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History of Motlow

Our History

In every culture and every community there are important milestones of progress and planning that can point to a genesis moment, an iconic leader, or dedicated group of people who started something big enough and important enough for others to continue.

Motlow has all of that. Our story begins at a critical moment in Middle Tennessee history, led by a group partnered in a common cause who were enabled by an iconic personality. This coalesced to craft something wonderful that gives everyone here today a foundation upon which we continue to build. This year Motlow State will celebrate its 50th graduating class and confer degrees and certificates to well over 1,000 students.

The lives that have been changed, the careers that have been launched, and the economic impact that has reverberated throughout the communities we serve are worthy of pausing and reflecting upon whence we have come…


Since it opened in September 1969, Motlow has had one overriding goal – to change lives. It’s pursuit of partnerships has greatly enhanced the College’s ability to accomplish this goal. Whether it is the partnering of student and teacher or private industry and the College, or Motlow and other educational institutions, Motlow could never have become the powerhouse it has become without forming strong partnerships within the community and around the world.

Changing lives and forming partnerships. That’s what Motlow State is about. That is who we are.

The dream began in 1955 in the Legislative Council of the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville with a study called, “Public Higher Education in Tennessee”. That study was concluded in 1957 but it was not acted on until 1963, when Governor Frankl Clement determined the time was right. The legislature funded $100,000 annually to study the feasibility of establishing community colleges in our state.

In February 1965, the State Board of Education adopted a committee recommendation to establish two-year colleges in Tennessee. That same month, Tullahoma-Manchester Chamber of Commerce President Morris L. Simon brought the idea of a community college in the Tullahoma economic hub to the Chamber directors.

On a motion by A.H. Sanders and a second by Newell Comer, the Chamber voted unanimously to appoint a permanent committee to spearhead the project. Members of the committee were Simon, Clifton R. Lewis, W.H. Hawkersmith, L.B. Jennings, and Tullahoma Mayor Floyd Mitchell. The project grew into an area undertaking when officials of the Upper Duck River Development Association and the Elk River Development Association invited Simon to discuss the project with both groups. The result was adoption of a resolution to begin joint efforts for locating a community college in the area served by the two associations. Partnerships.


When a preliminary study revealed Moore County to be the center of the then seven-county region, a meeting in March 1965 produced a plan to notify state Board Of Education Commissioner J. Howard Warf of an official request to locate a community college approximately four miles from Tullahoma in Moore County. Among those chosen to serve on the joint committee were Simon, W.H. Hagan and David W. Shields of Coffee County; Harry Logue and Ervin Thomas of Bedford County; J.O. Barnes and Thomas B. Green of Marshall County; Malcolm Fults and Glenn Bonner of Grundy County; Paul Rose and J. D. Massey of Franklin County; Dan Masters and Don Bobo of Moore County, and E.C. Norman and J. C. King of Lincoln County.

The first concrete pledge of financial support came on June 3, 1965, when the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen pledged $150,000. It was later determined that a total of $400,000 would be required – $250,000 plus a site for the college. Tullahoma agreed to give the $250,000. Later, Coffee County gave $25,000, Franklin County $10,000, Moore County $2,000, and the city of Normandy $500.


On Tuesday, June 13, 1967, Tullahoma Mayor Pro Temp O.B. Carroll, along with Simon, took a check for $250,000 to the State Board of Education meeting in Nashville. Included in the delegation were Nelson Forrester, Representative Pat Lynch, Senator Reagor Motlow and Senator Ernest Crouch. Joining Senator Motlow in the gift of land for the college site were his wife Jeannie; his brothers, Connor, Robert, and D.E. Motlow; his mother, Mrs. Lem Motlow; his sister, Mrs. James Boyd; and his uncle, Tom Motlow.

Because of the generous gift of 187 acres, and because of all of Senator Motlow’s contributions to education in Tennessee, Governor Buford Ellington and Commissioner Warf recommended the college be named Motlow State Community College. Senator Motlow argued against the action, claiming that was not why the family was donating the land, but the governor was insistent, and thus Motlow State Community College was born. Partnerships.


Groundbreaking ceremonies were held November 26, 1967, with Governor Ellington, Commissioner Warf, and approximately 250 persons from surrounding counties in attendance. Martindale Brothers, a Murfreesboro firm, was awarded the contract for construction of the original five buildings – almost 140,000 square feet to accommodate 1,200 students.

In December 1968, Dr. Sam H. Ingram, dean of the school of education at Middle Tennessee State University, was named president of Motlow effective Feb. 1, 1969. The College opened temporary offices at First Baptist Church in Tullahoma Feb. 3. On Sept. 22, 1969, after almost five years of planning and work by a group of dedicated citizens, Motlow opened its doors. More than 100 classes were offered during the day and 12 at night to 551 students. There were 18 full-time faculty members and seven adjunct faculty.

Formal dedication ceremonies were held April 19, 1970. In his dedicatory address, Commissioner Warf termed the occasion “only the end of the beginning” and dedicated the College to a “life-long career of service to those who dared to dream a dream.” 


Motlow’s first graduating class was presented at commencement ceremonies June 4, 1971, as 79 students were granted associate degrees. A milestone came in December 1971 when Motlow received full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

In the 50 years since that first graduating class, Motlow State has grown at a phenomenal rate, surpassing the 1,800-enrollment mark in 1976, the 2,300 mark in 1978, and by 1999 enrollment was 3,300. Ten years ago, enrollment had surpassed 5,000 and this fall, for the fifth year in a row, Motlow set a new all-time enrollment record of approximately 7,000 students.


We have grown from five buildings on a single site in Moore County to 14 buildings at four different locations. Those numbers do not include an 80,000 square-foot beautiful structure that will open in December on our Smyrna campus. Those numbers also don’t include the surge of activity happening on our Sparta campus, where the seeds are being planted for a new facility on the horizon. Partnerships are being formed. Lives are being changed.

Motlow is a story of the power of public-private partnerships. The pattern of public-private partnerships is the common thread that weaves through the history of this college. Public-private partnerships that have begun in living rooms, over lunch, at the lake, and on the golf course. Public-private partnerships between philanthropists, business owners, community leaders, elected officials and entrepreneurial educators. Public-private partnerships that started small, built steam, swung for the fence, and scored the winning run. Partnerships that invested in doing the right thing at the right time.


As a College, we say thank you to the presidents of Motlow, including Dr. Sam Ingram, Dr. Harry Wagner, Dr. A. Frank Glass, Dr. Arthur Walker, Dr. MaryLou Apple, Dr. Anthony Kinkel and our current president, Dr. Michael Torrence. Thank you to our interim presidents Dr. Don England, Dr. Wade Powers and Hilda Tunstill.

And especially, today, we wish to thank the families of those early pioneers with the big dreams who pushed the envelope relentlessly to secure a community college in southern middle Tennessee, including Mr. Morris Simon, Claire Eoff, G. Nelson Forrester, Mr. Hubert Crouch, Doc and Mo Nisbett, Mr. A. H. Sanders, Mr. A.C. Jennings, Mr. L.B. Jennings, Floyd Mitchell, O.B. Carroll, Senator Ernest Crouch, and of course Senator Reagor Motlow and the Motlow family. 

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