserved Spirit of Chowan Award.